Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lakers are none of that.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

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

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

After not making one since mid-December.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 236) Featuring Dan Woike

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The “Clippers Curse” seems all too real these days for Doc Rivers and his crew.

You lose Blake Griffin to a quad injury for the remainder of the playoffs after losing Chris Paul (broken hand), on the same night, and yes, you are entitled to believe in any urban legend you’d like if you are a Los Angeles Clippers fan.

Rivers still has a chance to do the unthinkable and guide his team to the conference semifinals without Griffin and Paul in uniform. It’ll require him trusting the role players and supporting cast in ways no coach has had to in years.

It’s up to you Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, and Austin Rivers. And you Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. And yes, even you Cole Aldrich.

It’s going to take everyone for the Clippers to survive the Portland Trail Blazers in this first round series and that still might not be enough to get past Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and their suddenly confident supporting cast.

That curse … it’s real.

We discuss that and all things Clippers and playoffs on Episode 236 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. And Woike is pronounced “woy-key.”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Can the Clippers win without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? We’re all about to find out

From bad to worse, Clippers lose Griffin and Paul

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The news went from sad to sinister for the Los Angeles Clippers this afternoon when they learned that they will have to finish their first round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers without both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Paul is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his right hand in the Clippers’ Game 4 loss Monday night. He had surgery Monday morning in Los Angeles. Griffin aggravated the left quad injury that cost him 41 games during the regular season and is done for the remainder of the playoffs, however long that lasts for Doc Rivers and his bunch.

The Clippers and Trail Blazers are tied at 2-2 with Game 5 Wednesday in Los Angeles. The momentum certainly is not on the Clippers’ side right now. They’ve dropped two straight games and now will face Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and a confident Trail Blazers team without their two best players.

Griffin was working his way back into game shape, having played just five games before the playoffs started after coming back from his injury and suspension for an altercation with a team equipment staffer earlier in the season. Paul’s injury, however, sideswiped the Clippers and changes the complexion of this current series and the Western Conference playoff picture. 

The winner of this series will face the winner of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series in the conference semifinals. The Warriors, who will play the next two weeks without their best player and reigning MVP Stephen Curry (knee sprain), lead that series 3-1 and can close out the Rockets Wednesday at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors will have to work for at least the first four games of the conference semifinals without Curry, an opening any opponent would look forward to when facing the reigning champs.

But the Clippers have to scrap any plans they might have had for the future and concentrate on just trying to survive the Trail Blazers, without their two best players.

Morning shootaround — April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff path | Durant: Cuban ‘an idiot’ for Westbrook comments | How bad is Curry’s injury? | Lakers hope to find new coach quickly

No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:

Chris Paul knew.

The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.

Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.

There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.

Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.

The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).

L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.

 …

“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”

Starting right away.

“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

And, according to ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:

“He’s done.”

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.

***

(more…)

Lillard, McCollum still need help from others in Game 2 vs. Clippers


VIDEO: Previewing Game 2 of Blazers-Clippers

LOS ANGELES — They’re used to it by now, the basketball world shedding pity on them for losing four starters from last season and giving them a nice pat on the head and a wish for good luck. The Portland Trail Blazers had fallen from the A-list to the B-list — that’s the treatment that greeted them in training camp. But the basketball then took a funny bounce and now here they are, playing in the postseason instead of preparing for the Draft lottery.

Plenty had to go right for Portland in order for it to defy the odds and get this far, namely, the coaching of Terry Stotts and the blurry backcourt play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Those three played a huge role in leveraging the Blazers to 44 wins and getting the fawning respect of opponents for overachieving.

But is that enough to stop Blake Griffin, a power forward determined to embark on a redemption tour? And Chris Paul, the best current player never to escape the second round? And coach Doc Rivers, who’ll have lots of ‘splaining to do if the Clippers fold prematurely once again?

Maybe not. If anything, the Blazers find themselves back at training camp, in a sense, trying to dispel a notion that they don’t belong in the Big Boy’s Club after falling behind 1-0 in this series and getting punched in the gut in that game, to boot.

“There’s no question we have to play better,” said Lillard, in an understatement.

