Posts Tagged ‘Deron Williams’

Morning shootaround — May 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson | Pelicans refute Dumars talk | Duncan’s choice will affect Ginobili’s future | Thibodeau miffed over lack of free throws for Rose

No. 1: Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson — Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King addressed the media yesterday in his end-of-season news conference and much of what he had to say wasn’t a surprise. Per King, the team wants to re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and, overall, King was pleased with the team’s late playoff push and playoff run. The one piece of surprising news, however, was that the Nets seem open to trading their multi-million dollar backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post has more:

Brook Lopez has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors the past few years. But after an impressive second half, the Nets have made it clear they view him as the franchise’s centerpiece moving forward.

Nets general manager Billy King reaffirmed that Wednesday, saying he’s committed to re-signing Lopez if he opts out of his contract as expected and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“For us to get in the playoffs that stretch, [Lopez] was the guy who carried us. He was our best player,” King said during his end-of-season sitdown with reporters. “Without Brook Lopez, there’s no way we even get to where we go to this year.

“I’ll say it again: We want him back. I want him back, [coach] Lionel [Hollins] wants him back, ownership wants him back. We’ve all said it. There shouldn’t be any more doubts about it.”

But while the Nets seem committed to Lopez, they’re ready to move on from having the NBA’s most expensive backcourt. King says he’s open to trading Deron Williams or Joe Johnson this summer.

“We’re going to explore all options, as we have [previously],” King said. “Will there be a trade? There could be, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to look at every option to get better.”

When King put together the triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Lopez three summers ago, the Nets thought they would be headed into Brooklyn with a team ready to compete for championships. That hasn’t happened, though, as the Nets have compiled a combined 10 playoff victories and advanced to the second round just once in the past three years.

Now the Nets appear headed for significant changes, and it will be a big surprise if all three high-priced former All-Stars are back next season. The plan instead seems to be building around Lopez while keeping Thaddeus Young, who also has a player option that he’s far more likely to exercise.

The Nets are in an incredible predicament, of their own making, after they sent three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. One of those first rounders is for 2016, meaning the Nets can’t tear down their roster this offseason.

So while the Nets certainly have an eye on the oodles of cap space they are projected to have when the salary cap spikes next summer – currently more than $50 million – they have to find a way to remain competitive next season without sacrificing the only kind of long-term flexibility they have.

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Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

***

No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Hawks are true believers … in the film


VIDEO: Is the pressure on the Hawks elevating as the games go by in their series with the Nets?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For a team as married to their methodical process this season as the Hawks have been, it’s no surprise that they are as measured as they are heading into what is easily their biggest game of the season.

Game 5 on Wednesday night at Philips Arena, with their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets all tied up at 2-2, is the Hawks’ Super Bowl. And yet they are not at all unnerved by the pressure that comes with a No. 1 seed needing at least six games to finish off the No. 8 Nets.

Because when you study your own film as diligently as these Hawks have all year, you’re a — to borrow a Hawks’ marketing slogan — true believer in the power to rectify things after back-to-back losses in this series.

The initial emotion after their Game 4 overtime loss Monday in Brooklyn was anger. But after Tuesday’s film session, Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap spoke of the excitement he and his teammates felt after studying what went on during their trip to Brooklyn. “Watching film puts everything in perspective,” he said. “They played a good game and made tough shots. We played a good game and didn’t make plays.”

If only it were that simple.

The Hawks couldn’t put the Nets away while operating with a 12-point cushion in Game 4 and Deron Williams went wild, matching his playoff career-high with 35 points, as the Nets exploited the situation to their benefit. You don’t have to watch the film to figure out that the Hawks, 4-0 against the Nets during the regular season by a double-digit average victory margin, are locked into something other than a runaway first round series against an overmatched No. 8 seed.

On a night the Hawks won the rebounding battle by 15 (55-40), they turned the ball over 18 times and did not handle themselves like a championship team in the final seconds of regulation. They didn’t even get a shot off with a chance to win the game with 6.2 seconds to play.

“I feel like we may have settled for too many jump shots,” Millsap said. “We’re a better team when we’re in attack mode, especially myself and Jeff [Teague], collapsing the defense. Our mindset is still, we feel like we can do it, especially after watching film seeing some of the missed ques. We felt like we played good enough to win the game. We’re still pretty confident.”

The Nets might not have the track record of playing above and beyond their 38 regular season wins, but their confidence is soaring as well. In Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack and others, they are showing themselves to be every bit up to the challenge of the moment.

“Definitely, the guys rallying around me means a lot,” said Williams, who scored a total of 18 points through the first three games of the series. “It just shows that we’re coming together as a unit.”

If the Hawks didn’t take the Nets seriously as a threat before the series began, they certainly do now. The pressure mounts on the home team in each and every game left to be played.

“I feel like, hopefully, our group and has given Brooklyn their due credit,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.  “They played well down the stretch of the (regular) season. It’s been a hell of a four games so far. They have talented players as we do. They deserve credit for the way they are playing and our group does, too. It’s a series. It’s 2-2.”

