Posts Tagged ‘Damian Lillard’

Morning shootaround — July 17



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Owner Taylor likes Wolves | Sixers have “big” problems | Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls

No. 1: Owner Taylor likes Wolves— It’s all paper optimism right now, but there are plenty of reasons for the Wolves and their owner, Glen Taylor, to feel excited about the upcoming season. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns, a solid young core and incoming rookie Kris Dunn, the pride of the Vegas summer league. Taylor discussed the state of the Wolves recently with longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman, who filed this report for the Star-Tribune:

The Wolves didn’t make a splashy move in free agency like the Warriors, but they did make a number of smart moves, signing centers Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill and shooting guard Brandon Rush to low-risk contracts.

Taylor said those moves should help a team that believes its young core already is in place.

“We have some young guys that we see as our potential starting team, but we need players coming off the bench to hold us competitive with the other teams,” Taylor said. “I think both Thibs and Scott are looking at other players that can come in and play competitive minutes.”

While the team has started to take some shape, Taylor wasn’t ready to give his expectations for 2016-17 quite yet.

“A lot of people have asked me that and I just think it’s premature,” he said. “I’d like the coach to get to know his players better, I’d like to have him work with them, I’d like to have him decide who’s going to be on the team, and then that might be the appropriate time to put out expectations.”

One thing Taylor did say is that he doesn’t believe point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded at this point.

“I don’t see that as a likely possibility,” he said about a Rubio trade. “I just think the coach, everybody, likes Ricky. I think we want him to come in and improve on his shooting. But his other things, he plays defense, he gets assists, he helps the others get better. He has some wonderful qualities.

“I think the coach wants to bring an assistant coach to help Ricky on his shooting and I think that’s where we’re going to start out and go and we’ll see how good Kris Dunn is.”

Injured big men

With Aldrich and Hill signing, there have been some rumblings about what that means for both Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic, who struggled with injuries last season and are due combined $20 million next season.

“I know that he was going to get married this summer,” Taylor said of Pekovic. “I know he’s back at home. I know that we’re going to try to get him in here early to make sure he’s in physical shape and look at that foot and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again. But I don’t have any definite information other than that we’d like to have him in here early so the doctors and everybody can work with him.”

Has the team put any timetable on Garnett? “We haven’t,” Taylor said. “I think it’s more up to Kevin, a little bit. The sooner we know it’s helpful to us, but I mean Kevin is an important part of our past and came back last year to help us, and we all know Kevin was having some difficulty with his knees and legs or things like that.

“I think he’s the only one that can tell us if he can play or not play, and I don’t think we have put him under time frame. I mean we still have time on that, and we have some options. We have some options. But I think at the appropriate time when Kevin is ready we’ll have that discussion.”

Increased interest

There’s no doubt that the Wolves have become one of the most talked-about teams in the league because of players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Taylor said that excitement mixed with some moves this offseason should bode well for ticket sales.

“Yes, the season-ticket thing, I think because of bringing in Thibs as a coach and then everybody seeing the improvement we made last year has sparked renewed interest,” he said. “We look forward to a good season sale on tickets this year.”

Taylor has also been able to attract investors, bringing in Linzhang (John) Jiang and Meyer Orbach as minority owners, and while he said he isn’t planning to sell a large stake in the team at this point, that doesn’t mean he won’t listen to interest.

“We don’t have any plans on doing that today, but I wouldn’t want to say yes or no to that because I think if the right person came along and they had the right opportunity and they wanted to come in — like these fellows did on a limited base, and I still run the team and just have them help me — I might do that,” Taylor said.

***

No. 2: Sixers have “big” problems — The revamping of the Sixers has been a long time coming, and suddenly, there’s a level of hope not seen in Philly since Allen Iverson left. The influx of young talent coupled with the on-hand returnees bodes well for a team that has spent the last three seasons in the basement. That said, how are the Sixers going to find time up front with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and now Dario Saric? All four are forwards or center-forward combos. Of course, it sounds funny: Philly has too much intriguing talent. Anyway, the subject was raised and analyzed by Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor at the center position are at least one too many, and the rest of the league knows it. Each player brings a different mix of promise and peril. Which to choose? It is a quandary that, if solved properly, will set the team on the path to true contention. If botched, well, that path will still be lined with good intentions, but it will lead back to the nether world from which the team is slowly emerging.

If it is any consolation, the Sixers have seen worse. I had the great pleasure of covering every game of the Doug Moe era, a 19-37 slog that featured a roster with four centers, collectively referred to by Moe as “28 feet of [expletive].”

You haven’t seen dysfunction until experiencing the frontcourt stylings of Charles Shackleford, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, and Eddie Lee Wilkins on one team. All four were gone when the following season began, as was Moe, who didn’t survive the previous one.

“He won 19 games with this team, and they fired him?” Wilkins said. “He should be coach of the year.”

That was a different problem for the Sixers, but deciding which of those guys to get rid of was easy: all of them. The current situation is a puzzler because the three centers are very valuable, each in his own way, or at least have potential value that could become enormous over time. Forecasting their futures is the first big test Colangelo faces.

