Posts Tagged ‘Dave Joerger’

No mystery Z-Bo’s heart’s in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

randolph

Zach Randolph, who turns 33 July 16, averaged 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — There’s more to Memphis than dry-rub ribs. For 260-pound Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, there’s stability, familiarity and comfortability.

All of which runs counter to the chaos and upheaval within the franchise that started a year ago when the first-year front office team swept out coach Lionel Hollins following a Western Conference finals appearance in favor of his younger assistant Dave Joerger. Just last month, Joerger nearly walked to Minnesota after Grizzlies owner Robert Pera dismissed the front office team that had promoted him.

The re-insertion, at least temporarily, of general manager Chris Wallace, the man who traded for Randolph in 2009 and awarded him with a whopping extension, has again bolstered Randolph’s stock within the franchise. If it’s signing either an extension before free agency starts or negotiating a new, long-term contract (if Randolph opts out of his final year at $16.9 million by June 30), Z-Bo keeps making known his commitment to the Grizzlies.

And Memphis is eager to return the favor — Randolph’s five-year run has coincided with the franchise’s best-ever five-year period — by bringing him back on a multiyear deal. This mutual admiration society is a feel-good story, particularly in today’s NBA where players covet their freedom to choose.

“It’s going forward,” Grizzlies interim general manager Chris Wallace told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last week of an extension for Randolph. “We’re very excited about what Zach’s done in the past and hope to have him here in the future. This has really been a terrific boon for both sides. He’s obviously meant a great deal to us on and off the court. And Memphis has worked for him. This has been, by far, the best stop for him since he’s been in the NBA. So we’re working towards that goal.”

But it can also be risky business.

Z-Bo, who fans identify, along with Tony Allen, as the backbone of these modern-day, blue-collar Grizzlies, turns 33 on July 16, and locking big money into a player on the backside of his career can become counterproductive. His value could drop off precipitously in a couple years, and the committed dollars can handcuff a front office’s ability to spend during the offseason on needed roster reinforcements.

For instance, the Grizzlies, unlikely to ever spend into the luxury tax, are in dire need of perimeter shooters. Randolph’s decision to either sign an extension, which would kick in after the coming season and keep his 2014-15 salary at $16.9 million, or to opt out and agree to a lower annual dollar (debatably $10-$12 million) figure over a longer period beginning this season, will play a significant role in Memphis’ free-agent spending ability.

A year ago after losing to the Spurs in the West finals, Randolph was moved to tears when talking about his love for the team and the city. At the time, he was uncertain if the franchise might prefer to try to move the more than $30 million he had remaining on the final two years of his deal.

With point guard Mike Conley creeping ever closer to All-Star status with each season, and center Marc Gasol entering the final year of his contract, the Grizzlies, by committing to Randolph, are committing to their grit-n-grind identity, and to their slow-down, double-post offense while refusing to give into the rest of the speed-infused, drive-and-kick West.

Joerger tried to pick up the pace at the start of last season, but it was quickly dumped after it was determined by the players that they were built to play a certain way.

Randolph completed a fine season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and a career-best 2.5 assists, up from 1.4 the previous season, although his defense and offensive rebounding continued to trend downward. During the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City, Randolph’s 18.3, 8.7 and 2.3 averages helped push the Thunder to a seventh game. Only he wouldn’t play in it, suspended for throwing a punch to the neck of OKC rookie center Steven Adams in Game 6, and Memphis couldn’t recover.

“I think he’s had one of the better [seasons] of his career,” Conley told NBA.com in March. “He’s not just doing his thing with double-doubles and all the things he’s accustomed to doing, but he’s sacrificed a lot for other players, he’s been unselfish. He’s making plays for other people, doing things he’s grown into and realizes that if he does the little things we’re going to be that much better of a team.”

Randolph, headed for his 14th season and became a two-time All-Star in Memphis, has been traded three times. Now that he finally has the power to explore other opportunities, he expresses his desire to only play in the small market on the banks of the Mississippi.

Whether Randolph’s new deal will ultimately be as mutually beneficial as the last one is a question that will have to wait for the answer.

Morning Shootaround — May 25


VIDEO: Daily Zap: May 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wolves, Joerger getting closer to deal | Grizz look toward Van Gundy | No max for Irving? | Report: Hill teams up with SoCal investors

No. 1: Wolves, Joerger getting closer to deal — If the Minnesota Timberwolves have a new coach in the next few days, it will be a continuation of the shake-up in Memphis. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Wolves are moving toward hiring Grizzlies coach (and Minnesota native) Dave Joerger to replace the retired Rick Adelman:

After a meeting with Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on Saturday, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger has moved closer to a deal to become the Timberwolves coach, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Grizzlies and Timberwolves officials have begun discussions on possible compensation for letting Joerger out of his contract, sources said.

