Posts Tagged ‘Draymond Green’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.


VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice

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Morning Shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights of the six games played Saturday, Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan | Cavs Heavy On Defense | Warriors Go Green | Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes

No. 1: Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan — The Toronto Raptors are off to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 record to begin the season, and a large part of that has been the play of DeMar DeRozan. The 6-7 guard has averaged just over 19 points per game so far and, along with Kyle Lowry, led the team in minutes played through the first 16 games. But on Friday against Dallas, the usually-durable DeRozan suffered a torn tendon that will may keep him out of action for a while. In his absence, reports the Toronto Star, the Raptors must look to the “next man up”…

It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned.

The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night.

Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14.

Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.

He was instrumental in helping Toronto get out to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, a record that puts the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. It should provide a big enough cushion in a weak conference that an extended DeRozan absence won’t harm their place in the standings.

DeRozan travelled here with the team Saturday, as the Raptors begin a west coast trip of three games in four nights with an outing against the Lakers on Sunday night.

The Raptors have been relatively injury-free this season and last, although forward Tyler Hansbrough has missed five games with a shoulder injury and James Johnson sat out three with what the team called a “severe” ankle sprain.

On each occasion, coach Dwane Casey and his players have relied on the “next man up” cliché to suggest that no one is irreplaceable, that the team’s depth can carry it through any injury.

Casey does have options to replace DeRozan in the starting lineup on a team that generally uses 10 men each night.

He could insert Lou Williams, often the first backcourt player off the bench, into DeRozan’s starting role if Casey wants to enhance the first unit’s scoring potential, or he could move the more defensive-minded James Johnson into that spot and shift Terrence Ross to a shooting guard role.

***

No. 2: Cavs Heavy On Defense — Don’t look now, but after a middling start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won three straight, including Saturday’s 109-97 win over Indiana. And to explain their strong play of late, the Cavs point at least in part to improved effort on the defensive end, particularly from two-thirds of the Big Three. Coming into the season, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love were known for their defense. But as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, that could be about to change

Irving credited his turnaround to his summer spent with USA Basketball, an experience that Cavs coach David Blatt also cited as a reason for Irving’s improved 3-point shooting (he’s shooting a career-high 43.6 percent from deep).

“I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me,” Irving said, emphasizing the importance of stopping dribble-penetration at the point of entry so the Cavs’ big men aren’t always being pulled away from their man or from the rim. “I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film. I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.”

For Love, it’s all about the All-Star forward trusting the defensive schemes that the Cavs have in place, according to Blatt.

“In general, I would like to say, I think Kevin Love is playing the best defense of his career so far,” Blatt said. “He can get better like all of us can, but he’s doing a good job. He’s buying into the system, into the principles, and he needs to continue to do that and we need to continue to involve him in the way that we are.”

While Irving wasn’t shy about his desire to become a “great defender,” Love seems to know his limitations.

“I’ve never really been known for that in my career,” Love said. “Being a lockdown defender is something that I know I’ll never be, but as far as being a team defender, being in the right spots, being physical, doing those things, I can get a lot better at that and just continue to break down film and see where I can get better out there. So yeah, I think it’s something that I can continue to buy into and get better at.”

***

No. 3: Warriors Going Green — The Golden State Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, a record they’ve reached without starting forward David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. In Lee’s place, the Warriors have gotten stellar play from Draymond Green, who has become a leader of this Warriors team, writes the Oakland Tribune

“He’s in a lot of ways our heart and soul and just plays with such passion at both ends,” Kerr said before the Warriors faced Detroit on Sunday in Green’s home state. “I think it’s contagious.”

Green has been in the starting lineup for the entire season as the Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, but it took a little time for him to get comfortable with Kerr and the flow of the new coach’s ball movement-oriented offense.

It didn’t get done through fun and games.

“The first two weeks he was very frustrated,” Kerr said. “I was all over him. He didn’t quite understand why we were trying to install a new offense.

“He’d take some wild shots, and I’d yell at him, and he’d wonder why I was yelling at him. But it all came from the right place. We were all just trying to get better.”

Green, who was accustomed to being challenged in practice by fiery Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, saw that he needed to learn when to pass and set screens along with how to pick the right times to shoot the 3-point shot that he had worked on all offseason. There were times when a confused Green thought he was doing what he was told when it wasn’t the case in Kerr’s mind.

“He was at it every day, like on me, pulled me to the side,” Green said of Kerr, who encouraged the player to watch film of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw as a model of how to function.