“I think we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute the talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster,” Colangelo said on SiriusXM NBA Radio while attending the summer league in Las Vegas. “Right now, it’s best to say we like all of them and want to see if we can make the most out of them in terms of their contribution to the team. But at the end of the day, the reality says that one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

The reality, however, doesn’t say that one has to go before the season begins, or even by the February trade deadline. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he set his sights on rebalancing the roster at the 2017 draft. That could be the wisest course of action, particularly since what the Sixers don’t know about their team is still a lot greater than what they do know.

“We’re top heavy, but we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether it’s Nerlens, with a certain skill-set in terms of being more of a defensive player. You’ve got Jahlil, more of an offensive player, a lot of post action and now steps outside and hits that 15- to 18-foot shot, and then you’ve got Joel.”

Figuring things out is a process, and while fans might like to see a choice made immediately to start the contending process this season, that would make choosing the wrong piece more likely.

Most of what we know about Okafor and Noel so far is that coach Brett Brown couldn’t figure out a way to play them together because both operate best close to the basket. Now he needs to determine what mixture will work as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are placed on the court, and as Embiid finally gets into uniform. It could be there will be plenty of offense to go around and Noel is the better fit. It could be that on a team of slashers, the dependable low-post presence of Okafor makes the most sense. And, of course, it could be that Embiid limps off in the first week of the season.

***

No. 3: Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls — Take Jimmy Butler and add Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and what do you have? A very happy head coach. Fred Holberg‘s first season in Chicago was choppy; the Bulls floundered down the stretch and fell flat at the end of the season. Since then, the Bulls parted ways with Derrick Rose while adding another local player to assume his spot in Wade. Rondo comes from the Kings, where he enjoyed a rejuvenated boost to his career, and suddenly the Bulls have three proven players. KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently caught up with the coach about Wade, who made it official the other day:

“I’m really excited to get him on board,” Hoiberg said via phone from Las Vegas, where the Bulls played the Wizards in the NBA Summer League quarterfinals Saturday night. “Obviously, he’s a guy with championship experience and gives us another playmaker on the floor. I’ve been watching a lot of film to see how to best utilize the talents of the players on our roster.

“Dwyane is a tough matchup for opposing teams with him and Jimmy (Butler) on the wings and Rajon (Rondo) at the point. A lot of how we attack will be based on matchups and who the defender is and whose hands we’re going to put the ball in to make plays.”

Hoiberg left summer league to attend Monday’s dinner with Wade in Chicago, his first prolonged conversation with the 12-time All-Star. Hoiberg came away impressed, calling him a “rock solid person (with) great people around him.”

Hoiberg’s playing career overlapped with Wade’s for two seasons. In fact, Wade posted a picture on Instagram of himself from one of his two predraft workouts for the Bulls in 2003 at the defunct Berto Center. Now, Hoiberg will be coaching the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s so good at getting in the paint,” Hoiberg said. “He has a great floater and runner. He shot the 3 at a very high rate in the playoffs last year. He gives us another guy who can make plays. That’s huge.

“We have multiple playmakers now, multiple guys who can get in the paint. We do have floor spacing on this team. It will be important to have guys who can knock down shots.”

Hoiberg again referred to the 2003-04 Timberwolves, which he played for and featured Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell and advanced to the Western Conference finals, as an example of a team that can make three strong personalities work. He said he and his staff have been watching film of other teams that feature three players who need shots and touches.

“Great players always figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “It has to be about one thing, and that’s winning. Based on who has the hot hand on any given night, you play through that guy, and the rest of the team plays off him.”

Asked who gets the last shot in a tie game, Hoiberg laughed before answering.

“We’ll see who has it going,” he said.

Wade will turn 35 in January. He played in 74 games last season, his highest regular-season total since 2010-11. Wade averaged a career-low 30.5 minutes and then delivered a turn-back-the-clock postseason performance in which he averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on the death of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, one of history’s underrated big men … Damian Lillard got skills with a mic in his hand … RC Buford loves him some Tim Duncan, and don’t we all? … Pelicans don’t expect Tyreke Evans will be healed and ready to go when season tips off …

Morning shootaround — July 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bird uses trade market to rebuild Pacers | Familiarity a key for Parsons’ move to Memphis | Knicks “activate” to get ‘Melo back to the playoffs | Ezeli’s journey leads him to Portland

No. 1: Bird uses trade market to rebuild Pacers — While other teams have made big changes through free agency, Larry Bird has taken the Indiana Pacers down a new path via the trade market. The Pacers did sign Al Jefferson this week, but they also added two new starters by making trades for point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Thaddeus Young, who give Indiana a quicker and more versatile roster, as Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Rebuilding in the NBA can be a painstaking, rigorous process. The usual years of losing, the hopes and fate of the franchise decided by lottery balls.

A free agency signing can bring jubilation. A rejection in free agency can be crushing.

Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird has chosen a different path.