Discussions on a contract between Joerger and the Wolves are ongoing too, and a deal could be reached early in the week, sources said.

After a purge of the Memphis management team that promoted Joerger a year ago, owner Robert Pera gave Minnesota permission to discuss its coaching vacancy with Joerger, a Minnesota native. Joerger has history with Timberwolves general manager Flip Saunders, who has been a long-time admirer of Joerger’s climb through the minor leagues into the NBA.

Joerger and Saunders met earlier in the week to discuss the job.

***

No. 2: Grizz look toward Jeff Van Gundy — With Joerger’s departure seemingly inevitable, the Grizzlies need a new coach. And Chris Wallace‘s “interim” tag indicates that they need a new head of basketball operations too. Stan Van Gundy just took both roles in Detroit, and maybe his brother could do the same in Memphis. ESPN’s Marc Stein writes that ESPN TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy is on the Grizzlies’ list of candidates:

One of the prime options under consideration by the Memphis Grizzlies in the wake of last week’s management shakeup and the looming departure of Dave Joerger to the Minnesota Timberwolves is making a run at Jeff Van Gundy to be their coach and run their front office, according to NBA coaching sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Grizzlies have serious interest in trying to convince Van Gundy to serve as coach and team president in a job structure modeled after the new dual role brother Stan Van Gundy has secured with the Detroit Pistons.

Jeff Van Gundy’s interest in that sort of undertaking — or the Grizzlies specifically in the wake of all their recent turmoil — is unclear, with the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach and current ESPN analyst consistent in his reluctance to publicly discuss job openings. But after the ousting of CEO Jason Levien and with Joerger poised to leave, the immediate challenge for Grizzlies owner Robert Pera is convincing prospective candidates that they’ll be walking into a stable situation.

The Grizzlies technically still have a coach, but coaching sources continue to describe Joerger’s move to Minnesota to succeed Rick Adelman with the Timberwolves as an inevitability. ESPN.com reported Thursday that the Wolves had made “significant progress” in their bid to hire Joerger away from Memphis, which sources say continued Saturday after Joerger met face-to-face with Wolves owner Glen Taylor.

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No. 3: No max for Irving?Kyrie Irving is eligible for a contract extension (of four or five years beyond next season) this summer. The former No. 1 pick has been an All-Star in two of his first three seasons. But he’s just the second No. 1 pick in 10 years to not make the playoffs in his first three seasons. He hasn’t been able to lift his teammates up, he’s shown a lack of leadership, and an unwillingness to play defense. Whether he’s worth a max contract or worth building a franchise around is clearly a legitimate question, but not offering him the max would be a risk on the Cavs’ part. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News writes that they may be willing to take that risk:

The Cavs are making noises that they aren’t going to offer Kyrie Irving “max money” this summer via a long-term extension. They don’t want to deal the 2014 All-Star Game MVP, but it could come to that, especially if the West Orange product and his family continue to tell people that he wants out. Irving hasn’t been a leader in his first three seasons and he’s also gained the unwelcomed reputation as a locker-room problem. Those are two reasons the Cavs don’t see him as a max player.

“He was just handed too much, too soon,” said one source. “You’ve got to make these young guys earn it, and that’s where this team did a bad job with him.”

The Cavs know they can’t get Kevin Love in a deal for the No. 1 overall pick they secured with their third lottery win in the last four seasons. If they keep the pick, they’re expected to take Kansas big man Joel Embiid, unless the stress fracture in his back injury from last season has the chance to become a long-term issue.

***

No. 4: Report: Hill teams up with SoCal investors — We reported in this space yesterday that Yao Ming and Grant Hill are among the many names looking to make an offer to buy the L.A. Clippers once they are now longer Donald Sterling‘s. Based on the latest news from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Hill may be a bit more serious about getting in on buying the team based on the fact he’s already got billionaire investors on his side now:

Former NBA All-Star Grant Hill has partnered with billionaire investors and longtime Southern California residents Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh to form an ownership group to bid on the Los Angeles Clippers when they are officially put up for sale, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that Hill’s group is already regarded by league officials as a viable contender for the Clippers in what is forecast to be a highly competitive auction when the franchise finally hits the open market. One industry source told ESPN.com this week that the bidding could start as high as the $1.5 billion range.

It was widely reported Friday that disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling has struck an agreement with wife Shelly to have her negotiate the sale of the franchise, but NBA officials have not yet signed off on that arrangement and continue to proceed with their plans to press for the outright ouster of the Sterlings from the league.

Competition for the Clippers, once they hit the open market, is sure to be fierce, with a number of financial heavyweights having already been linked to purchasing the team Donald Sterling has owned since 1981.

The power trio of Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso, Lakers minority owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, former NBA star Yao Ming and, of course, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim Partners are among the various groups and individuals expected to compete for the Lakers’ co-tenants at Staples Center.

