Posts Tagged ‘David Blatt’

For Irving, down time before Finals just what doctor ordered


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving from practice May 29

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Tough as the gap between the NBA’s conference championships and the Finals might be for fans and TV viewers, the first three of these eight days have been a tonic and a balm to Kyrie Irving‘s achy left knee.

That gives the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard a legitimate shot at being healthy when his team faces the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 next Thursday in Oakland.

“I’m participating in everything,” Irving said after the Cavaliers’ workout Friday. “We just had a light practice today. The next few days, we’ll definitely ramp it up, I assume. I’m in everything. So I’m ready to go.”

That’s a departure from the previous three rounds. Irving sprained his right foot early in the first round against Boston, which, as he continued to play on it, led to a compensating injury in his left knee. That tendinitis limited him against Chicago and caused him to skip Games 2 and 3 against Atlanta in the East finals.

The three-time All Star, 23, did at least travel with the Cavs to Atlanta to start the series, then took a side trip to Florida with Cleveland team physician Dr. Richard Parker to consult with noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. They came back with a tweaked treatment plan, which Irving credited for helping him play in the Game 4 clincher Tuesday. He scored 16 points in 22 minutes in the 30-point blowout.

Irving’s production hasn’t dropped off entirely, even though he has lacked his signature turbocharged quickness, along with the trust in his body. In 12 games, he has averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and his player-efficiency rating of 20.3 is within his PER range of 20.1 to 21.5 through his first four NBA seasons.

But going through the “will he or won’t he?” uncertainty with the knee (the foot isn’t much of an issue anymore) took a mental toll on Irving. So did the layers of treatment, even as he was trying to properly prepare in case he did play.

“You know, being hurt sucks. Especially in a time like that,” Irving said. “So it was just a learning experience, to say the least. But it was a test of my will. I was very resilient in what I was doing. Hopefully going forward I don’t have any relapse.”

With Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) already out since the first round, the Cavaliers need Irving to bring as much of his “A” game as possible to prevent Golden State from loading up defensively on LeBron James. There would be a benefit for the whole Cleveland team if it didn’t have to sweat Irving’s status day to day through the Finals.

“More so for him, to be able to get out there and be comfortable,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “Not have to worry. ‘Am I going to hurt today? Is it gonna get worse if I play? Is it going to bother me from doing the things I normally do at both ends of the court?’ So I’m hoping, more than anything else, for him, that his feeling is such that he can get out there and play without worry. Without concern. Then he’ll be fine.”

It would mean the difference between playing self-consciously and even cautiously versus just playing. The latter can lead to dynamite results, with Irving so key to slowing Golden State’s momentum and breaking down its defense.

“Basketball for me is all based off instincts,” Irving said. “Going out there when you’re playing hurt, it’s a mental struggle and a mental game that you’re playing with yourself. You’re trying to convince yourself, like, ‘I can one-dribble pull-up or come off this screen…’ Your mind is thinking one thing and your body just won’t allow you to do it.

“Knowing when they’re in line, it’s the utmost confidence. For me it’s the biggest thing. Because my game is predicated on stopping and going, and being able to finish at the rim and make plays. … Now these practice days are vital for me in order to get my rhythm back.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”

Morning Shootaround — May 24


VIDEO: Saturday night was Stephen Curry’s night in Houston

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is the real MVP | LeBron is the B.O.A.T. | Korver, Hawks all but done? | Wounded Rockets stunned by loss | Skiles the frontrunner for the Magic job

No. 1: Steph Curry is the real MVP — The debate is over. Stephen Curry is the “real MVP.” If that is not clear after three games of the Curry-James Harden duel in the Western Conference finals, you need a new pair of glasses. Curry’s brilliance was on full display in the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Houston Saturday night. And good luck finding a comparable talent, a topic our very own Fran Blinebury explored in the aftermath of the Warriors’ huge win:

The record book now says that after hitting 7-for-9 from long range to ignite his 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, two-steal bonfire and an embarrassing 115-80 beatdown of the Rockets, Curry is now the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the playoffs, passing the legendary likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

Your eyes that pop wide open, your ears that can hear the wind getting sucked right out of the arena and any sense of innate rhythm that runs from your head to your feet say you don’t need any list of numbers to tell you he’s a completely different breed of cat.