Every year for Bird is about winning, improving, contending. Forget a conventional rebuild. Bird, in many ways, is unconventional. The way the Pacers’ roster was built is the latest example.

For 24 months, Bird has been on a quest. He has transformed the Pacers from a big, traditional, lumbering team into a modern one that will spread the court and run whenever given the opportunity. Bird’s design, after two years and a long list of transactions, appears to be close to completion.

***

No. 2: Familiarity a key for Parsons’ move to Memphis — Chandler Parsons made his second free agency move in three years this week, leaving Dallas after just two seasons for Memphis. And for him, it was an easy decision thanks, in part, to his familiarity with new Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale and assistant J.B. Bickerstaff. Tom Schad of the Memphis Commercial Appeal was there as Parsons was introduced in Memphis on Friday:

Parsons picked Memphis over Portland, which also reportedly offered him a max contract, in part because of trust. He played for Fizdale during the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge and said they immediately established a rapport. He also spent three years in Houston with Bickerstaff, who is “like family to me,” Parsons said.

Former high-school teammate Nick Calathes and close friend Courtney Lee gave Parsons rave reviews about playing in Memphis, he said. The opportunity to play with point guard Mike Conley, who helped recruit him with text messages over the past several weeks, was another major factor.

“Any time that you’re comfortable with someone that’s already here, it makes things a lot easier,” Parsons said. “That’s someone that I wanted to talk to and I know who would shoot me straight and someone who I greatly respect. He’s been here for nine years. He’s had a great career here.”

***

No. 3: Knicks “activate” to get Melo back to the playoffs — Since last year’s Draft, the New York Knicks have been in a position where the timeline of their best player (Carmelo Anthony) hasn’t aligned with the timeline of their best asset (Kristaps Porzingis). But with the trades and free agency additions that he’s made this summer, Knicks president Phil Jackson has clearly decided to prioritize short-term success over the long-term outlook. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes that, even with all the changes the Knicks have made, it’s still all about Melo at Madison Square Garden:

It’s a player’s league. Not a coach’s league or a system league. The triangle doesn’t win a championship in Chicago without Michael Jordan, and the Knicks weren’t winning much of anything the last two seasons.

So Phil Jackson reached the correct conclusion after a recent meeting with an increasingly impatient Carmelo Anthony: As long as Anthony is here and All-Star capable, the 31-year-old’s career timeline should be placated. If not, what’s the point of paying him $124 million with a no-trade clause?

“One of my questions to Carmelo was, you know, we haven’t made the playoffs and now this is three years, two years, since I’ve been here — are we moving quickly enough for you and your anticipation of trying to be into a competitive playoff situation?” Jackson said. “I think that was our conversation and established the fact of his desire, the idea that he is getting into an age where things have to happen for him. So we decided to activate ourselves.”

This is Anthony’s responsibility now. His burden to win games. No more excuses or demands through the media. That was the implication Friday from Jackson, who reversed the roles after a year of Anthony publicly pleading that the team president be better at his job.

***

No. 4: Ezeli’s journey leads him to Portland — Festus Ezeli didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14 years old and has had some bumps in the road along the way. But after winning a championship with Golden State, Ezeli is expected to bring some toughness to the Trail Blazers. The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman chronicles the path that Ezeli took to get to Portland:

Ezeli chose Vanderbilt over several colleges because it offered an excellent blend of education and basketball. Also, coach Kevin Stallings agreed to his only request — that Ezeli be allowed to redshirt his first year to learn the game. It was an easy decision for Stallings, who knew he had a project on his hands.

“He had no basketball playing experience, so it was like having this really big, awesome piece of clay that we could help mold,” Stallings said Friday. “In the beginning, he was extremely raw and inexperienced. He literally didn’t know a lot of the rules of the game.”

And even after sitting out that first year, Ezeli was raw. Forget grasping the nuances of the pick-and-roll. Never mind figuring out when to leave your man on defense to offer help on the weakside. Initially, Ezeli couldn’t handle playing in front of a crowd. One of Stallings’ favorite stories about the challenges Ezeli faced on his path to the NBA came early during his redshirt freshman season, when Vanderbilt participated in a closed, preseason scrimmage against eventual-champion North Carolina. Ezeli played so well, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was amazed.

“Who is that guy and where did you find him?” Williams asked Stallings after the scrimmage, during which Ezeli held his own against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and future Blazers big man Ed Davis.

A week later, however, during an exhibition game against the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a tiny Division II school, Ezeli was a shell of the player that had impressed Williams. He was so bad, Stallings had to pull him early in his first shift.

“He comes to the bench and he’s hyperventilating,” Stallings said. “I’m like, ‘We scrimmaged North Carolina and you were fine. What’s wrong?’ He goes, ‘I know Coach, but all these people weren’t there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Kings are looking to make a trade … Damian Lillard is one of many players speaking out about the violence that has happened around the U.S. this week … Jackson wants Brandon Jennings to be the Sixth Man of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng. Carroll injured in Game 5 | Hayward, Jazz were in ‘shock’ during Kobe’s finale | Report: Blazers, Stotts to talk extension | Crawford wants to stay with Clippers

No. 1: Injuries piling up for Raptors, Heat  Entering Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both teams were already without their starting centers. The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (knee) were both hurt in Game 3 and haven’t played since. Last night, both teams incurred injury again as Miami’s Luol Deng and Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll left the game early. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star has more on the injuries and what’s next:

Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll and Heat forward Luol Deng are the latest key players to have their statuses put in jeopardy, after each one suffered wrist injuries in the Raptors’ 99-91 Game 5 win.

