Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James Harden makes MVP case | Pacers clinging to playoff hopes | Crawford says he’ll be back | Amar’e to stick with Dallas?

No. 1: James Harden makes MVP case With the season nearing an end, the MVP talk around the MVP race is heading up. Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? LeBron James? Anthony Davis? Or what about in Houston, where James Harden has been perhaps the best offensive player in the NBA this season? USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Harden, who made his case for why he deserves your MVP vote…

“I think if you look at what I’ve been doing all year, only missing one game all year because of the situation (with seemingly-endless injuries to teammates), basically having to carry a load all year, being consistent from the first game of the season,” Harden said. “That should show it right there. But like I said, (the focus is) for me to go out there and continue doing what I’m doing, being consistent, is all I can do.”

And getting to the free throw line at an unmatched rate. Harden — who has converted on 86.6% of free throw attempts — is on pace to lead the league in free throw attempts for the second time in three seasons (10.1 per game). Last season’s leader in that category was the Thunder’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant (9.9).

“I’m enjoying the whole process of these last (few) games, just trying to win games,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since Dwight has been out. I don’t really keep track of the other (MVP candidates) or what they’re doing. Obviously everybody knows that Russ is going on a triple-double rally. He’s playing extremely well and they’re fighting for the eighth spot. But all those guys you named (Curry, Westbrook, James, Davis and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers) are very good players, or very talented players. For me, I just focus on what I can control and going out there and doing the best I can do every single right.”

In trying to explain his own MVP-caliber campaign, Harden said his comfort level in the not-so-new surroundings have been key. It’s his third season in Houston, where he came via trade in October 2012 and has progressively found his way as a leader ever since.

“All I needed was time,” he said of the Houston experience. “All I needed was to know what I had around me. And now that I know it, I’m comfortable with it and I can be a great leader. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m so successful is that I’m comfortable. I think if you’re comfortable in any situation, and you know what’s going on and you know what you’re going to get, you’re going to be successful.

“It’s about having a good time, about enjoying it, enjoying the grind. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing good.”

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Do the Clippers have the D to contend?


VIDEO: NBA Action: What makes the Clippers tick

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers are in a unique position. They’re the only team that won a playoff series last year and is set to hold home-court advantage in the first round this year.

Note: Winning the Northwest Division guarantees the Blazers a top-4 seed, but they wouldn’t have home-court advantage against a lower seed with a better record (like L.A. has right now).

The Clippers are also the worst defensive team among Western Conference playoff squads. They rank 18th in defensive efficiency through Wednesday, having allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions.

For the fourth straight season, the Clippers have a top-five offense. But each of the last two seasons, the they’ve complemented and elite offense with a top-10 defense. This year, they have not. They’re below average on D, with the sixth biggest regression on that end of the floor from last season to this one.

History tells us that you need a top-10 defense to contend for a championship. The Clippers play the Sixers on Friday and have two more games against the Lakers, but that’s probably not enough to get them near the top-10 by April 15.

So where have the Clippers fallen off? The numbers point to 3-point defense and an inability to keep their opponents off the free throw line.

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The 3-point defense had nowhere to go but down after ranking No. 1 last season, and it’s been better (fewer attempts) since the All-Star break. The free throws continue to be a problem. The Clippers have given up 19.2 points per game at the free throw line, 2.0 more than the league average. Take away those two points per game and they’re a top-10 defense.

The Clippers’ defensive system puts pressure on both their bigs and their perimeter players. They bring the bigs out high to defend pick-and-rolls…

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This scheme usually takes the ball out of the ball-handler’s hands. Opposing ball-handler’s have passed the ball on 68 percent of ball screens that the Clippers have defended, the highest rate in the league, according to SportVU.

But the scheme, in turn, puts pressure on the Clippers’ wings, who have to help on the opposing big when he rolls to the basket. And if he catches the ball, those wings are often in a position to do nothing but foul or concede a layup…

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If the ball doesn’t go to the roll man, that guy who was helping on the roll now has to close out on the perimeter to both contest a shot and contain a drive…

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And if the drive isn’t contained, the pressure goes back to the bigs to defend both the driver and his own man.

Other teams employ a similar scheme. The Miami Heat often suffocated their opponents with it when they had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the wings. But when the Heat’s defense wasn’t on point, it could be broken down by teams that passed the ball well (see Spurs, San Antonio).

The Clippers don’t have James or Wade. They have J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers trying to help on those rolls, recover out to those shooters, and contain those drives. And those guys aren’t quick enough or disciplined enough to do all that on a high level and on a consistent basis.