Some experts have projected the number of bidders for the Clippers to stray into the double digits, assuming that the league is successful in forcing the sale of the team, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver continues to believe.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue will interview for the Cavs’ coaching job … Yao Ming denied a report that he’s putting together a bid for the ClippersRick Fox thinks Phil Jackson should coach the Knicks, but would do it himself if asked … Stan Van Gundy tells Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to basically mind his own business … The Nets might be looking to bring ex-power forward Buck Williams back in some kind of front-office roleRon Harper defends himself after he’s the subject of a satirical article in The Onion

ICYMI of The Night: Ray Allen dropped four fourth-quarter threes on the Pacers …


VIDEO: All of Allen’s Clutch 3-Pointers

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger — who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season — permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson —  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

Westbrook’s Game 2 one for the books

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Westbrook steps up in Game 2 as Thunder even series

OKLAHOMA CITY – It took Memphis coach Dave Joerger seven games to finally shake his head and throw up his arms.

“I have no idea why he takes the flack that he takes,” Joerger said. “This man can play.”

This man is Russell Westbrook. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers needed just two games and a third playoff triple-double from the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard to say the same.

“He gets criticized a lot, but I don’t know why,” Rivers said. “The dude plays hard.”

Still, the dude gets piled on, so much so that Kevin Durant felt compelled to address it in his MVP acceptance speech: “A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player…”

Criticism revolves around a Westbrook tendency to go off on volume-shooting binges. The theory goes his poor judgment steals shots from Durant, the more natural scorer who should always finish with more attempts.

Lost in this simplified dissection is that Durant is a four-time scoring champ, and now the MVP in six seasons playing alongside Westbrook. Together they’ve made two Western Conference finals and one NBA Finals. Had Westbrook, 25, not torn the meniscus in his right knee in last year’s postseason, well, who knows?

Westbrook’s full-throttle, yet totally in-control Game 2 performance for a third triple-double in five games thrust him into elite company. Only four other players have produced three or more triple-doubles (but no more than four) in a single postseason going back to 1985: Magic Johnson had four in 1991 and three in each 1986 and 1987; Larry Bird had three in 1986; Rajon Rondo recorded four in 2012 and three in 2009; Jason Kidd had four in 2002; and LeBron James had three last season.

Just a reminder: The Thunder and Clippers are only headed into Game 3 of the second round (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Westbrook’s Game 2 mega-performance of 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals is a four-category combination so rare in the postseason that only three other players have managed it: Charles Barkley (32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals) in 1993; Gary Payton in 2000 (35 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals); and James in 2013 (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals).

Going 13-for-22 from the floor (59.1 percent) made Westbrook the first point guard in NBA playoff history to post at least 30 points on 59-percent shooting while also accumulating double-digit rebounds and assists. He’s the first player to do it since Barkley in 1993, and he became only the sixth player since 1985 to accomplish such a stat line, also joining Ralph Sampson (1986), James Worthy (1988), Michael Jordan (1989) and James (2010).

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Westbrook scored his Game 2 points in a variety of ways — pull-up jumpers, post-ups against his smaller counterparts Chris Paul and especially Darren Collison, full-speed penetrations, plus two 3-pointers on four attempts.

“Just taking what the defense gives me,” Westbrook said afterward.

Hard to criticize that.

Randolph’s punch might KO Grizz vs. OKC

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime discusses Zach Randolph’s suspension

Point guard Mike Conley, despite a right hamstring strain that could limit his mobility and effectiveness, was hoping to play for the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 against the Thunder Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph doesn’t have that option, sending coach Dave Joerger scrambling through his.

Randolph was suspended by the NBA late Friday afternoon for punching OKC big man Steven Adams in the jaw late in Game 6. The penalty deprives Memphis of its leading scorer (18.2 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg) in the series, unclogs the defensive paint for the Grizzlies in a way the Thunder hadn’t managed to and appears to deal a severe blow to the No. 7 seed’s chances of extending its season.

Oh, the advanced stats might suggest otherwise. Randolph has a minus-5.3 plus/minus average through the first six games, and Memphis’ offensive and defensive ratings have been better when the big man has been sitting: 93.4 and 101.4 with him on the floor (-6.6) vs. 111.2 and 103.9 (+3.3) without him.

But the teams’ rotations and matchups factor into those numbers significantly in such a small sample size, and voices from both sides have lauded the Grizzlies’ size as a reason for Kevin Durant‘s and Russell Westbrook‘s difficulties attacking the rim and drifting to perimeter shots.

With the 6-foot-9, 253-pound power forward out of Memphis’ equation, his replacements – Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer – might not have the same effect.