“I think it’s the ball-handling that leads to the shot,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare him with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch, great ball handler, quick pull-up on a dime. Steve Nash, although Steve really preferred to make the pass and he was a reluctant shooter, could still shoot off the dribble.

“But I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with] ability to create space and then pull up and six, seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

That was perhaps one thing a few of the swells in the high-priced front row seats were saying midway through the third quarter when Curry grabbed the rebound off a missed layup by Klay Thompson, ran to the left corner, turned to drill one more trey, stared at the crowd, then removed his mouthpiece to return verbal fire.

“That’s the fun with playoff basketball on the road,” Curry said. “You’ve got hecklers and guys up close that paid of a lot of money for those seats that want to get their money’s worth. It’s fun. You know, those are just genuine reactions.

“I think the one in the corner, a guy said — it was a four-letter word I can’t repeat. But that’s the one I turned around and just said, ‘Sit down.’ Just having fun with him, go about my business, get back on defense. If they want to talk, hopefully they can take some back in my fashion.”

(more…)

Korver’s absence, series edge won’t impact Cavaliers’ use of Irving


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – No one would blame the Cleveland Cavaliers if they loaded up injured point guard Kyrie Irving‘s dance card with contingencies that had nothing to do with his aching left knee.

Irving, who sat out Game 2 Friday in Atlanta after playing only 27 minutes in the series opener, would appear to be facing no urgency to rush back into action, given Cleveland’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series has shifted to the Cavaliers’ home court for the next two games. The Hawks’ lineup took a serious hit Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver (right high-ankle sprain) was ruled out for the rest of his team’s postseason.

And with the Finals set to start on June 4, the longer the Cavs could go before Irving puts any fresh wear or tear on his knee likely would be helpful in dealing with Golden State or Houston for a championship.

But that isn’t how Irving’s team is approaching his absence. Coach David Blatt said Irving still is listed as questionable for Game 3 Sunday and that his participation will be determined by Irving and a doctor’s decision.

“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team and the series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t.”

That’s the problem Atlanta faces in the wake of Korver’s playoff-ending injury, suffered in the third quarter Friday when Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the Hawks player’s ankle while diving for a loose ball. Korver had struggled with his shot at times lately, but few this side of Steph Curry are as feared from 3-point range. Atlanta was 5-2 this postseason when the 34-year-old wing player made at least three attempts from the arc.

“We will miss him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters Saturday. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”

Budenholzer said he had not decided who would replace Korver in the starting lineup. The Hawks already are shorthanded with perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha hurt in a confrontation with New York police in April. Also, DeMarre Carroll – Budenholzer’s preferred defender vs. LeBron James – still is nursing a sore knee suffered late in Game 1.

“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal. But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.”

Cleveland knows all too well, with Irving hobbled – the point guard did play some 1-on-1 after his team’s practice with assistant coach Phil Handy providing resistance – and Kevin Love’s postseason wiped out by a shoulder injury in the first-round finale against Boston.

The Cavaliers have grown in confidence and competence around their leader, LeBron James. And while it might seem as if James is back in his early Cleveland era, as far as limited star assistance, he didn’t breathe any life into that theory Saturday.

“I never felt I had to do it by myself, even in the past,” James said. “Mentally, I just wasn’t who I am today. My hard drive wasn’t as big as it is today. That’s all it comes from. I’m able to handle a lot of situations that I wasn’t able to handle at 24, 25 years old.

“I just tried to do it [before] by just playing the game of basketball, just going out and just playing – that’s such a small dosage of what the game is all about. The mental side is way more important than the physical and just playing basketball.”

Until the next sore knee or high-ankle sprain, anyway.

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

***

No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

***

No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Hawks, Cavs dealing with injuries


VIDEO: Cavs’ Irving, Hawks’ Carroll dinged up

HANG TIME ATL — Hours ahead of their Game 2 matchup in the Eastern Conference finals, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers were each dealing with the possibility of being without a member of their starting five heading into tonight’s game (8:30 ET, TNT).

The Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to a knee injury with five minutes to go in their Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday. After an MRI on Thursday, the Hawks announced that Carroll had not suffered any structural damage and listed Carroll with a left knee sprain.