The Raptors can close out the series with a win in Miami on Friday.

Deng told The Miami Herald that he hurt himself falling into a cameraman and that he left the game after the wrist swelled. He’s awaiting the results of a MRI to determine his fate.

Carroll is in the same boat, but fortunately he can paddle opposite of Deng. Carroll suffered a left wrist contusion when Miami point guard Goran Dragic stepped in front of him in the second half to try to take a charge.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey only repeated the team’s announcement on the injury to his top defensive player. “A left hand contusion. X-rays were negative and we’ll see how he is come next game,” the coach said. Carroll left immediately after the game to get further testing on his wrist. He left the court clutching it and appeared to be in a significant amount of pain.

On Wednesday, Dragic was just as physical, not shying away from any kind of contact regardless of his opponent’s size. He fell on Raptors backup centre Jason Thompson in the second quarter, with his knee appearing to hit Thompson in the breadbasket area.

“That’s how the playoffs are,” he said. “I think my back was turned if there was any retaliation. We’re just going to go hard and that’s our mentality of everyone sacrificing their body.”

Morning shootaround — May 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green says Blazers are ‘done’ | The story behind Curry’s return | Grizzlies ponder reunion with Hollins | Sixers set to chat with Saric

No. 1: Green on Blazers: ‘Of course I think they’re done’  Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry not only came back last night, he came back and delivered the greatest overtime scoring performance in NBA lore. His 17 points in the extra session buoyed the Warriors to a 132-125 win over Portland in which Curry finished with 40 points overall. But lost in that epic game was a stellar performance by Draymond Green (21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals) that put the Blazers in a 3-1 series hole. After the win, Green didn’t hold back on thinking this series — and Portland — was done for now, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com:

Golden State All-Star forward Draymond Green did not mince words when asked about the Portland Trail Blazers’ chances in the aftermath of their Game 4 loss to the Warriors on Monday night.

After Golden State’s 132-125 overtime win, which gave the Warriors a 3-1 advantage in the Western Conference semifinals, Green was asked whether he thought the Blazers were done.

“Do I think they’re done? Of course I think they’re done,” he said.

“If I don’t think they’re done, I don’t know who else is going to think it,” he continued. “We’re going home with a 3-1 lead. It’s up to us to close it out. And I trust my teammates, I trust our team to come out ready to go and close this series out. Of course I think they’re done. It’s time for us to close the series. We did what we needed to do; we came on the road and got one win. We took care of home court. Now it’s time for us to do it again.”

Blazers star Damian Lillard said before Green’s remarks that they aren’t done fighting.

“We want to go out there and make sure they respect us, make sure they understand it’s not going to be what everybody thinks it’s going to be,” Lillard said. “It’s not going to be no rolling over, it’s not going to be no out here being scared, it’s not going to be any of that.”

Green also was asked about a prediction of victory for Monday night’s game.

“I didn’t predict that. I told you we were going to win,” he said.

He said he wasn’t worried about giving the Blazers extra motivation.

“I wanted to give them bulletin-board material,” he said.

“It wasn’t no disrespect to [the Blazers],” he said. “It was more so at my guys to make our guys respond to what I’m saying.”

Morning shootaround — May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard’s helpers were invaluable | Miami’s dark side without Whiteside | Lowry comes back for Raptors | Jackson ‘owes’ Knicks job to Rambis?

No. 1:  Lillard’s helpers were invaluable — First things first: Without a medical degree, can you nonetheless hazard a guess as to whether Golden State’s Stephen Curry will play in Game 4 of his team’s Western Conference semifinals series at Portland on Monday night? Even before we got any official updates from Curry, coach Steve Kerr or the Warriors’ crackerjack media staff, it seemed likely Curry would test his sprained right knee rather than risk seeing Golden State slip to even, 2-2, in the best-of-seven series. As for how Portland even got it to 2-1, there was Damian Lillard‘s 40-point performance and then there was the work of other Blazers, such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson. Those were the guys Draymond Green was moaning about, per Kevin Arnovitz‘s report for ESPN.com:

The way the Warriors saw it, they began to lose the game on the margins. Green sensed the Warriors could’ve effectively wrapped up the series in the first quarter had they only paid sufficient attention to the smaller details they generally master.

“That team — they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “You could just tell they were unsure about everything that they were doing in the first quarter. Then all of a sudden, like I said, you get a couple of offensive rebounds, hit a couple of shots, that’s when the crowd gets into it. That’s kind of what happened for them. I think right there in that first quarter, they felt like they were on the ropes and we didn’t really take advantage of that.”