Meanwhile, Conley – Charles Barkley‘s “most underrated point guard in the league” – could be slowed despite two days of treatment on his hamstring. Especially if Joerger feels a need to pick up the pace in Randolph’s absence; Conley has been a master of running and controlling the tempo of his club’s halfcourt attack.

The late-afternoon announcement of Randolph’s suspension, on top of the way it was dealt with in real time Thursday night – Randolph was assessed a common foul, no flagrant, no review, no ejection – produced some nasty Internet comments. Some accused the NBA of favoring Oklahoma City and Durant, the league’s presumptive 2014 Most Valuable Player, for star power and alleged heightened interest for TV ratings.

The only problem with that: Randolph did pop Adams in the jaw with his right fist as the two ran upcourt together. In fact, he first elbowed the Thunder reserve with his left elbow before reaching across to punch him.

Adams didn’t seem to be hurt, judging by video replay, and the incident at 6:42 of the fourth quarter at FedEx Forum brought a whistle but not drama on the floor. The OKC rookie does seem to use his raw-boned strength intentionally to antagonize opponents.

But Randolph could have reacted differently, recoiling from whatever contact Adams caused in that moment or previously or even just rising above it. Memphis trailed at that point 88-71 and was showing no signs of denting the Thunder’s lead. The reasonable tact for the Grizzlies forward would have been to file away whatever Adams was doing to irritate him and battle another day, as in Game 7.

Now he doesn’t have that chance. And the Grizzlies might be out of theirs.

Relaxing amid urgency, Durant gets bonus 48 minutes — Game 7 vs. Grizz

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: OKC rolls over Memphis to force Game 7

MEMPHIS – Facing elimination, on the road, ground down by the pushing and banging of the Memphis Grizzlies and worn out from a playoff-record four consecutive overtime games, Oklahoma City’s players squeezed into the narrow hallway outside their locker room in the moments before the anthem, intros and tipoff.

In the middle of their scrum, the man who has played in the most postseason games in NBA history: Derek Fisher. He was talking. His teammates were listening – OK, Russell Westbrook was spinning and fiddling with a basketball but he presumably could hear Fisher, too.

Kevin Durant was nodding. And smiling.

More than three hours later, after the Thunder put on their most complete and dominating performance of the series to force Saturday’s Game 7 back on their court, Fisher shared some of the old-head wisdom he’d imparted.

“With this team, it’s all about relaxing and playing our game,” Fisher said. “We don’t want to be thinking about playing the perfect game. We can’t be worrying about making mistakes. I’ve seen it – if we play our game, we win.”

OKC won big, 104-84. It pumped its lead to 20 points three minutes into the second half, never let it dwindle below 17 and had it right back at 20 by the end.

There’s relaxed. This was planking (uh, we all remember planking, right?)

“I think [staying relaxed is] when we’re at our best, to be honest,” Fisher said. “We all want to do so well and we expect great things from ourselves, but in these types of situations, I’ve seen this team since I’ve been here do exactly this: Win a game on the road when it’s necessary to win. We didn’t bring the baggage from the last game or Game 3. Anything before tonight was irrelevant.”

Said Westbrook: “We did a great job of just being calm. A great job of coming in and being cool, calm and collected as a unit. For 48 minutes, we had that. We didn’t take a long dip – we just kind of went up and down [the court].”

None of the Thunder players wanted or needed to relax more than Durant. None was in a worse position to do so, though.

His world, all sweetness and light for so much of 2013-14, was rapidly turning sour and dark. His offense was AWOL. Assuming he gets named the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, he was on the brink of the quickest ouster for a league MVP since 2007 (Dirk Nowitzki) and one of only a handful not to survive the first round. As a group, Oklahoma City had many of the same criticisms and reactions headed its way as are hanging over Indiana, which also survived a while longer (in less convincing fashion).

Even the hometown paper, The Oklahoman, piled on Durant Thursday morning with a headline that overreached and triggered such an outcry, you figured Donald Sterling wrote it: “Mr. Unreliable” the newspaper dubbed OKC’s star in bold, block letters, using a blunt ax where a scalpel was required.

The fascinating thing was, Durant already had laid out his strategy for Game 6 before he ever learned of the silly headline. Consider what he said in the morning, when the FedEx Forum was mostly empty and quiet:

You can talk about Xs and Os, what we have to do. But it comes down to laying it all out on the line, for you brothers, for your city, and playing as hard as you can. I think everything else is going to take care of itself. I really believe in that.

We have another chance to play another basketball game. We’re guaranteed 48 minutes. … We tend to take things for granted, but I get to play another basketball game. Something I love to do. You never know, this could be our last time stepping on this court, so I’m going to play as hard as I can. That’s what motivates me.