While Carroll is officially listed as “questionable” for Game 2, he wasn’t made available to answer any questions at this morning’s shootaround. Carroll was, however, a participant in the session, and he walked past a few media members following the shootaround without using crutches and with no visible limp.

Several Hawks players passed when asked to shed light on how Carroll looked during the shootaround. If Carroll is not able to play tonight, the Hawks will likely look to Kent Bazemore to start and fill Carroll’s role as the designated defender against Cleveland’s LeBron James.

“I slept well last night, which is great.” joked Bazemore about the possibility of getting the start against the four-time MVP. “It’s a great platform to show what you can do. They brought me here as a defender, and that’s my job. What a great measuring stick to go up against one of the best.”

If Carroll can’t play tonight in Game 2?

“Obviously DeMarre’s huge to what we do defensively, and he’s a big spark on offense,” said Hawks center Al Horford. “But that’s why we have some depth on this team, and we feel confident in some of the other guys.”

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are dealing with their own injury issues. Point guard Kyrie Irving has been slowed with left knee tendonitis, robbing him of the explosiveness that usually makes him such a tough cover for defenders. The Cavaliers announced that Irving missed this morning’s shootaround so that he could undergo further testing on his knee, and said Irving was also questionable for tonight’s game.

After winning Game 1 in Atlanta, the Cavs could conceivably rest Irving during Game 2, then return to Cleveland for Game 3 still holding home court advantage, whether they win or lose Game 2.

“It’s not a matter of shutting [Irving] down,” said Cavs coach David Blatt. “It’s just a matter of, is he healthy enough to play? Does he feel healthy enough to play? That’s all.”

If Irving can’t play tonight in Game 2?

“Next man up,” Blatt said. “Guys gotta step in and pick up for him.”

The Cavs-Hawks style referendum


VIDEO: Can the Hawks’ team-first approach defeat the Cavaliers’ star-first approach?

ATLANTA — Much will be made of the contrast in styles between the combatants in the Eastern Conference finals.

The ultimate superstar in LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers versus the ultimate team in the Atlanta Hawks and arguably the best starting unit in basketball this season. It sounds good and lends itself to the underlying drama every playoff series of this magnitude requires.

Whether or not there is any actual validity to that theory, however, remains to be seen.

We’ll know better after Game 1 tonight at Philips Arena (8:30 ET, TNT), when we get our first look at these two teams and their styles that have led them to the brink of fighting for a championship. There is no need in rehashing the particulars of how these teams have arrived here. The Cavaliers rely heavily on LeBron to trigger all things, on both ends of the floor. He is at the center of everything they do, the same as he’s always been on whatever team he’s played on, dating back to his biddy ball days in his native Akron.

The Hawks — their four All-Stars (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver) and playoff MVP (DeMarre Carroll) — are focused around that five-man unit that has excelled all season long. When they needed to surge past Brooklyn in the first round, they took turns playing hero. Same goes for the way they handled things in the conference semifinals when they needed to squeeze past Washington.

While the Hawks’ main focus will be on LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers know that they won’t have the luxury of locking into any single player in an effort to slow the Hawks down.

“For us defensively, we have to be in tune,” LeBron told reporters in Cleveland after practice earlier this week. “First of all, the most important thing is the ball and the ball is going to start in Jeff Teague’s hands and then from that point on to Kyle Korver to DeMarre Carroll to Al Horford to Paul Millsap on to the guys that come in after them.”

Cleveland’s role player have stepped up, particularly J.R. Smith, Iman ShumpertTristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavadova, but they still won’t draw the focus of the Hawks the way LeBron and Kyrie will. The Hawks don’t change who and what they are based on the opponent, choosing instead to stick to the principles on both ends of the floor that produced their franchise-record 60-win season and breakthrough to the conference finals.

So even if there are some who are trying create the narrative that this series is a referendum on which style of play will prevail, the Hawks aren’t necessarily interested in playing that game. This isn’t a battle between the pace-and-space style and the hero ball style that has ruled the roost for years.