But is that really possible?

When LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to the Alamo last summer, and Nicolas Batum was shipped to Charlotte, and gimpy Wesley Matthews signed in Dallas without much resistance from Portland, the Blazers lost the guts of their team. Yes, Lillard is a vastly under appreciated point guard — just ask him — and McCollum is soaring toward stardom one day. Together they’re capable of generating 60-plus points through scoring and assists. But small-ball, Blazers-style, might only take this team so far. And if Lillard and/or McCollum struggle, as they did in Game 1, this series will be quick.

So much depends on Portland’s starting backcourt to haul the load, perhaps more than any backcourt in the NBA. Together they had 30 points and 11 assists in Game 1; Paul had 28 and 11 himself. The Clippers are rotating well and making it hard on them and Rivers assigned Luc Mbah a Moute, an agile small forward, to check McCollum.

When the backcourt doesn’t play to near-maximum, it puts pressure on everyone else to produce, which is a problem because “everyone else” isn’t as playoff-tested. When the Blazers lost Aldridge and Batum, it weakened their front line. As much praise as GM Neil Olshey gets for re-tooling the Blazers, none of the players he acquired last summer has made a major impact. This is still a Lillard-McCollum production, and if anything, Stotts, more than Olshey, has been the front-office difference.

Al-Farouq Aminu is a poor shooter, Mason Plumlee is a banger at best, Gerald Henderson is a backup, Ed Davis is inconsistent and second-year forward Noah Vonleh doesn’t get much playing time. Those are the replacements for Aldridge (who was again an All-Star) and Batum (who has been key in Charlotte). Again, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts, and by saving their money the Blazers can be in play for free agents. But odds of the stripped-down Blazers duplicating their regular-season surprise here in the playoffs appears slim.

So the Clippers will continue to tighten up on McCollum and Lillard and dare the supporting cast to be a hero.

You’ve got to love how the Blazers regrouped after a hectic summer, won the hearts of Portland fans with their hustle, and created a winner out of nowhere. They might be the biggest surprise of the season. But unless Lillard, McCollum and Stotts can recreate magic for Game 2 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and also when this series shifts to Portland, this uplifting story is about to end.

Crawford is Kia Sixth Man times three


VIDEO: Crawford secures Kia Sixth Man Award

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford won the Kia Sixth Man Award and a fringe benefit: The hunk of bronze was “renamed” the Jamal Crawford Trophy.

Well, for one day, anyway. More like an honorary title, which still belongs to Kia. But here’s what’s permanent: Crawford is the only three-time winner of the Super Substitute award, and therefore is in the conversation for the best reserve in NBA history.

“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Crawford.

Yes, when you think of great sixth men, Crawford is in the loop along with Kevin McHale, Bobby Jones, Vinnie Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, John Havlicek and others who spent all or part of their career as bench players. It’s a tricky role to define, because most of those players were perhaps better than the players they subbed in for during games, especially McHale and Havlicek (whose career ended before there was a Sixth Man Award).

Still, this award defines Crawford, who fits the stereotype: A player who enters the game and puts his stamp on it by scoring, early and often.

“Starting is a cool thing” said Crawford.”But maybe this can inspire a new generation of players to tell them that coming off the bench can be cool, too.”

Crawford won the award with the Hawks in 2010 and then again with the Clippers two years ago. Even more, he’s 36 years old and in his 16th season; anytime a player can grab an award so late in his career is an achievement in itself.

“This is his best year, in my opinion,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “He’s got that bench group playing great, he changed his game, he’s moving without the ball, it’s not just iso-Jamal. Just the award in itself …  the thought of Kevin McHale coming off the bench is crazy. But sixth man in general doesn’t mean you can’t be a starter. It means you’ve accepted a role to help the team and Jamal epitomizes that.”

Crawford averaged roughly 20 points since mid-March and was a critical source of production when the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for 45 games with a combination of injuries and suspension. They managed to go 30-15 and stay in contention in the West without Griffin, partly because Crawford assumed a chunk of the scoring responsibilities. His big moment was a 32-point outing against the Thunder.