Durant did exactly what he said, against the backdrop of all that urgency, by staying relaxed and finding fun where others might see only stress. He scored 14 points in the first 12 minutes (the Thunder are 5-0 in playoff games when Durant has done that), 18 by the break and another 18 after halftime. He got to the line for 15 free throws, more than in the past two games combined.

And Durant quickly found the openings and the rhythm in which to assert himself, which isn’t as simple as you might think, superpowers or not.

“It’s hard for someone like him,” said Caron Butler, a surprise starter in coach Scott Brooks‘ lineup in Thabo Sefolosha‘s place. “He has so much responsibility here. He’s got to figure out every game, ‘Should I look for my own offense? Should I get other guys going?’ It’s not easy knowing what’s needed and when to do it.”

Afterward, Durant talked about making those decisions with a 3-2 imbalance in games, in a best-of-seven series, bearing down.

“I just tell myself to cut hard, play hard and [see what happens],” he said. “If I see a shot, shoot it. If I see a pass, pass. I just try to keep it as simple as possible. If I clog my mind with anything else as far as where the passes are going to be and whose guy is going to help off, all that type of stuff, it makes me play on edge, not on instinct.”

Other Thunder players helped more this time by adhering to the plan and the habits that got them this far.

“All we can really do is go into the game and say, ‘We want to play the right way,’ ” reserve forward Nick Collison said. “There are a lot of things that lead up to that. If we execute our offense, he’s going to catch the ball in better areas. He’s going to catch the ball in rhythm and he’s going to have more space to play in. That’s the biggest thing – if he’s catching the ball at the 3-point line with four guys staring at him, ready to help, it can be hard for him. That’s not good for us either.”

Things aren’t good for Memphis now. The Grizzlies head to OKC where, yes, they’ve won twice in three tries but where the Thunder were 34-7 in the season. That crowd there is a force with which to reckon, and getting blown out at home in what could have been a happy, clinching game was a lousy way to prepare.

The grindiest thing in the Grindhouse Thursday was Memphis’ offense, sagging under its poor shooting (37.3 percent) and eventually from point guard Mike Conley‘s sprained right hamstring, injured in a third-quarter loose ball pile-up. He was done after 28 minutes and 2-for-10 shooting.

“I don’t think we played very well so it shouldn’t be like we have a good taste in our mouth,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “We’ve been playing 21 days of must-win games. This is it. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, hurt, nicked up or not. This is the performance that we’ve been looking for all season long. Unfortunately it didn’t come tonight. So for Game 7, it has to be there.”

So does this, if Durant and the Thunder are to serve as any guide: relax.


VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook discuss Game 6 win

 

Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Thunder’s X factor saves day, helps even series

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Highlights of Reggie Jackson’s big Game 4, lifting the Thunder over the Grizzlies in OT

MEMPHIS – It’s part of the sport’s vernacular now, in the way MLB has its “walk-off homers” and the NFL its “pick sixes.” Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson had a “podium game” Saturday night, scoring 32 points – more than Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined – and earning his crew an overtime victory over the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Only he didn’t get his podium.

The Thunder always send Durant and Westbrook into the interview room – where they sit behind microphones at a table on a platform or podium, if you’re into etymology – win or lose. It’s a tradition that’s become a box because now, if they play poorly or OKC loses, they dare not skip the postgame session or they might look as if they’re ducking something.

So a guy like Jackson can have the night of his young life, but he doesn’t get to punctuate like a thoroughly modern athlete, sitting next to a prop sports drink and fielding questions as if at a White House briefing.

Not to worry. Jackson did talk about his big night to a circle of writers and cameras in the cozy visitors’ dressing room. And he got something better than a podium – he got a hug from Durant that had him choking up a bit.

“We told each other we love each other,” Jackson said. “I never expected something like this would happen, especially in these playoffs.”

Modesty talking, probably, because Memphis coach Dave Joerger had referred to Jackson as the Thunder’s X factor days ago and was just waiting – and flinching – for Jackson to catch up. Through the first three games, the legit Sixth Man candidate had averaged just 5.0 points on 15.8 percent shooting (3-of-19, 0-of-6 on 3FGAs). That was some serious regressing off his 13.1 ppg and 44.0 percent accuracy during the season.

Frustrating as that might have been for Jackson, the Thunder and their fans as the team slipped behind in the series, right to the brink of a 1-3 hole, the third-year point guard from Pordenone, Italy, by way of Colorado Springs and Boston College picked the opportune time to get involved.

Durant was having an uncharacteristically miserable night shooting the ball – 5-of-21 – and Westbrook was more haywire than usual at 6-of-24. No matter that the game ground on for an extra five minutes – by then, they were happy to yield the hardwood to Jackson, who scored eight of OKC’s 12 points in overtime after nailing its final five to tie in regulation.