“Hero, that word,” Korver said. “It is unique. There’s only so many elite, elite superstars. The rest of us have to figure out how to win. So this is how we do it. And we feel like it’s a good way to play, a fun way to play. And a fun game to watch. This is who we are and we’ve all kind of taken turns taking and making shots at the end and it’s probably going to continue to be that way. The last series it felt like every game was down to the wire and different guys made different plays in different games. Gonna be the same thing this time around.”

Even if they don’t want to dive in on the narrative, Korver is well aware that the trial of this style versus that style will rage on.

“It feels like it’s been on trial for a while, huh?” he said. “Feels like we get asked this question a lot. Obviously, the fire keeps burning brighter. And that’s okay. That’s what we play for. We’re not here trying to sell the world that this is better than hero ball or whatever. This is just who we are and how we have to play and it gives us our best chance to win. And we’re just trying to do it the best that we can.”

Morning shootaround — May 17




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Moment of truth | Irving sits out | Father’s memory drives Kerr | Thibs or bust

No. 1: Rockets-Clippers reaches seventh heaven or hell — Very few words generate more buzz, more excitement, more stomach-churning anticipation than this: Game 7. After all the back-and-forth, all the blowouts and all the missed opportunities on both sides, now the Rockets and Clippers will settle the matter of who gets the last spot in the NBA’s version of the Final Four today when they square off at Toyota Center in Houston. Our Fran Blinebury says it will be remembered as the tale of comeback or collapse, depending on your perspective, when the matter finally comes to a head:

History and the home court gives the Rockets a decided leg up before the opening tip. Road teams have won just 24 of 119 Game 7s in NBA playoff history and only eight teams ever have come back from the 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series that Houston is attempting. The last time it happened was in 2006.

However, the Clippers faced the same situation in 2012, letting a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies turn into a 3-3 tie and throat-tightening time. But they went into Memphis and won Game 7. The Clippers have also won seventh game showdowns last season against the Warriors and in the first round this season over the defending champion Spurs. In Las Vegas, the odds makers have the Clippers as a two-point favorite.

***

No. 2: Ailing Irving held out of practice — The countdown clock to the Eastern Conference finals is down to three days and it looks like Cavs’ point guard Kyrie Irving will be happy to use up every single minute of that time as he hopes to heal a left knee injury that was tweaked in the close-out Game 6 win at Chicago. He’s also got some some other aches and pains, so our Steve Aschburner notes that Irving — uncertain for Game 1 against Atlanta on Wednesday night — was just a spectator when the rest of the Cavs hit the practice court on Saturday:

With days to go before the Eastern Conference finals begin in Atlanta, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire squad had been held out of practice Saturday. But since most of their players did participate, point guard Kyrie Irving‘s lack thereof was duly noted by assembled media.

As the folks at Ohio.com reported:

[Irving] was held out of practice Saturday after reaggravating a left knee injury in Thursday’s closeout Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

An MRI on Monday revealed tendinitis in Irving’s knee. Irving has also been battling a right foot strain suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving saw the doctors again Friday. Blatt couldn’t give a definitive assessment of Irving’s status for Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks in Atlanta, but said the Cavs “hope” he can play.

“He going through a lot of treatment and we’re monitoring and just hoping that he progresses from here until game time,” Blatt said.

***

No. 3: Kerr is guided by his father’s legacy — There are many reasons why the Warriors have advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly four decades, but none more so than coach, Steve Kerr. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News tells the wonderfully poignant story of the man who shaped Kerr, his father Malcolm, who was gunned down by an assassin in Beirut back in 1984. It is highly recommended reading:

Kerr spoke at length about his childhood during a recent interview and credits both parents, working in concert across continents, to provide “everything I needed.” But in personality, Kerr said, he is wired like his father: Reserved but passionate (the father about Lebanon, the son about basketball), thoughtful but possessing a razor wit.

Kerr’s memories remain vivid all these years later, and he rattled them off: There is Malcolm, reading The New Yorker in the stands at Dodger Stadium. There is Malcolm, coming home from the office and making popcorn. There is Malcolm, emerging from his study to shoot baskets in the driveway.

And there is Malcolm, patiently waiting for his enraged son to settle down.

“He set such a good example,” said Kerr, who has three children. “I’ve tried to be the same way with my kids.”