“Jamal took fewer shots but scored more points,” said Rivers. “That tells you how he evolved and what kind of impact he had for us.”

Crawford started for much of his career until 2008-09 when Mike Woodson asked him to come off the bench in Crawford’s first of two years with the Hawks, and Crawford found a home. This season he started slowly and was approached by Rivers at Christmas and that meeting lit a fire under Crawford.

With his career winding down, the question is, where does he fit among sixth men? Perhaps the standard was set by Havlicek, the “first” official sixth man who switched roles in mid-career and is in the Hall of Fame. Jones had a solid run with the Sixers and helped Philly win a title, and McHale, like Havlicek, evolved into a sixth man later in his career.

Crawford, if nothing else, will find himself ranked somewhere on the list. Which is fine by him.

“My main purpose is to help my team, and if that’s off the bench, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “That’s who I am.”

Blogtable: How will Blake Griffin’s return impact Clippers?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODoes Blake Griffin’s return make the Clippers a contender?

> Blake Griffin’s return to the Clippers’ lineup will be _____.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Mandatory for any hopes the Clippers have in the playoffs. It’s a rite of spring to bash Blake’s postseason production — and coming off his recent shenanigans, he won’t get the benefit of the doubt from anyone, nor should he. But dude averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the 2015 playoffs. Let me say that again: 25.5 points, 12.7 boards, 6.1 assists. Per game. And he shot 51 percent. Yeah, he’ll help.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Intensely chronicled. No one likes it when their office, store or factory runs too smoothly without them around — everyone wants to be missed and feel wanted, at some level — but the Clippers’ 29-14 mark without Griffin this season (compared to 17-13 when he has played) has convinced some they’re better off without him. I disagree, while acknowledging that he’ll probably need to tread lightly in his return so as to not upset the current pecking order. He can’t play chastened but he needs to be appropriately humble about the position he put L.A. in with his foolishness. Then it’s on coach Doc Rivers to bring it all together Ubuntu-style. All the while, writers both locally and nation wide will have their hands clamped to Griffin’s and his teammates’ wrists, constantly monitoring their pulses. It’s a tricky situation at an inopportune time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Overwrought and overanalyzed. As soon as Griffin hits the floor, the chat and rumors about him getting traded over the summer will grow louder with every missed shot and Clippers loss. The silly talk that the Clips are actually better without him will be resurrected. Just plain dumb. For the Clippers to be contenders, Griffin has to be a big, big part.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Filled with drama. It’s the Clippers so that’s a given, right? But especially in this case. Griffin was out this long after a leg injury because during that absence he also punched an assistant equipment manager. The Clips had their best stretch of the season when he was out. The playoffs are coming soon and he needs to get back in a good place with his rhythm and conditioning pretty quick. There are layers of intrigue as he returns.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Scrutinized. He let his teammates down with that silly decision to clobber a club employee and perhaps cost Los Angeles a chance to move to the No. 3 spot and avoid the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. I also wonder if the time off will create rust, which won’t go over well in the playoffs which demand intensity. Griffin will likely feel guilty enough to elevate his game and make up for lost time, but he needs to play at MVP level to help Chris Paul and the Clippers finally reach the elusive conference finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Interesting, to say the least. So many roles have changed since Christmas, the last time we saw Griffin in game action with his Clippers teammates. Someone will have to sacrifice a bit of what they’ve been doing if Griffin is going to resume his role as one of the Clippers’ top two players. I said it before the season, before Griffin’s torn quad and long before he lumped up his buddy/equipment staffer at that restaurant in Toronto. The Clippers did better than expected in Griffin’s absence, thanks in large part to the heavy lifting done by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Having Blake back in the lineup and ready to go for the playoffs should provide a huge boost for a team that will need it throughout its playoff run.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Stunning. One of two outcomes is sure to follow: Either the Clippers will struggle to reintegrate him, or else this resilient team that persevered without Griffin will be inspired by the return of a Top-10 star playing on fresh legs with a lot to prove. I’m guessing on the latter.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog *Insert fire emoji*. Absence seems to make the heart grow dumber, if not fonder. I think with Griffin out and the Clippers winning, at least initially, it was easy to forget that Griffin was one of the NBA’s best players last season, who finished top ten in MVP voting and third-team All-NBA. While he’s done a valiant job carrying the load in Griffin’s absence, Chris Paul is seemingly wearing down, as evidenced by his backing out from USA Basketball consideration, and could use some scoring help. The Clips are adding an elite talent at exactly the right time.