And when you get shoved back into this position, the first place the Hawks turn is to the film and their internal examination of what’s gone wrong. The Hawks certainly are not playing like the machine that won 19 straight games during the regular season, the crew that blew away the Eastern Conference en route to a 60-win season.

“I think it’s always great to go back and watch the film and learn from it,” Budenholzer said. “You see where we can be better and improve and take that, together as a group, and go from there. It’s exciting to go into playing and taking what we saw from film and taking it onto the court. If you are a competitor, you’re unhappy if things don’t go your way. If you can turn that anger into the appropriate focus and attention [in Game 5] … that’s a positive with the group we have.”

Morning shootaround — April 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

How long might Love be out?| ‘D-Will’ lives again in Game 4 win | Report: Parsons may need microfracture surgery

No. 1: How long might Cavs be without Love? — The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2010, but they got there by paying a steep price. Star forward Kevin Love suffered a shoulder injury courtesy of Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk in the Cavs’ Game 4 series-clinching win against Boston. The team revealed yesterday that Love will miss the East semis with a dislocated shoulder and, as USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt reports, he could miss 4-6 weeks:

The team said Love has “an acute anterior inferior glenohumeral dislocation with the corresponding ligament/labrum tearing and humeral head bone bruising” and is undergoing treatment. The team also said it is exploring additional opinions and treatment options.

The corresponding ligament and labrum tear make the injury much more serious and the recovery time longer. A 4-6 week absence or longer is possible.

The average absence for a dislocated shoulder is 27 days, according to athletic trainer Jeff Stotts, who maintains a comprehensive database of NBA injuries. Some players, such as Channing Frye, return in 14 days. Cleveland guard Iman Shumpert, however, missed six weeks with a dislocated shoulder earlier this season.

If the Cavaliers play the Bulls, who are up 3-1 on the Bucks, in the next round, they face a difficult task against a team with a deep frontcourt: Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

The Cavaliers lose scoring and rebounding without Love. It’s likely forward Tristan Thompson will move into the starting lineup, but then that leaves a hole on Cleveland’s already short bench.

It no doubt helps to have James and guard Kyrie Irving on the floor, and those two will need to produce at an even higher level.

Though the Cavs had a 19-20 start and lost Anderson Varejao to a season-ending injury early in the season, this is the Cavaliers’ first playoffs adversity. Having never played in the playoffs before this season, Irving doesn’t know about playoff hardship.


VIDEO: The Cavaliers are trying to figure out their next move 

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Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Numbers preview: Hawks-Nets


VIDEO: The Association: An all-access pass for the Hawks’ playoff push

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks were the biggest surprise of the 2014-15 season, ripping off a 33-2 stretch after Thanksgiving to vault into the top spot in the Eastern Conference and never showing any real signs of weakness after that.

The Hawks are the only Eastern Conference team that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They went 21-12 against teams that finished the season with winning records and scorched an improved Cleveland defense in their last regular season meeting.

Yet few believe that this team is heading to The Finals. Despite their similarities to the team that won the championship last season, there are questions about how Hawks’ formula for success, both on offense and defense, will hold up in the postseason.

Those questions might not be answered in the first round against a team that is fortunate to be here. The Brooklyn Nets are the only playoff team with a negative point differential and not by a narrow margin. The Nets were outscored by 236 points this season. They were 24-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but lost 17 games by more than 15 points.

They still have a talented roster, but it’s not nearly as cohesive as that of their opponent. And though Brooklyn showed improvement after the All-Star break, it still had a pretty porous defense.

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

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

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Pace: 96.2 (15)
OffRtg: 106.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.7 (7)
NetRtg: +5.6 (4)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Brooklyn: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks notes:

  • Assisted on 67.6 percent of their baskets, leading the league in assist rate for the third straight season.
  • 79.5% of their jump shots were uncontested, the highest rate in the league, according to SportVU.
  • Ranked last in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 21.4 percent of available offensive boards.
  • Allowed just 1.01 points per possession in transition, the lowest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyle Korver had the best effective field goal percentage on both contested jumpers and uncontested jumpers among players with 100 of each.

Brooklyn Nets (38-44)

Pace: 95.0 (24)
OffRtg: 101.9 (18)
DefRtg: 105.0 (24)
NetRtg: -3.1 (22)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Nets notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 4-0.
Pace: 96.6
ATL OffRtg: 118.3 (1st vs. BKN)
BKN OffRtg: 99.8 (17th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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



VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.

Morning shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce says time with Nets was ‘horrible’ | Perkins says LeBron much like KG | Mavs worried about Parsons’ injury | Bucks’ Parker out for training camp?

No. 1: Pierce blasts time with Nets, questions Williams’ leadership — When the Boston Celtics dealt franchise mainstays Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn in the summer of 2013, the idea was those two would provide the veteran leadership needed to help the Nets realize their long-held Finals dreams. That’s not quite what happened, though. Brooklyn stumbled out of the gates in 2013-14, then turned things around and eventually won Game 7 in a first-round series against Toronto … and lost in the East semis to the Miami Heat. Pierce left as a free agent last summer to sign with the Washington Wizards and is enjoying life there today. He opened up to ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan about how much he disliked playing in Brooklyn and had some harsh words for Nets point guard Deron Williams, too:

“I’m much happier,” he said. “It was a tough situation (in Brooklyn) last year. Horrible, really.