The lessons imparted at home and the experiences gained overseas — “They all got thrown into bathwater and survived,” Ann said — combined to shape Kerr’s worldview, foster a sense of empathy and sharpen his interpersonal skills.

Those same skills would help carry him through a 15-year NBA career — a second-round draft pick, he won five NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs — and ease his transition to coaching.

“I developed a lot of compassion living in Egypt, seeing the poverty,” he said. “The discussions around the dinner table about world politics and understanding how fortunate we were — all that helped me gain perspective on life.

“That helped with teammates when I was a player and now as a coach.”

***

No. 4: Bulls and Thibodeau need detente — Let’s face it. Despite all of the supposed excitement in the front office over Fred Hoiberg, there will be a learning curve if Fred Holberg makes the jump from the college ranks to head coach of the Bulls. And despite the fact that he’ll have his pick of the jobs in Orlando and Denver and New Orleans, Tom Thibodeau will have considerable building to do before he gets those teams to the current level of the Bulls. So David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the best shot at a championship for both sides is to find a way to work and stay together:

Unless Thibodeau’s successor is Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, no new coach will be more qualified to get the Bulls to the NBA Finals quicker. Unless Thibodeau unseats David Blatt in Cleveland — possible, but still a long shot — it’s hard to imagine any team Thibs inherits being closer to winning their conference than the Bulls. Sorry, drama kings, both Thibodeau and the Bulls are better together than apart.

Compromise should be the goal — not the enemy — for Thibodeau and the Bulls management tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson. It should be imperative to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he intercedes to help them achieve it. Reinsdorf, 79, should understand that letting Thibodeau go now realistically removes the urgency from next season. Any new coach introduced, whether it’s Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg or Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, delays any realistic championship run.

Creative tension is great until it shatters a championship window. With the White Sox, Reinsdorf presided over the soap opera that played out between then-general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. With the Bulls, back in 1998, Reinsdorf oversaw the clash of then-GM Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson. At least those previous odd couples won titles together before divorcing. The Bulls and Thibodeau are on the verge of splitting before ever playing into June.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan is going after some big names to assemble a high-powered coaching staff with lots of NBA experience in OKC…Dwight Howard, who leads the playoffs in technical fouls, admits that his emotions often get the better of him on the court…Before they take the court for Game 7 against the Rockets, the Clippers better make sure they’ve unloaded their emotional baggage from Game 6…Word is the Celtics are looking to move up in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein…Coach Randy Wittman believes Paul Pierce will return for another season with the Wizards…Members of the National Basketball Players Association are quite content with the direction and leadership shown by new head Michele Roberts.

With days to spare, Cavs’ Irving skips practice for rest, treatment

With five days to go before the Eastern Conference finals begin in Atlanta, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire squad had been held out of practice Saturday. But since most of their players did participate, point guard Kyrie Irving‘s lack thereof was duly noted by assembled media.

As the folks at Ohio.com reported:

[Irving] was held out of practice Saturday after reaggravating a left knee injury in Thursday’s closeout Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

An MRI on Monday revealed tendinitis in Irving’s knee. Irving has also been battling a right foot strain suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving saw the doctors again Friday. Blatt couldn’t give a definitive assessment of Irving’s status for Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks in Atlanta, but said the Cavs “hope” he can play.

“He going through a lot of treatment and we’re monitoring and just hoping that he progresses from here until game time,” Blatt said.

The All-Star point guard aggravated his left knee pain early in the second quarter Thursday when he stepped on teammate Tristan Thompson‘s foot. He exited and did not return, logging just 12 minutes in the 94-73 blowout.

Blatt said Irving will be listed “day to day” as the series against the Hawks nears. Just don’t count Sunday as one of those days – the Cavaliers are scheduled to take it off, returning to the practice court Monday.

Gasol out, Irving in as Bulls, Cavs cope

CLEVELAND – The cautious route vs. the gutsy route: the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers were taking different paths toward the same desired destination, a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, in some key players’ handling of injuries.

The Bulls went into Game 5 at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday night without All Star big man Pau Gasol for the second consecutive game due to a strained left hamstring. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were counting on an increasingly gimpy Kyrie Irving, whose sprained right foot has led to a sore left knee since he began favoring the initial injury.