The opponents’ free throw rate has been highest with the Clippers’ reserves on the floor. When it comes to both the opponent free throw rate and overall defense, there’s a big gap drop-off when at least one of their starters takes a seat.

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And that goes back to the big issue regarding the Clippers. Their starting lineup is among the best in the league, while their bench (especially with Crawford out) is a liability. The roster moves of team president Doc Rivers are going to test the patience of head coach Doc Rivers when his reserves are on the floor in the playoffs.

Chris Paul isn’t worried too much about where his team stands defensively in the regular season, believing that, once the postseason begins, it’s all about matchups.

“When you get to the playoffs, all of the other stuff that you did during the season goes out the window,” Paul said Wednesday. “All of those stats ain’t going to mean nothing if you’re playing against a team that you can never beat.”

The Clippers have played all of their fellow Western Conference playoff teams pretty evenly. And they have a top-10 defense against four of the seven, including the team – Portland – they’re currently in position to face in the first round and the team – Golden State – they’d most likely face in the conference semifinals if they got there.

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But history disagrees with Paul. In the last 37 years (since turnovers started being counted in 1977), only one team has ranked as low as 18th defensively and reached The Finals. That team was the 2000-01 Lakers (defending champs at the time), who ranked 19th defensively, flipped the switch once the playoffs began, and went 15-1 with the best defense in the postseason.

The Clippers don’t have championship experience on which they can fall back. Nor, does it seem, do they have a defense on which they can rely.

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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Daylight in Rondo-Carlisle relationship


VIDEO: Rondo talks with media after Friday’s victory

When last we left Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle, at least on a national headline-grabbing scale, the former was lipping off to his coach and the latter was firing back, prompting their boss, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to suspend the mercurial point guard for a game.

But after Dallas’ home rout of the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Rondo and Carlisle were making nice – much nicer – in comments that ought to be encouraging to fans hoping for a postseason run that’s more long than short.

It’s been nearly three months now since the Mavericks acquired Rondo from Boston on Dec. 18, enough time that Carlisle seems more willing to flip the keys of the offense to the point guard. Here’s how Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com chronicled it:

“He’s really developed a good sense for our team — when to just push it, when to get into something,” Carlisle said. “He really understands the guys that he’s playing with.”

Rondo had been attempting behind the scenes to get more leeway to call plays before his blowup with Carlisle, which occurred after the point guard ignored a play call from the bench, prompting the coach to call a timeout and shout across the floor at Rondo. They both later attributed the disagreement to poor communication.

Rondo said he has been gradually given more responsibility to call plays since returning from his suspension and felt especially comfortable in the role Friday night, when he guided the Mavs to their highest-scoring outing of his stint with the team.

“The trust is becoming more and more better between Coach and I,” Rondo said. “It’s tough to give a guy the keys to the car when he first gets there.

“Tonight, we were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game, as far as the play calling that we wanted to stick with. We were very locked in this morning during the shootaround, and it carried over into the game.”

Carlisle had a similar power struggle, minus the public fireworks, with point guard Jason Kidd during their first season working together in Dallas. Carlisle relinquished most of the play-calling responsibilities to Kidd midway through the 2008-09 season, and they won a title together two seasons later.

More perspective on Rondo and his, er, challenging personality was provided by Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach in Dallas on Friday, as well as Rondo chum Glenn Davis. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote about that:

From Rivers’ standpoint, there’s a fine line a coach must walk with Rondo.

“Rondo is strong-willed, but he’s a good kid, and I think people get that mixed up,” Rivers said. “He’s got an amazing amount of passion, and he is a ssssmmmaaarrrttt player. I mean, smart. So that stuff happens.”

Clippers forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis said it’s clear that Rondo is simply misunderstood.

“I think Rick Carlisle has to know Rondo, and he just doesn’t know Rondo,” said Davis, who was Rondo’s teammate in Boston from 2007-11. “Rondo is the type of player, you know you want him to do this, you want him to do that, and he’ll make sure it gets done. You’ve just got to tell him what his options are out there, because he’s sort of like a quarterback.”

Statistically, Rondo still is a mess as a piece of the Mavericks’ offense. He’s shooting 41 percent at a time when the league average field-goal percentage is 44.8 percent. So cool it with any Bob Cousy references – it’s true that the Hall of Fame point guard made 37.5 percent of his shots in his career and never topped 39.7 percent. But the league average only cracked 40 percent in Cousy’s final four seasons.

Cousy also took nearly twice as many shots as Rondo – 17.8 per game vs. 9.7 – and averaged 18.4 points to Rondo’s 10.7. The Celtics’ first great point guard hit 80.3 percent of his free throws, too, compared to that team’s most recent great point guard and his ridiculous 31.7 percent this season, which makes him avoid trips to the line entirely.