When the Warriors ratcheted up their defense on Lillard after intermission, he just pitched the ball out to the likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson (who took over defensive duties on [Klay] Thompson) and Aminu, who were a combined 6-for-6 from distance heading into the fourth quarter. Lillard assisted on 18 Trail Blazers points in the third quarter and scored another five of his own, as Portland extended their lead to 93-80 after three quarters.

“[Lillard] getting 40 — that’s not going to beat us if we don’t let Aminu get 23, Crabbe off the bench get 10,” Green said. “If we cover those guys, Dame’s 40 doesn’t beat us. C.J. [McCollum]’s 22 really don’t beat us if we cover the other guys. I think a big part of that fell on me.”

It’s a shame for Green, who put on an individual shooting display of his own in the third quarter. “Draymond from long range” can be a touchy subject in Warriors World, but with the Trail Blazers begging him to shoot from distance, Green politely obliged — draining 5-of-6 3-point attempts in the third quarter and matching a career high for the game with eight total. He finished the game with 37 points, while Thompson added 35.

“All that’s cute,” Green said of his prolific offensive production. “I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight, and I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”

***

 No. 2: Miami’s dark side without Whiteside — If the result of Hassan Whiteside‘s MRI Sunday is as troubling as he and the Miami Heat fear, if he’s facing even the 2-3 week layoff that Curry has endured for Golden State since slipping on that wet part of the court against Houston, then the Heat are in a bad way. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald reminds us of young Whiteside’s value to that veteran club, his status as its X factor and the limitations it faces without him merely surviving the current series against Toronto, never mind a possible clash in the next round against Cleveland:

He was the one who, if channeled correctly, could lift this from a nice little squad to a fearsome one, a squad that could even scare the Cleveland Cavaliers should it come to that — since most teams to topple LeBron James in the playoffs have had at least two perimeter players who could make James work (which Miami has in [Luol] Deng and Justise Winslow) and a rim protector who could make him think. He was the unaccountable element, the one who might literally swat away a superior opponent, should he be energized, focused and disciplined for an extended stretch.

The Heat knew how much it needed him, Erik Spoelstra above all. That’s why, for all the warts (in Whiteside’s game) and worries (about his contract) Spoelstra invested more personal time in the 26-year-old center than anyone else in the past eight years. That’s why, on the Friday night prior to Game 3, with so much else at stake, Spoelstra was at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, dining in a group with Whiteside and Bill Russell, aiming to expose Whiteside to the ultimate winner.

That’s why Dwyane Wade, as the team leader, while critical of Whiteside at times, also took opportunities to pump him up, even suggesting this could be a “Hall of Fame career.”

This wasn’t just a passing interest, after all. The Heat wants to make Whiteside a core component, wants to see his development all the way through, especially after improvements in foul shooting and screen-setting and — to a degree — composure, in the second half of this second Miami season. And perhaps, regardless of the severity of the injury, that will still occur; maybe, in the worst case, it comes at a reduced cost in free agency in this cruelest of businesses.

But, for this particular postseason, it’s hard to see how the Heat competes for much without Whiteside. Win this series? Maybe. Wade nearly saved them Saturday, with a remarkable 38-point performance, and Udonis Haslem was his usual spirited self while playing a season-high 22 minutes. Heat players generally believe the Raptors are beatable, though some were baffled about why movement was mostly taken out of the offensive plan for Game 3. And Toronto started making rollicking rim runs as soon as Whiteside went out.

Beat Cleveland?

That seems fantasy. Wade has gone above and beyond already, and everything he’s doing should be appreciated. But the Cavaliers are rolling now, 7-0 in the postseason, seeming past their regular season drama.

Whiteside was always the X-factor.

Now he may be X’d out.

***

No. 3:  Lowry comes back for Raptors — Playoff basketball means more than hard fouls, no easy layups and cherished possessions. It also means seeing the individual highs and lows of the participants, usually under the brightest and least forgiving lights. When things are going well – say, for LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge these days – those lights can make a guy shimmer like the star he is. But when things are not going so well – think Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry – every flaw gets uncovered and it’s the heat of the lights that matter more than the illumination. Lowry had been suffering through a postseason of personal torment, the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote, until the second half of the Raptors’ Game 3 at Miami Saturday:

[Finally], Kyle Lowry came back. Toronto had been waiting for him, and he came back. The Raptors were winning Game 3 against the Miami Heat, who had lost their monster centre, and then the Raptors lost their monster centre, like this was some kind of chess match, like they had exchanged queens. The Heat started rolling, and Dwyane Wade, the old Hall of Famer, rose to the moment. The Heat crowd, a laid-back crew, were singing along with Seven Nation Army, thundering. The Raptors were coming apart.

But Kyle Lowry came back. He had hit a three-pointer to start the half, and then another. Hmm. The 30-year-old points had missed 96 of his last 139 shots, had openly said it was messing with his head. In Game 1 he had tried to avoid shooting the ball altogether. In this game, with Toronto’s two all-stars flailing again, [Jonas] Valanciunas had become the centre of things. Lowry had four points in a quiet first half.
Then Valanciunas was gone. Lowry came back.