Morning shootaround — March 29


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook nearing stats history | Scott blasts Lakers’ youngsters | Pierce suffers knee, ankle injuries | Warriors aim to tighten up defense

No. 1: Westbrook on brink of NBA history — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th triple-double last night and OKC improved to 16-0 in those games. What’s more amazing than that perfect mark? How about this: that’s Westbrook’s seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in 1989. The 16 triple-doubles is two off the all-time mark (held by Magic Johnson) for the most in a season over the last 30 years … and Westbrook still has eight games to play. Oh, and entering this season, Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for Westbrook’s amazing performance in Toronto and has more on his play this season:

Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot — about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He’s not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.

After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.

“That was unreal,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that right, and you’ve just got to be as athletic as him. There’s only a few … ”

Durant stopped himself.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” he said. “You’ve got to make the free throw, but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he’s a freak of nature, man.”

There aren’t many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. “Freak of nature” seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate.

The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson’s record of 17.

It’s an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that’s what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it’s a career accomplishment to get one — remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? — so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?

“It’s something I never take for granted,” he said, “but I like winning.”

That’s what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They’re now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under coach Billy Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a “better brand of basketball,” as everyone in the organization likes to say.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.

“I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys,” Durant said. “Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face — just knowing you’ve got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important.”

Donovan also offered his take.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt,” the coach said. “You’ve got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you’ve got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow — I’ve said this about this team — I don’t think it ever needs to be easy for them. It’s got to be hard.”

Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday.


VIDEO: Best plays from Russell Westbrook’s 16th triple-double this season

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Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls’ season on the brink | Blake Griffin’s return date set | Heat want to keep Whiteside, even with price rising | Kobe plans on playing final nine games

No. 1: Bulls’ season on the brink — Three straight losses to sub .500 teams has caused a panic in Chicago, where the hometown Bulls have been struggling with consistency all season. But a team meeting before Sunday’s practice and tonight’s game against the Atlanta Hawks (8 ET, NBA TV) exposed some issues that have plagued the team all season. With their season on the brink, the Bulls finally cleared the air, writes Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com:

There’s been a lot of talk and rhetoric in this underwhelming Bulls’ season to date, but perhaps there hasn’t been enough honest and raw communication between the principle parties as things have gone south.

To that end, there was a team meeting before Sunday morning’s practice, following their third straight loss to a sub .500 team, the latest a drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

There didn’t appear to be any furniture moving or expletive-filled rants by the coaching staff or the players, which one can interpret myriad ways.

“We did get together and talk. That was a big part of what today was about, getting in there and talking about some things and hopefully airing some things out,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We came out and competed. We got after it in practice, not for long stretches because of our upcoming schedule. But I thought it was a productive day.”

As for the meeting, it seemed to have a measured tone, not necessarily one where guys got after each other for mishaps and mistakes, but presumably there was an air of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

“I don’t know about angry. I think just disappointed,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “I think we feel like we can play better and win more games. I don’t think we’re a 60-win team or anything, but I think we should have some more wins right now, and probably be in a better position to get into the playoffs. But we are where we are, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Hoiberg termed the meeting “productive”, but with the schedule turning more treacherous and the Bulls having squandered a huge opportunity to close the gap on Detroit and Indiana, one has to wonder if it’s too little, too late.

“As always happens in those type of meetings, yeah,” said Hoiberg when asked if voices were raised. “You talk about things and obviously we have a lot to correct right now. We had a three-game win streak and the last three have been very poor performances by our team to say the least. I think it had to be done. And again, I thought it was productive.”


