Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Big test for big men in Spurs-Clippers series

LOS ANGELES — Here’s the big man health report for Game 1 of Spurs-Clippers: Tiago Splitter is feeling less nicked, while DeAndre Jordan might soon feel lots of it.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded “yes” when asked if Splitter, the Spurs’ starting center, would be available tonight (asked if Splitter would start, the secretive Pop said: “You’re pushing it.”).

This is important for San Antonio, because Splitter has been bothered by a creaky right calf, which flared late in the season. His presence and effectiveness could be the difference in a series that’s projected to be tightly contested.

As for Jordan, he of the creaky free-throw percentage, Clippers coach Doc Rivers fully expects Pop to employ the hacking strategy designed to take advantage of Jordan’s 40-percent shooting. When Jordan is hacked, it almost becomes a turnover for the Clippers when he goes 0-for-2, because they get nothing from the possession.

“Pop called me last night and said he wouldn’t,” joked Rivers. “He said it looks bad, and for the sanctity of the game.”

Turning serious, Rivers shrugged. “You just do what you can. You do what you do.”

On February 19 Pop instructed the Spurs to foul Jordan; he attempted 28 free throws and made only 10. The Clippers won by four but that won’t sway Pop from doing it again, and in fact Rivers expects it this series.

Should the strategy work in the Spurs’ favor, it could dictate what Rivers does deep in the fourth quarter if the score is tight. In that situation, he’ll probably be forced to keep Jordan on the bench. And if so, that could cost the Clippers on the boards and on defense, and also force Rivers to reach deep down a bench that is  shaky with the exception of Jamal Crawford. Does Rivers dare trust Glenn Davis or Spencer Hawes with important minutes? That’s precisely the method behind Pop’s madness: Exploit the Clippers’ biggest weakness.

 

 

Paul still pounding at the championship door


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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Morning Shootaround — April 12



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Clippers get tough | Gasol goes down | Surgery for Rubio | Rose is blooming | Cousins, Gay sidelined

No. 1: Clippers grit and grind over Grizzlies — There’s nothing like a big win in front of the boss and that’s what the Clippers got with first-year team owner Steve Ballmer enjoying himself from courtside at Staples Center. There’s nothing like a big win coming down the stretch and that’s what the Clippers got with a victory that jumped up to the No. 3 seed in the West. And there’s nothing like using your opponent’s style against him, which is what the Clippers did by getting tough in their 94-86 victory over the Grizzlies. Ben Bolch of of the Los Angeles Times had the blow-by-blow:

“We just had to grit and grind a little bit,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said, using the catchphrase favored by Memphis.

The Clippers (54-26) moved into a three-way tie with the Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the West, though the Grizzlies would own the No. 2 seeding by virtue of holding the tiebreaker that puts them atop the Southwest Division.

The Clippers hold a tiebreaker with San Antonio by virtue of having a better record against West opponents, provided the Spurs do not win their division.

“I guess it’s more confusing now,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers joked of the playoff picture. “When you figure it out, let me know.”

***

No. 2: Gasol joins Grizzlies’ growing injury list — It was painful and difficult for the Grizzlies to lose a vital clash — aren’t they all right now? — with the Clippers as they jockey for position in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. But more significant may have been center Marc Gasol leaving the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. He joins Mike Conley and Tony Allen on the injury list with the start of the playoffs just a week to go. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Falling in the Western Conference standings might now be the least of the Grizzlies’ concerns.

They keep losing key players to injury.

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter Saturday night and didn’t return in a 94-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

Gasol logged nearly 10 minutes. He tried to continue playing but eventually asked out of the game and went to the locker room for treatment. Gasol returned to the Grizzlies’ bench in the second quarter. However, the 7-footer never re-entered the game and was ruled out at halftime

***

No. 3:  Ankle surgery shuts down Rubio — Though there were a couple of big pluses to the Timberwolves’ season — Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — the season is coming to a painful finish. In the same week that center Nikola Pekovic went under the knife, guard Ricky Rubio now faces surgery for an ankle injury that has nagged him for months. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tells the tale:

That’s the ankle Rubio so badly sprained in a game at Orlando at season’s beginning, an injury that has never really healed even though he played 22 games on it this season before he was essentially shut down for the season nearly a month ago.