“That’s the Kyle I know,” said DeMar DeRozan.

“Kyle went back to being Kyle,” said head coach Dwane Casey.

“I don’t think we played him that poorly, either,” said Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

Lowry’s third quarter was revelation, a flashback, a return. He scored 15 points, and Wade exploded for 18, and the game was tied entering the fourth. The Heat run reached 32-13 and with 8:49 left Miami was up six, and the Raptors’ offence looked gummed in glue again. All season long the Raptors relied on Lowry in these situations: they’d be up two or three, tight game, and he’d hit a string of middle-finger shots to cinch it.

Two games earlier his teammates said he looked beaten. His old friend Goran Dragic said he was thinking too much. All that vanished into the afternoon air.

“He was hitting shots, he was happy,” said Patrick Patterson. “We just tried to do whatever possible to keep him happy. We tried to free up some room for him to create opportunities, and just keep feeding the monster. He was hitting shots, and he was keeping us in that game. When he was hitting the shots, he started calling more plays for himself. He was just feeling it, saying he wanted the ball.”

Did Lowry tell them he was feeling good, finally? That his shot was back in alignment, smooth and assured?

“He never does it,” said Patterson. “The Cleveland game (when Lowry scored a career-high 43), he didn’t did that. No matter how he’s feeling, he doesn’t let us know. He’s just playing within the moment.”

***

No. 4: Jackson owes Knicks job to Rambis?Phil Jackson‘s affinity for the triangle offense that won his Chicago and Los Angeles teams a total of 11 NBA championships – even if that offense has had limited success when run by others whose rosters don’t include two Hall of Fame stars – is, at least, an understandable factor in how he might shape the New York Knicks’ search for a head coach. But Marc Berman of the New York Post cites a noted NBA author and relative Jackson insider when exploring a secondary, more deeply rooted reason for Jackson to stick with Kurt Rambis. It might have something to do with guilt and the employment history of Jackson and Rambis, Berman writes:

Phil Jackson may have cost Kurt Rambis a potentially promising head-coaching career back in 1999, back when they didn’t know each other.

Rambis was the hot, young Lakers assistant, coming off a cult-hero playing career in purple and gold during which he won four championships. Rambis passed over head-coaching offers from the Kings and Clippers, believing he had a bright future on the Lakers’ bench.

Indeed, Rambis took over for fired Del Harris in February of the 1999 lockout season as interim, with promises he would become the permanent guy.

Rambis closed with a 24-13 record, lost in the second round to the eventual champion Spurs, but had plans to smooth a frosty partnership between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, his new Staples Center and expensive skyboxes set to debut, changed his mind once Jackson expressed interest. Buss felt he needed a marquee name. Rambis was removed from the staff completely, demoted to broadcaster and, according to the controversial biography “Mindgames,” conducting arena tours.

According to the 2002 biography, Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, who didn’t know Phil Jackson from Andrew Jackson, was furious. Jeanie had been close friends for years with Rambis’ wife, Linda, since the 1980s.

“Mindgames” cited Rambis as “discouraged, confused and bitter.’’ Two years later, in 2001, at Jeanie’s behest, Jackson promoted Rambis to his staff, demoting triangle legend Tex Winter. But Rambis’ head-coaching career never took off.

Jackson’s current Knicks coaching search has been ongoing for 3 ½ weeks, with indications he is leaning toward Rambis. Is Jackson, who won five titles in L.A., making up for 1999?

Knicks general manager Steve Mills reached out to newly freed former Pacers coach Frank Vogel. But it might take a striking turn for Jackson, at his Montana think tank, to hire Vogel.

Roland Lazenby, the “Mindgames” author who is out with a new book on Kobe Bryant in August, said he believes Rambis will be the guy and explained a move that would not go over well with fans on social media.

If Jackson is making up for 1999, it’s in his subconscious.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami isn’t the only conference semifinalist sweating out a big man’s injury; Toronto’s fate might swing on Jonas Valanciunas‘ sprained ankle. … With Dave Joerger out, the Memphis Grizzlies can talk about stability if they like, but it’s a concept with which they’ve had very little experience, writes Geoff Calkins in Memphis. … Joerger was scheduled to spend at least part of his Sunday in Sacramento being interviewed for the vacant Kings coaching job. Though circumstances suggest he’ll likely end up getting hired, there are other candidates in play, at least for appearances sake. … Maurice Harkless and his sore hip might be out of Portland’s rotation for Game 4 . … Acquiring Channing Frye was a bold and expensive move at the trade deadline for the Cavaliers, but it has the look of a difference-maker for Cleveland in its NBA title quest. … Here’s one more look at Howard Garfinkel, the grass-roots basketball legend who died Saturday, as well as some appreciative tweets from fellows whose professional lives he touched. …

Blogtable: Who made your All-NBA teams?