The Thunder had led by as much as 14 in the third quarter, but trailed 80-75 with 1:14 left. Out of a timeout, Jackson shook off both Durant and Westbrook and brazenly launched a 3-pointer from the right wing that hit. After a Memphis turnover, it was Jackson again, his runner from 9 feet at 30.6 seconds ordering up the OT.

“Coach [Scott Brooks] kinda called my number when I had the ball a few times and I was bringing it up,” Jackson said. “Nobody really said anything. It was more the look in their eyes.

“Unfortunately the shots weren’t going down for [Durant and Westbrook]. As a whole, as a team, it seems like it’s been like that the whole series. I was happy to be in the moment, go out there and have fun with the game.”

As cockeyed as the two Thunder stars shot, there wasn’t a moment when the Grizzlies players guarding them exhaled. Their threat at least spaced the floor, which gave Jackson seams to attack at hyper-speed.

“You’ve got to stay honest,” forward Caron Butler said. “Now those doorways start looking like streets. You get in them lanes and the defense kind of loosens up.”

Memphis’ defense opened up for Jackson but few others. Both teams shot under 38 percent and Oklahoma City had quarters of 15 and 16 points and turned over the ball 21 times.

Let’s put it this way, the Grizzlies picked a bad night to miss 10 free throws.

And so this series shifts back to Oklahoma after three consecutive overtime games and eight between the teams since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Grizzlies and the Thunder have totaled 7,478 minutes of basketball head-to-head in that time, including the postseason, a number that dwarfs the NBA’s No. 2 showdown (Miami and Boston, 6,605).

The teams have thoroughly scouted each other and, by this point, don’t much care for the guys lined up across from them. Now Memphis has to win one more, at least, on OKC’s court and, as limited as its own offensive options are, it has an extra Thunder gunner to worry about now.

“I think this is a great matchup for TV ratings,” said the guy who doesn’t know podia.

‘Iron Man’ Mike Miller? Surprisingly so

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

VIDEO: Mike Miller is still a sharpshooter from 3

MEMPHIS, – Had Kendrick Perkins sat on Mike Miller at any point in the past three seasons the way he did Thursday night in Game 3 of the Oklahoma City-Memphis playoff series, a team of EMTs immediately would have rushed to the court carrying a Gulliver-esque spatula. Whatever parts of Miller hadn’t already gone splat would have been scraped up and deposited in the Grizzlies’ trainers room, perhaps not to be seen again until preseason camp.

But here in 2014, that Miller – the one held together with duct tape and baling wire when he managed to play, which wasn’t all that often – is gone. He’s been replaced by one who can laugh off Perkins’ little in-game sitdown and, more important for Memphis, by a guy who did this:

Played in all 82 games.

Miller spent three seasons with the Heat without ever doing that. He topped out at 59 appearances last season and managed to play in only 80 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined. He missed the start of the post-lockout season in December 2011 recovering from sports hernia surgery, and he has had chronic back problems for quite a while. There have been times when Miller, so valuable as a floor spreader and 3-point shooter but so fragile, seemed like he might bruise from a stiff breeze.

Yet here he is at 34, getting healthier. He hadn’t played in 82 since his 2000-01 rookie season in Orlando.

Had Miami known he would be so downright durable, it might have found some way to keep him rather than amnestying the final two years and $12.8 million of his contract last July. (LeBron James and crew hated losing him, but the move did save the Heat about $17 million in luxury tax.) Miller double-dipped by signing with Memphis for the veteran’s minimum of about $1.4 million.

“To be honest, I was healthy last year,” Miller said before the Grizzlies’ practice Friday at FedEx Forum. “It’s just that, when you’re playing behind Hall of Famers, you don’t get that opportunity. I went through a lot with my back and obviously with the sports hernia and stuff like that, but I was fully recovered last year. And just continually got better. I haven’t put a lot of mileage on my body the last three years.”

Miller was available enough in the 2012 playoffs to help Miami win the first championship of its Big Three era. He went 7-for-8 from the arc and scored 23 points in the Game 5 title clincher against Oklahoma City.

Last spring, Miller helped the Heat win again, starting four games in The Finals against San Antonio, shooting 59.1 percent overall and 11-for-18 (61.1) on 3-pointers. But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was leery of Miller breaking down and kept him carefully on the shelf for stretches of the regular season.

No kid gloves for Miller in Memphis, though. He averaged 20.8 minutes, more than in any of his Heat seasons, and ranked second in the NBA in hitting 45.9 percent of his 3-pointers (53.8 percent after the All-Star break).

And get this: Only 23 players in NBA history have played a full 82-game schedule in their 14th season or later.

“He’s been tremendous,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s done a great job with his body in the offseason, just staying lean and staying in shape. He’s done that without pounding on his body.

“You can try to be in great shape but you can do things to your body that just wear it down. He did a great job of keeping himself fresh in the offseason, and our training staff has done a good job with him all season.”