Rubio visited a specialist in Los Angeles when the Wolves played the Lakers there Friday. The Southern California Orthopedic Institute’s Dr. Robert Ferkel will perform surgery in Van Nuys, Calif., that’s intended to give Ferkel and the Wolves’ medical staff more information about what is still causing Rubio soreness and pain.

Wolves coach and chief basketball executive Flip Saunders said the surgery will “clean up” tissue around the ankle and give everyone involved a better look.

“We don’t know how minor or major it is,” Saunders said before Saturday’s 110-101 loss at Golden State in which Wolves rookie Zach LaVine scored a career-high 37 points and Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry again dazzled with circus shots and 34 points of his own. “It wasn’t responding the way we’d expect it to respond. We’ll know more after they get in there.”

The Wolves won’t know a recovery timetable or an expected return to basketball work until after the surgery. Rubio said recently he is fully committed to getting healthy so he can play again for a Wolves team that’s invested $55 million in him for the next four seasons.

***

No. 4: Rose is looking Bullish — With the playoffs fast approaching, the Bulls need Derrick Rose to round back into his All-Star form and their franchise player took another step Saturday night. Playing in his third game since Feb. 23 and first at home, Rose took another step on the road to recovery with a solid performance in a win over the Sixers, and Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com was there to see it:

“Every game I play is a stride,” Rose said. “Every day I go in there and work out, do my rehab or training, it’s a stride. It’s a step forward. So every day is a positive day, even if I have a bad game or if I’m having a bad day, I try to erase it the next day.”

Rose has played better every time he has stepped on the floor this week since playing 19 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic. The biggest difference in this contest is that Rose played more minutes — almost 29 — than the 20 he had been averaging in his first two games. Rose also got the feel of playing in the fourth quarter, something he hadn’t done in the past two contests.

He doesn’t seem to be surprised with how well he’s seeing the floor, despite the fact he has missed so much time over the past few years. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Saturday’s game marked just the fourth time in Rose’s career that he had at least 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. It’s the first time he has accomplished that feat since the 2011-12 season.

“When you miss three years, damn near, you see everything,” Rose said. “I’m just being patient a little bit more and there’s no point in me forcing anything by the way that they’re playing me. They’re not double-teaming me, they’re letting me do whatever I want to do, it’s just all about me catching rhythm.”

***

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No. 5: Cousins, Gay done for the season — In reality the Kings have been in “wait-til-next-year” mode for quite some time, losing games, changing coaches twice and sinking back down toward the bottom of the standings. But coach George Karl seems to have made that official with the announcement that DeMarcus Cousins and probably Rudy Gay will join Darren Collison on the bench as the Kings play out the string on the season. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the scoop:

DeMarcus Cousins (sore right foot), Rudy Gay (concussion) and Darren Collison (core muscle injury) have all been out, with Collison not playing since Feb. 5. Cousins has missed the last three games and Gay has missed five of the last six games.

“DeMarcus, I think, is done for the year,” Karl said. “I don’t know what’s going to be sent out but the report I got is it looks like they want him to stay off his legs for the rest of the year. I don’t think as an organization we’re going to take a chance on Darren. I would say Rudy is borderline out for the season, too. We’re hoping maybe for a game but I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow. Because he doesn’t play tomorrow, I think they’ll go into the protocol, the concussion protocol, that I don’t understand but I think it’s going to be difficult to get him in either game against the Lakers (next week).”

Cousins leads the Kings averaging 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds. The Kings are 4-16 this season without their All-Star center.

Gay is averaging 21.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 68 games.

Collison, who had surgery to repair his injury last month, averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 5.6 assists in 45 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Word is the Knicks are already zeroing in on free agent Greg Monroe … Patrick Beverley is determined to return from wrist surgery to join Rockets in the playoffs … Brett Brown wants to see Joel Embiid play in the Summer League … Lakers plans to bring back Tarik Black next season … The Knicks and Magic make history with a historically bad quarter … Clippers pick Lester Hudson over Nate Robinson … It’s all over but the shouting for the once-great Heat.

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

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No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

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No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

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.