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: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Give me your All-NBA selections (first, second and third team).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Generally, my First Team is a reflection of my MVP ballot, which goes five deep. Doesn’t always synch up position-wise but this year it was close (I plugged in Drummond at center and had to put Chris Paul on my Second Team). I don’t agree with the gimmick deployed by a few voters who put Draymond Green as First Team center because of how he and Golden State do in his 15 minutes or so, on average, in the middle. If a guy played only 15 minutes, period, at a position, we’d never consider him All-NBA at that spot.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

There’s Green where he belongs, and Durant would have been sixth on my MVP ballot. I had Jordan on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot, so he’s an easy pick from a Top 6 team. What Lillard did in leading a brand-new group in Portland was, to me, no less impressive than the job Terry Stotts did coaching them up or Neil Olshey did in assembling them.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

A pair of Pauls at the forward spot, determined by Millsap’s underrated game along with George’s remarkable, reassuring return season. Cousins’ team didn’t make the playoffs, he’s a certified coach killer and he might not “get it” until it’s too late, but there’s no denying the talent. Thompson is a two-way sidekick to greatness who deals well with the shadow Curry casts. Lowry’s postseason hasn’t matched his regular season but then, the latter is what All-NBA status honors. Supremely talented James Harden? Nope. The way he ball-hogs, he’s unwatchable. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Leonard steamrolled onto the first team with his dominant play at both ends of the court. Green practically reinvented the center spot with his versatility. Westbrook was the king of triple-doubles. And do I really need to explain about Steph and LeBron?

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G:
 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Drummond stakes a claim for the traditional big man. George’s comeback to an elite level was inspirational and maybe is finest season. I still would take Paul as my point guard in one game with everything on the line. Lillard was no surprise on the surprising Blazers. And it’s almost sacrilegious to make K.D. a second-teamer.

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

Aldridge made steady progression into the perfect fit in San Antonio. Millsap is the heartbreak in Atlanta. Towns is the future. Thompson spends too much time in Curry’s shadow. And if Harden played just a little less defense — is that possible? — he might have slipped right off the map here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F:
 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

The only room for change would be putting Draymond Green at center and moving Drummond to second team. I considered that, before ultimately going the conventional route. Otherwise, the other four spots are pretty locked in.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Not too bad of a pair of forwards on the second team. And if CP3 can’t crack the first team, that says a lot about what kind of 2015-16 that Curry and Westbrook had.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought about George for second team and would have put him there if the dominoes fell once Draymond Green was first-team center. Either way, there is no way to overemphasis the importance of George’s season. The same could be said for Lillard as the foundation in play and personality of the new Blazers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I didn’t struggle with this one. Putting aside his team wrecking and coach killing attitude, Boogie was clearly the best center in the game, so he was judged purely on that. In fact, the entire first team is comprised of players who show ability on both ends or at least bring multiple skills, something that helps separate them from their peers.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

I’m tempted to put Draymond Green at center, but he played most of his minutes at power forward. I’m taking Chris Paul over Russell Westbrook, because he was just as important to his offense as Westbrook is, and was a much better defender. Center is obviously the weakest position and it’s difficult to find one that really deserves a first-team designation, but Jordan was a two-way force for a team that ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G: Russell Westbrook,
Oklahoma City Thunder
G:
 James Harden, Houston Rockets

The guards and forwards here are pretty straightforward. Green really deserves a first-team designation, but the forward position is just stacked. Harden’s defense was a disaster, but he carried such a huge load for a top-10 offense.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Bending the position designations a little bit, so that I can include Aldridge, George and Millsap. Aldridge was huge in the second half of the season for a team that won 67 games, George was the best player on both ends of the floor for a playoff team, and Millsap was an all-around stud for a top-four seed. Lowry and Thompson were pretty easy picks, though it was difficult to leave off Damian Lillard. He’s obviously a great player, and he emerged as a real locker-room leader this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite rumors of his demise, LeBron remains the most dominant all-around talent in the game, Leonard has emerged as the best two-way threat in basketball, Drummond’s a double-double machine. Curry had an otherworldly season and Westbrook morphed into a walking triple-double down the stretch of the season.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Green could have been on this team at two positions. Durant showed us this season that he’s all the way back from his injury hiccup. Jordan’s continued improvement (everywhere but the free throw line) is remarkable. Thompson is the best shooter in the world not named Curry and Paul was as valuable to his team as any player in basketball after Christmas.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Damian Lillard,
Portland Trail Blazers
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

George’s comeback from his nasty injury to two-way superstar is complete. Aldridge clearly made the right choice to leave Portland for San Antonio in free agency. Cousins, as much as it pains me to reward someone who causes as much drama as he does, is simply a force. Baby Dame put on a show this season and Lowry led the Raptors to the best season in franchise history.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Whiteside turned the Heat into the No. 7 team defensively. Paul (and Jordan) kept the Clippers in contention without Blake Griffin. My most difficult absences are James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins, whose tremendous statistical years were offset by their disappointing leadership.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Picking three centers was the toughest call for me. I know some people argued that Draymond Green could be an All-NBA center, but to me that’s not his primary position, and I think Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli would agree. So, DeAndre makes the cut, which I don’t mind because of his durability and defensive presence for a top-four team in the best conference.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeMarcus CousinsSacramento Kings
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

For the most part, I tried to reward winning with my selections. And then there’s DeMarcus Cousins. I thought about it a lot, but eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t entirely blame Cousins for the dysfunction in Sacramento, and his 26.9 and 11.5 per game were just too great to overlook.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought really hard about putting Andre Drummond in as my third-team center, but couldn’t justify saying someone is one of the three best at his position in the NBA when he can’t play at the end of games. The one player who I couldn’t find room for was James Harden, who is still an elite scorer but, at least to me, wasn’t one of the best six guards in the NBA this season.