“It was just the guys’ attitudes there. It wasn’t like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn’t want to play and didn’t want to practice. I was looking around saying, ‘What’s this?’ Kevin (Garnett) and I had to pick them up every day in practice.

“If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”

The player that puzzled him the most, said Pierce, was point guard Deron Williams.

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.

“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”

Pierce said veteran Joe Johnson was an affable professional but also a reluctant leader.

“Joe is quiet,” Pierce noted. “He doesn’t want much attention. He doesn’t say much.

“There’s a lot of secondary guys on that team. KG and I went there looking at them as the main guys who would push us, because we were advancing in years. But we ended up doing all the pushing.”

When the season ended, they declined to sign Pierce to a new deal and let him walk as a free agent.

“I would have stayed in Brooklyn because of Kevin,” Pierce said. “I told him, ‘I don’t really like this situation but I would never leave you if you want me to stay.’ But they decided not to re-sign me so I never had to make a choice. I would never have left Kevin like that.”

Pierce still engages in group texts with former Celtics teammates (and coach) Doc Rivers, Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby Davis, but hasn’t talked to Ray Allen since he bolted from Boston to Miami in the summer of 2012.

Though much has been made of it, Pierce said, people don’t understand he wasn’t all that close to Allen to begin with.

“It was a weird relationship,” Pierce conceded. “We were all good friends on the court, but Ray always did his own thing. That’s just the way Ray was. Even when we were playing together, we’d be having a team dinner and Ray wouldn’t show up. We’d go to his charity events but Ray wouldn’t show up to somebody else’s.

“I called him on it. I said, ‘Man, Ray, we support all your stuff but when we ask you, you don’t come to ours.’ I remember when Rondo re-signed with Boston, we had a little dinner at a restaurant and Ray didn’t show up.

“I know Ray probably didn’t like Rondo that much, but it wasn’t a fact of not liking somebody. You don’t have to like everybody you play with — it’s a matter of showing support.”

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Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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Morning shootaround — March 11


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stoudemire scolds teammates after loss | Lowry fired up about Raptors’ slump | Nets losing ground in East playoff chase

No. 1: Stoudemire scolds teammates after loss to Cavs — The Dallas Mavericks have no shortage of veteran voices on their team, what with Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Harris, Rajon RondoMonta Ellis, Richard Jefferson and others in the fold. Their newest addition, veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire, has only been with the team a few weeks. Still, being new in Texas didn’t stop Stoudemire from laying into his teammates a bit after last night’s blowout home loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon has more:

Amar’e Stoudemire, disgusted and disappointed after the Mavericks’ most lopsided loss of the season, delivered a stern message to his new teammates Tuesday night.

“I came here to win, and we’re [4 ½] games out of being out of the playoffs, which is unacceptable,” Stoudemire said after the Cleveland Cavaliers cruised to a 127-94 win over the Mavs at the American Airlines Center. “This is something we can’t accept. We’ve got to find a way to refocus. We’ve got to key into the details of the game of basketball.

“We can’t cheat the game. We can’t screw around in games and practices and joke around all the time and figure we’re going to win games. This is the pros. It’s the highest level of basketball. We’ve got to act that way.”

The Mavs are 5-6 since the post-All-Star break arrival of Stoudemire, who selected Dallas over other suitors after receiving a buyout from the New York Knicks because he believed the Mavs presented him the best opportunity to chase a championship.

 

Stoudemire will not accept a lack of competitiveness from the Mavs, however.

“We didn’t come out with the aggressiveness or determination or focus that we needed,” said Stoudemire, who had 15 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes during Tuesday’s loss. “We didn’t compete. We’re not playing like champions, and they took advantage of that.

“We’ve got to pay more attention to detail. We can’t be making minor mistakes. We made mistakes that second-year players or rookie players make in this league. We’re a veteran team. Guys are 13, 14, 16 years in this league. We should know better than that.

“We should be a much better team than what we showed out there. This is a team that’s competing for a championship that we played against. We should have stepped up to the challenge of competing with these guys and we backed down.”

Dallas struggled with implementing poor-shooting point guard Rajon Rondo into the offense after making a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18 to acquire him. Face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki is trying to fight through one of the worst shooting slumps of his career. The Mavs are dealing with injuries to center and emotional leader Tyson Chandler, who is playing with a sore hip, and key reserves Al-Farouq Aminu (shoulder) and Devin Harris (hand).

Nevertheless, Stoudemire expressed optimism that the Mavs can still be the team he envisioned joining when he made his decision to come to Dallas.

“Absolutely,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve got the right personnel. We’ve got enough veteran leadership on this team to compete. We’ve just got to have that mindset to want to step up and truly compete. You want to play against the top players in this league. You want to show them that you’ve got what it takes to win. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Cavaliers vs. Mavericks in super slow-mo

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