VIDEO: The Game Time crew tackles what’s going on in Chicago

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Morning shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook keeps rolling along | No timetable yet on Griffin’s return | Howard says Rockets can win 2016 title | Raptors closing in on team history

No. 1: Westbrook racks up another triple-double — Entering this season, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. After collecting his third straight triple-double last night in a win against the Houston Rockets (21 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), Westbrook has 15 this season alone. That would give anyone reason to brag, but Westbrook remains as humble and driven as ever, something his teammates never fail to notice. Royce Young of ESPN.com has more on Westbrook’s triple-double run and its affect on OKC:

He doesn’t like talking much about himself or the things he has done, making it a point to redirect the conversation toward his teammates or about the big picture of winning the game. It’s what most professional athletes are programmed to do, redistributing praise and letting one’s play speak for itself.

But Westbrook just seems downright uncomfortable any time he gets asked about historical context or some supersized statline. That’s unfortunate, because he’s doing things at a rate that keeps the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter timeline at a steady flow.

For instance: He just put up his 15th triple-double — 21 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets — that put him in the company of one Michael Jordan for the second most in a season in the last 30 years. Magic Johnson had 17 in 1988-89, and with 11 games left, it almost seems probable Westbrook will jump that number with the way he’s stacking them up (six in his last nine games). That’s pretty crazy, right?

Westbrook somehow seems to stat-pad in the most selfless way possible, effectively by consuming as much of the game as he possibly can when he’s on the floor. He doesn’t go after the numbers; the numbers just come to him.

“Yeah, that’s good, man,” Kevin Durant said of Westbrook’s 15 triple-doubles. (An aside: Durant said in a decidedly ho-hum kind of way, which says a lot about how routine Westbrook has made these nights). “One thing about Russell is he doesn’t really play for that stuff. That’s not really important to us. For him, of course it’s cool to have that many triple-doubles, but it’s about winning at the end of the day.”

And here’s the thing: That’s what the Thunder do when he gets them. With Tuesday’s effort, Westbrook and the Thunder made it 15-for-15 — 15 triple-doubles, 15 wins. If the Thunder want to reach the level of the Golden State Warriors, the answer to getting there apparently is pretty simple: Westbrook just has to get a triple-double every game — or at least 73 of them, maybe.

“Nah, man,” Westbrook said, laughing. “Just play, man. Just play my game. The game will tell you what to do. Like I said all season, if it’s scoring, then I’ll score, if it’s rebounding, that’s what it is, passing, whatever it is. The game will tell you what to do, and that’s what I try to do.”

It seems as if there’s something to that, though; 15-0 is hard to ignore. Just statistical happenstance, or is something working in those games?

“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said. “I think just trying to find the right way to play. All those games are big games for us, because we came out with a win.”

The narrative with Westbrook once upon a time was that he shot too much, but it was never out of a ball-hogging selfishness. It was more about survival instinct and a lack of overall trust. But with more well-rounded offensive weapons playing around him now — such as Enes Kanter, namely — he has turned into the league’s best creator.

He has entirely bought in — which is the most important part. There were fears about his coachability under a new regime, moving away from Scott Brooks’ more liberal “Let Russ Be Russ” philosophy into coach Billy Donovan‘s slightly more democratic approach. All Westbrook talks about is winning, and as he has matured appears to understand and believe in the process it takes to do that. For example: The Thunder are 19-1 this season when he shoots 15 or fewer times. They’re 30-12 when he records 10 or more assists. Like the triple-doubles to wins and losses, they’re possibly just arbitrary stats that connect some dots — or maybe the combination to unlock the full potential of the Thunder.

To see Westbrook grow into the kind of player who has gone from one of the most polarizing and debated players in the league to one who now has 12 games of 15 or more assists has been a remarkable evolution. To see a player who has put up 15 triple-doubles with still 11 games to go — well, even Westbrook is shocked by that.

“Never, man. Never,” he said when asked if he ever expected that. “I’m just blessed to be able to play the game I love and have an opportunity to play with such great guys. My teammates do a great job of helping me out and I just go out and try and compete at a high level every night.”


VIDEO: Westbrook talks with Inside the NBA after his monster game

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