Still, if Rondo and Carlisle can see eye-to-eye on the rest of the offense, good things might be in store. When Dallas beat Miami for the 2011 championship, Kidd averaged 7.9 points on 36.1 percent shooting (while hitting 87 percent of his free throws).

Report: Griffin’s return could come Sunday

The Clippers have managed to keep their season afloat in the absence of Blake Griffin, compiling a 9-6 record and even rising in the battle for home court advantage in the Western Conference.

But on the night they took a 129-99 waxing in Dallas. However, the good news is that the All-Star power forward is expecting to return to the Clippers lineup at home Sunday afternoon against the Rockets or Tuesday night against the Hornets.

Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Griffin will be in the lineup on Sunday unless Clippers officials want to see him go through a full practice first. In that case, he would come back two nights later.

Griffin has not played since Feb. 6, missing the past 15 games following surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He’s working out great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Friday. “He’s doing great. He had a hard workout today and went through it. I know he went very hard today, and that’s a good sign.”

Rivers would say only that Griffin was “very close” to returning. So close, in fact, that there was an outside shot Griffin was going to fly to Dallas to play in Friday’s game despite not traveling with the team on its two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Dallas.

“I think it’s possible,” Rivers said of Griffin playing Sunday. “I think every day, including today, was in play.”

Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season.

Morning shootaround — March 12


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers: Griffin ‘very close’ to return | Presti shoots down Durant trade talk | Gores backs Van Gundy’s vision for Pistons

No. 1: Rivers says Griffin ‘close’ to return — The Los Angeles Clippers have played the last 14 games without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin as he recovers from a staph infection. The team has held things together nicely in his stead, though, going 9-5 during that stretch thanks in large part to the play of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But there is apparently some good news on the horizon, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Griffin is nearing a return:

The last time Rivers spoke to the media before his team played in Oklahoma City, he delivered the brutal news that the team would be without Griffin for some time because of a staph infection.

Wednesday, about 41/2 weeks later, Rivers stood outside of the same locker room, in front of the same backdrop, and said almost the exact opposite.

“I think Blake is very close,” Rivers said.

Rivers has referred to Griffin as “close” in the past week, but Wednesday was his first use of “very,” and he left it open as to whether Griffin would be with the team Friday when it plays Dallas.

Griffin was not with the team in Oklahoma City, and when Rivers was asked why, he went to that modifier again.

“Because he wasn’t very close enough. He didn’t come because he wasn’t ready yet,” Rivers said. “We’d rather for him to stay back and get his workouts in.”

And while it’s “very” now, team officials still expect the earliest Griffin would return to be Sunday against Houston.


VIDEO: Chris Paul guides the Clippers to a big win in OKC

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Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix | Griffin prepares for return | Harden suspended for kick | Teletovic says Bosh should be fine

No. 1: Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix — After the Phoenix Suns moved Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, both sides publicly took the other side to task in the media. Dragic, for his part, says it was hard to take the accusations of being selfish. Last night, with the Suns’ postseason hopes setting, the Suns went to Miami to take on Dragic and the Heat. Things didn’t go Phoenix’s way, as the Heat not only won 115-98, but the game devolved into a wrestling match. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic

It was hard enough to see Goran Dragic polish them off in the fourth quarter and fly off the court in glee, pumping his arm in relief after a foul-plagued first half. It was bad enough losing starting big men Markieff Morris and Alex Len to second-half ejections for a Flagrant Foul 2 and a fighting technical, respectively. It was even worse than committing 13 first-half turnovers to make the rest of the night difficult.

The Suns (31-30) just were not tough enough and know it after a 3-10 stretch.

“We have to find out who on this team is going to be tough,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “In terms of going after balls, we are soft going after everything. Teams just take the ball out of our hands. Maybe they grab your arm but you have to be tougher than that. I don’t know what it is but, when teams get physical, we look like a high school team. We have to get tougher and we have to find tougher guys who are going to battle. I get tired of watching us not go after balls. There is nothing worse to me than being soft and not going after a ball.

“In the second half, we showed some fight. We waited three quarters of getting pushed in the back before we decided to do anything about it.”

Some of that fight wound up hurting themselves. In chasing down Dragic on a breakaway, Markieff Morris was called for a questionable Flagrant Foul 2 in a game in which he already had been assessed his 13th technical foul of the season, which ties him for the NBA lead with Russell Westbrook and puts him three away from an automatic one-game suspension.

Morris tried to check on Dragic after the foul but the officials would not let him. After a review, Morris received a Flagrant Foul 2, which is supposed to be for “excessive and unnecessary” contact but it appeared Morris mostly connected bodies on his challenge.