Staying lean without pounding? Sounds like swimming and yoga.

“It pretty much is,” Miller said, laughing. “I didn’t do the swimming part, but I’ve done the 10,000 reps [in the weight room]. I used to do three or four hours in the gym. A lot of that is the reason why my back and stuff were bad.

“Now it’s more maintenance. It’s about coming in here and taking care of my body. Shoot as limited as possible, really. And then getting out in the game and having fresh mind and fresh body.”

Allen adds offense to his Grizz appeal

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Memphis holds off OKC for 2-1 lead

MEMPHIS – Tony Allen started shaking his head even before the question was half-asked, a slow, rolling, sheepish shake punctuated with a frustrated fist pump.

Er, about those 4-point plays, Tony?

“I blame it on missed coverages,” Allen said. “Maybe the big probably called a certain coverage and I was in another coverage, which allowed me to foul him. I don’t know, we’ll look at the film and we’ll have to try to get better at that. Because obviously we’ve been doing that a lot throughout the year.”

Allen, Memphis’ ace perimeter defender was ‘fessing up but not just on his foul on Russell Westbrook‘s 3-pointer with 26.6 seconds left that erased the Grizzlies’ 85-81 lead and forced them again to survive in overtime. He got caught tripping Westbrook on his heave from midcourt at the very end, with :00.9 showing on the clock that, had the shot gone, would have put the Oklahoma City guard on the line to tie.

As it was, Westbrook could have tied it the hard way if he had made his first two foul shots, intentionally missed the third, then had a Thunder teammate or himself tip in the miss.

Imagine Allen’s angst had that happened. The first one, forcing five extra minutes at FedEx Forum before Memphis escaped 98-95, was bad enough.

“Yeah, that was a bonehead play on myself. I take full responsibility for battling Westbrook on that specific play,” Allen said.

Allen could apologize with a smile because at night’s end, the Grizzlies had taken a 2-1 lead over the No. 2-seeded Thunder, with Game 4 set for Saturday night. He could apologize, too, because his body of work contained a lot more than a couple bonehead plays.

Most of Allen’s props come from his work as a pest and, if everything lines up right, a stopper. Against Kevin Durant in this series, as fellow Hang Time denizen Jeff Caplan chronicled two games into the best-of-seven series, Allen been a whole lot of the former, making the NBA’s scoring champ work hard (25-for-53) for point totals (33 and 36) that were right at his average.

But in Game 3, Allen veered toward the latter. Durant took 27 shots and made 10 on his way to 30, and came away with nothing for the eight 3-point attempts he missed. It was hard to tell whether Allen was more up in Durant’s shooting stroke or in his head.

But wait, this time there was more: Allen was an offensive factor, an unusual role for him. In 2013-14, the 6-foot-4 product of Oklahoma State and the city of Chicago averaged just 9.0 points and 7.5 field goal attempts. But he doubled that in Game 3, shooting 8-for-15 off the bench and scoring 16 points.

Better yet for Memphis, there were times in another fiercely fought – and frequently ugly – 53-minute game between two evenly matched and overly familiar opponents when Allen, of all players, seemed to have the best idea of what he wanted to do offensively.

Who would have imagined that, given OKC’s firepower and Memphis’ Clydesdales down low? But the X-factor people keep waiting for Thunder guard Reggie Jackson to become in these playoffs, Allen already is.

And yet, when so many others were standing around, Allen was the guy cutting back door to take a simple bounce pass from Mike Conley. Or worming his way into a seam for a rebound and putback for the Grizzlies’ final two points of the first quarter.

Or, for that matter, scoring six straight to open the second quarter and teaming with backup point guard Beno Udrih to string together 18 consecutive points for Memphis, buying time for Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and the rest.

Allen mattered late, too, with a baseline drive and dunk and a layup with Westbrook on him. Those two buckets broke the 81-81 and gave Memphis its four-point cushion before, y’know, bonehead.

“People are going to see the highlight of Russell Westbrook hitting a three and getting fouled,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “But the guy [Allen] did 99 percent of everything on the floor and it was spectacular. That’s the guy that we all love with his passion, how hard he plays, and his IQ is off the charts. He was aggressive. He was decisive. He took some shots. He was open. … those shots are going to fall for him.”

Some of Allen’s jumpers are more pancake than parabola. But then, the same might be said in this one of Durant and Westbrook, too (4-for-13 from the arc). They both rushed shots and took some they probably shouldn’t.

Their worst sequence came deep in OT, with Memphis up 95-92 and less than 30 seconds left. Westbrook forced a 3-pointer from 27 feet just to the right of center – completely ignoring a wide-open teammate on the left baseline. The rebound got thrown out to Durant at 29 feet and he clanged his, too.