Gasol, 34, stretched and tested his left leg Tuesday morning before the Bulls’ shootaround and was only able to run at about “40 percent” effort, he said. Still to come: running at full speed, changing directions, jumping and exploding off that leg.

“Still some stuff I need to get done in the next 48 hours to be able to play an NBA game,” Gasol said. “I feel it’s improving. We’re doing everything we can to get me on the floor as soon as possible.

“By the tests that we did, clinically, it’s not a terrible strain. Otherwise it would put me out for a while. … Right now we’re just staying positive. Everyone’s working hard so I can be out there the sooner the better. Because we’re in an urgency situation.”

Gasol said he suffered hamstring strains – one per leg – twice previously in his 14-year career. One put him out for a month, the other sidelined him for two-and-a-half weeks. This one, which he first noticed in Game 2 and aggravated in Game 3, comes at an especially inconvenient time.

“Very difficult,” Gasol said of sitting on the side while the Bulls try to win the best-of-seven series against the Cavaliers. “Not to play at this time when we need everyone on the floor that we can possibly have, this is hard. I feel I can make a difference on the floor and help the team have a better chance.”

Irving, 23, feels the same way and is playing through his foot and knee discomfort. Cleveland’s All-Star point guard has left no wiggle room in recent days – he was playing, not sitting – so it would seem to fall to coach David Blatt, his staff and the Cavs’ medical staff to make sure a) Irving isn’t doing further damage, and b) his limitations aren’t hurting the team on the floor.

“I really feel we have been as conscious and as considerate of his physical state as possible,” Blatt said before the game Tuesday. “If [Kyrie] said to me, ‘I can’t go’ or ‘I don’t feel I can do this,’ we would be the last people to push him to do so. The results of his tests are such that, he has issues but they’re not issues that endanger him in terms of being injured going forward.”

Some diminished contribution from Irving still is better, apparently, than what some different but totally healthy Cleveland player can give them.

“His best in the worst of conditions is invaluable to us and we want to get that from him,” Blatt said. “I’m not going to stop playing him just because perhaps he’s not playing at 100 percent of his normal level. Because still what he’s giving us is extremely important to us.

“I won’t play him if he’s too badly hurt. Or if we’re in a situation where it endangers him going forward.”

Did phantom timeout spare Cavs, Blatt?


VIDEO: David Blatt tries to call a timeout near the end of Game 4

CHICAGO – A timeout that didn’t get called and, frankly, didn’t even exist played an inordinately huge role in Cleveland’s 96-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls at United Center Sunday in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinals series.

That exciting buzzer-beater by LeBron James might never have happened if Cavaliers coach David Blatt had gotten the attention of one of the three referees immediately after Derrick Rose‘s driving layup tied the game at 84-84 with 9.4 seconds left.

Blatt wanted a timeout – but his team had burned through its final three setting up a play, then trying to inbound the basketball, with 18.8 seconds left. So when Blatt tried to signal for one after Rose’s basket, he came perilously close to earning a technical foul.

Here’s the NBA Rule Book on excessive timeouts (Rule No. 12):

Section I—Excessive Timeouts

  1. Requests for a timeout in excess of the authorized number shall be granted and a technical foul shall be assessed. Following the timeout and free throw attempt, the ball will be awarded to the team which shot the free throw and play shall resume with a throw-in nearest the spot where play was interrupted.

Video shows one ref, Scott Foster, on the far side of the floor from Blatt, preparing for the Cavs to put the ball in play. The other two, Tom Washington and Jason Phillips, appear to be heading into the backcourt. And then Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue can be seen grabbing Blatt.

“Yes, I tried to call one and almost blew it,” Blatt said. “Then they told me we didn’t have one.”

Conceivably, a technical free throw would have put Chicago up 85-84 and the Cavaliers would have had to foul, perhaps pushing the Bulls’ lead to 87-84. The pressure on James’ final shot, if he got one, would have been greater – make it or lose – and it would have had to come from 3-point range. At the very least, Bulls fans will be ruminating on Blatt’s Chris Webber moment that wasn’t.

“That’s why we’re a unit, that’s why we’re a team,” James said. “Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and we have to be able to cover for one another. T-Lue did that by covering for Blatt, that’s why I try to cover for my guys on the floor.”