Morning shootaround — May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks | Warriors’ focus on Lillard pays off | Raptors clean slate with Game 7 win | Is it time for fearless Thunder to fear Leonard?

No. 1: Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks — A long layoff works in different ways for different teams. The San Antonio Spurs used their extended time off before their Western Conference semifinal opener against Oklahoma City to perfection (and blew out the Thunder). Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue hopes his team can do the same. That’s why he’s so anxious to get started against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (7 p.m. ET, TNT), as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t played a game since completing the sweep against the Detroit Pistons one week ago. The East’s top team has been waiting patiently, first for the opponent, and then for the opening game of the next round.

“Very anxious,” head coach Tyronn Lue said following Sunday morning’s practice. “A lot of messin’ around, not messin’ around, but you could tell we’ve been off for eight days and guys ready to start playing and getting ready and getting focused for the game. It’s time and we’re ready to play.”

The wait is almost over, with the Cavaliers set to begin their second-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

“This is a long layoff,” veteran Richard Jefferson said. “You look at San Antonio after a long layoff and they came out and played well so you have to use this rest, but at the same point in time you have to try to stay sharp mentally and physically you have to stay sharp — not just eat, hang out and chill. You have to stay locked in this whole time.”

Lue admitted that he didn’t start formulating his plan for the Hawks until the series ended on Thursday night when Atlanta topped Boston in Game 6. Instead, the Cavs focused on themselves, looking at what they had to do to get better.

“Game 1 is a new series and it doesn’t matter what you shot, how well you played, what adjustments you made in the first series,” Jefferson said. “The second series is different against a better team.”

During off days, the Cavs did conditioning work and players stayed in the gym late, getting extra shots. To stay loose following practice, they played other sports — throwing the football around or grabbing mitts to toss the baseball back and forth.

But this time of year, there’s always the question of rest vs. rust, especially after the rhythm Cleveland found against Detroit in Round One.

“Obviously, you can’t get cute and overthink it,” Lue said. “We have our principles, we know what we want to do going into a game and then if things don’t work and you have to adjust. But we know what we want to do right now and we’re ready.”

(more…)

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

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

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

It needs more impact.

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

But his best performance of the series?

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

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

(more…)

Numbers preview: Warriors-Blazers


VIDEO: All-Access: Warriors Advance

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors have hit a bump in the road to another championship. After winning a record 73 games in the regular season, they lost presumptive MVP Stephen Curry to an ankle injury and then a knee injury in the first round.

Curry is out for at least the first three games of the conference semifinals. The Warriors easily dispatched the Houston Rockets without him, but will have a tougher time against the Portland Trail Blazers, one of two teams that registered a regular-season win over the defending champs and is still alive in the playoffs.

That regular-season win was a 137-point explosion on Feb. 19, led by 51 points from Damian Lillard, who gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine with five pull-up 3-pointers. Offense was the story in the season series, with Golden State and Portland combining to score 965 points (most in any season series this year) and Curry, Lillard, Klay Thompson and C.J. McCollum combining to shoot 80-for-151 (53 percent) from 3-point range in the four games.

20160430_total_pts

The Blazers benefited from injuries to the Clippers in the first round and have an opportunity to take advantage of Curry’s injury early in this series. But the Warriors have a far superior supporting cast than L.A. did, and that could help them survive until the MVP returns.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Warriors-Blazers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Golden State Warriors (73-9)

First round: Beat Houston in five games.
Pace: 101.1 (1)
OffRtg: 110.1 (4)
DefRtg: 89.2 (1)
NetRtg: +20.9 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160430_gsw_offense

20160430_gsw_defense

Warriors playoff notes:

20160430_gsw_shooting

Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)

First round: Beat L.A. Clippers in six games.
Pace: 95.9 (5)
OffRtg: 101.8 (9)
DefRtg: 102.2 (9)
NetRtg: -0.4 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160430_por_offense

20160430_por_defense

Blazers playoff notes:

20160430_por_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-1 (2-0 at Golden State).
Jan. 8 – Warriors 128, Blazers 108
Feb. 19 – Blazers 137, Warriors 105
Mar. 11 – Warriors 128, Blazers 112
Apr. 3 – Warriors 136, Blazers 111

Pace: 104.2
GSW OffRtg: 119.9 (2nd vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 111.7 (2nd vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.