OKC’s frustrations are the same as always, focused on Westbrook, his irrepressibility-slash-irresponsibility in seeking out his own scoring chances and the offense not dedicating itself to getting Durant better shots. Allen, one could argue, is the Grizzlies’ Westbrook, a nightly adventure, a.k.a., sixty shades of cray.

But Allen is a role player, a defense-first guy, who knows his place in the Grizzlies’ pecking order and can be reeled in as needed. Westbrook? His star is brighter, his role and ego are bigger, and the ever-looping risk/reward of his game is way more interwoven into the Thunder’s dreams and nightmares. If their worst nights were actual physical trauma, Allen’s would be a flesh wound, Westbrook’s would be getting gut-shot.

One of them has a conscience, too, that propels him to make up for his mishaps by returning to his roots.

As Allen said of the 4-point plays, “I hate for myself to be in one of those plays. [After getting caught up in one] I’m trying to get back out there and get another steal or rebound or stop. Force a turnover. Y’know, get it back on the defensive end because I know it was me who made the bonehead play.”

The Grizzlies love their bonehead, three games into this grindhouse series. The Thunder, maybe less so.


VIDEO: Allen discusses Game 3 victory over OKC

Thunder thrive on the good, shrug off the ugly in opening win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thunder weather Grizzlies’ rally to take Game 1

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the dust settled on one of the stranger wire-to-wire victories you’ll see, the Oklahoma City Thunder had to be wondering if what just happened really happened.

In the span of three quarters of Saturday night’s 100-86 Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder, once again with Russell Westbrook riding postseason shotgun next to Kevin Durant, showed the world their magnificence, and their warts.

Westbrook started with a turbo blast and it looked like the Thunder might never look back. The lead was 20 before the second quarter was half over. It was 25 — 56-31 — with 6.6 seconds until halftime. Durant and Westbrook had already combined for 33.

Less than five minutes into the third quarter, the lead was down to nine. Nine minutes later Mike Miller drained a 3-pointer and it was Thunder 74, Grizzlies 72.

“They were going to make a run,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I didn’t anticipate the type of run they had in the third quarter.”

The sellout crowd moaned and groaned and hence the very reason Memphis and Dallas clobbered each other for four quarters and an overtime in the season finale for the right to call their shot against the roller coaster erraticism of the No. 2-seed Thunder over the precision performance of the Western Conference’s top-seeded Spurs.

Brooks went on to say it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. And that’s true. And maybe the Thunder, so fast, so athletic, so frenetic at either end for stretches of unpredictable length and fury that it’s simply impossible to maintain such a level throughout a 48-minute game; that a letdown is inevitable and that a quality opponent, as the Grizzlies are, will sense an opening.

“We want to play with that type of intensity,” Brooks said. “No question, it’s hard to play it for four quarters, 48 minutes, 85 or 90 offensive possessions, but we want to strive for that. Tonight in that third quarter, probably seven or eight minutes of that wasn’t as well as we would have liked. But, we fought back, we kept the lead and we extended it down the stretch.”

The Grizzlies have to believe they’re in trouble in this matchup. They’ve lost backup point guard Nick Calathes to a 20-game drug policy suspension and Tayshaun Prince left Game 1 early in the first quarter, too ill to continue on. In the third-quarter desperation to keep clawing, first-year coach Dave Joerger stuck with his four starters and Tony Allen for the entire quarter and deep into the fourth.

Marc Gasol played 45 minutes and all but 47 seconds of the second half with Game 2 approaching quickly Monday night. Zach Randolph logged 39 minutes. Together they went 14-for-40 from the field as the Thunder slacked off whatever outside threat Memphis could muster and hunkered down.

What should not be lost in the Thunder’s first step in getting back to the NBA Finals, a mission sabotaged right about a year ago when Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee, is how much deeper and more complete this Thunder squad is than the 2012 team with James Harden and last year’s club that entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Ten players logged at least 12 minutes. Caron Butler put in 30. Rookie center Steven Adams played 12 minutes and had three blocks in his first six minutes. Serge Ibaka was spectacular with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks, two being skywalking power blocks that will replay on every highlight show over the next 24-hour news cycle. His eight-point third quarter saved the Thunder’s lead.

Westbrook, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson combined for 18 rebounds, one more than Gasol and Randolph. Durant finished with 33 points on 13-for-25 shooting, seven assists and eight rebounds. Just 8-for-18 from the field, he closed the game 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter.

“We just stayed together and we made plays in that fourth quarter,”  Durant said. “The third quarter was tough for us, but we stayed together. We didn’t stray away. We talked it through and made it work on offense and the defensive end and were able to pull away in that fourth quarter.”

Nitpick if you like. Yes, the Thunder again showed their warts, but they also showed how magnificent they can be. This is a dangerous team, now healthy and eager, that would suggest it is just getting started.