“It was a hard foul,” Morris said. “It was a basketball play, I thought. The refs thought otherwise and kicked me out. Just overexaggerating. I thought he did fall hard. He was in the air and jumped back. My momentum hit him hard. It was a hard foul. It didn’t look intentional like I tried to push him under there or none of that.”

At that point, Miami took a 68-53 lead off the free throws less than four minutes into the third quarter. About four minutes later, Miami center Hassan Whiteside dunked on Suns center Alex Len, as he often did Monday, and came down on Len, who shoved him off. Whiteside tackled Len to the ground and a scrum ensued, leading to fighting technical fouls and ejections for Whiteside and Len.

Len was unavailable for comment after the game but Whiteside said Len was mad “because I just kept dunking on him.” Whiteside, a midseason sensation, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“You’re not going to come into Miami and just bully us,” Whiteside said.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

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No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

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No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

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No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Rivers Says Carlisle And Rondo Will ‘Figure It Out’


VIDEO: Carlisle explains the run-in with Rondo

HOUSTON — Doc Rivers had his share of emotional run-ins with Rajon Rondo during their years together in Boston.

Which is why the Clippers coach doesn’t think there will be any lingering problems with the Mavericks point guard who was suspended one game following Tuesday night’s on-court shouting match and subsequent confrontation with coach Rick Carlisle.

“It happens,” Rivers said before Wednesday night’s game against the Rockets at Toyota Center. “It happens more, hopefully, in the locker room. But it happens.

“They’re both winners. They’ll figure it out. I really believe that. Rick Carlisle has proven that he’s a championship coach. Rondo have proven he’s a championship point guard. You had two champions and so you just figured at some point they’ll figure that out. Usually it is in the locker room and the fact that it was out in the open gives us all something to talk about. They’ll figure it out.

Carlisle benched Rondo with 8:10 left in the third quarter of a home game against the Raptors after what was reportedly a dispute over play-calling that ended with an angry exchange.

Rondo traveled with the team to Atlanta Wednesday night but did not play. Rivers said player-coach squabbles in the heat of the moment are rarely a reason to worry.

“If it happens all the time, you do,” he said. “But I haven’t been in their situation. I don’t think that’s happened that often. I don’t know, honestly. We’ve had that. You’ve had it with a lot of players, really. Most of the time…I always thought your relationship was actually closer to the guy, not further away. Because he was free enough to say something and you were free enough to say it back and you get over it. Same thing with marriages.”

Coincidentally, Rivers had a run-in with Glen “Big Baby” Davis during a game last March.

Davis was pulled out of game and said something to Rivers, who yelled at Baby, “Sit your (expletive) down.”

Rivers then had Davis escorted to the locker room by security personnel with 10:21 left in the second quarter and the forward never returned to the bench in the second half.

“We didn’t have an exchange,” Rivers said, recalling the incident. “Really. I didn’t feel like having one that day. But after the game I didn’t say much. It happens.

“You also have different guys. There’s a lot of very emotional guys in our business. Those guys you know it already. That can happen with an emotional guy. Sometimes it’s my fault. Sometimes it’s their fault. I always feel like it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Let’s get through it. Let’s figure out why we’re pissed at each other. Then let’s play tomorrow.”

Report: Perkins to sign with Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kendrick Perkins and LeBron James were fierce rivals once, now they are set to join forces in Cleveland.

Perkins is set to sign with the Cavaliers after completing his buyout from the Utah Jazz, according to a report from ESPN.com. Perkins was traded from Oklahoma City to Utah at Thursday’s trade deadline. He battled LeBron and the Miami Heat while a member of the Thunder. Earlier in his career he played on Boston Celtics teams that battled LeBron’s previous Cavaliers teams for Eastern Conference supremacy.

Now he’ll help bolster the frontcourt for a Cavaliers team in need of some toughness and experience up front, behind Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. The richest twist is that LeBron served as the chief recruiter:

Perkins was recruited directly by LeBron James to pick the Cavs, according to a source. He also drew heavy interest from the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs. The combination of a chance to win a championship along with an opportunity for playing time pushed Perkins to choose Cleveland.

After making up his mind, Perkins called Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whom Perkins played for in Boston, to inform his old coach of the decision.

Known for his interior defense and physical presence, Perkins will help solidify the Cavs frontline, providing depth behind Timofey Mozgov.

The 30-year-old center started 225 games (273 total appearances) for the Thunder after joining the team in 2011 in a traded with the Boston Celtics. A 12-year veteran, Perkins spent his first seven seasons with the Celtics, winning a championship in 2008.