“He’s got a little hot side to him, and a lot of people don’t know that. He’ll just snap real quick. Like it’ll come out of nowhere, snap!”

Green made the necessary adjustments and averages 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and three assists, shooting 34 percent from 3-point range while serving as the vocal leader, versatile defender and replacement in the lineup for David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

“Everybody always says I reached my ceiling,” Green said. “I don’t care what people think.

“I don’t believe in a ceiling. I believe in a work ethic.”

***

No. 4: Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes — Coming into this season, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shooting 62-percent on free throws for his career. But this season, for reasons that remain unclear, Rondo is just 9-of-28 from the line for a 32-percent total. And on Friday night against Chicago, Rondo missed two free throws with the game tied late. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo says he’s going to address the problem the the only way he knows how: By putting in work…

“Most of them hit the right/back side of the rim. I don’t have an answer right now,” he said. “It’s about practice. I’m looking at my follow through. All of my misses have been the same, so I’ll be in the gym again tonight and continue to work.”

Rondo isn’t ready to do something more exotic — none of that underhand style that Rick Barry made famous, and a frustrated Wilt Chamberlain used as a last resort. No talking to the ball, like Karl Malone.

“I haven’t thought about talking to myself,” Rondo said, smirking at the idea. “I just think about continuing to work, spending more hours in the gym if I have to. Not just the free throws. I’ve missed a lot of fourth-quarter shots I usually make. I have to work on those shots as well.

“I still want to get fouled. I try to get fouled,” he said. “I can get into a better rhythm, but it’s not mental. I’ve been in the paint trying to get rebounds, trying to stay aggressive. My game is driving. That’s what I do best.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Sounds like Gregg Popovich could be returning soon for the Spurs … The Lakers are looking to add bodies to their injury-depleted roster … Raymond Felton says Tyson Chandler was not a distraction with the Knicks … The Timberwolves have signed Jeff Adrien

Morning shootaround — Nov. 26


VIDEO: All the highlights from Tuesday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s MVP case | Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? | Not panicking in Windy City … yet | Slow going in Detroit

No. 1: Curry’s MVP case — If the first level of staking a claim to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is impressing teammates, Golden State’s Stephen Curry already has that cinched. Curry’s ‘mates and coaches were again effusive about his talents and his season after he dropped 40 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals on the Miami Heat in a cushy victory in south Florida Tuesday.
Consider center Andrew Bogut, who took to Twitter:

And then there was this, as reported by the Contra Costa Times:

“Who better than him…at the point guard spot,” [forward Draymond] Green said. “I don’t know someone that’s better than him, so I definitely think he’s taken over that top spot at the point guard spot. Obviously, with winning comes accolades, so we keep continuing to win, all that stuff will take care of itself.”

“He’ll be an All-Star. He’ll be all that stuff. You continue to win games, and those wins add up, it’ll be hard to deny him the MVP.”

[Said coach Steve Kerr]: “I know I wouldn’t trade him for any point guard in the league, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 2: Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? — Dallas center Tyson Chandler didn’t appreciate it when New York basketball boss Phil Jackson piled on, not merely trading the big man to Dallas but then scapegoating Chandler and guard Raymond Felton for the teams’ dismal 2013-14 season. He’ll get his chance to demonstrate just how much that irritated him when he and the Dallas Mavericks face Jackson’s Knicks Wednesday night. As reported by the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Chandler is playing well (10.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) for the 10-5 Mavericks and seems to have moved on mentally from the maneuver but it still could – and probably should – impact the teams’ clash in Dallas:

“I don’t know why they did that,’’ Chandler said of Jackson’s remark about needing to change the chemistry with the Chandler-Felton trade in late June. “Only they can answer that question. I’ve since then moved on and don’t pay it any much attention. I know a lot of the media will be returning and me going against my former team. But in all honesty I’ve kind of swept it behind. It’s in the past and under the rug and I’m moving on with my future here.’’

Despite winning Defensive Player of the Year and earning his first All-Star berth as a Knick, it did not work out perfectly for Chandler in New York. He got hurt at all the wrong times after signing with the Knicks months after winning an NBA championship. Last year, Chandler broke his leg four games into the season amid a hot start. By the time he returned, the Knicks had too much ground to make up in the playoff race and he never got his timing back.

Chandler was blamed for too eagerly criticizing former coach Mike Woodson’s defensive schemes. Whispers Chandler was one of the dreaded locker-room “finger pointers’’ have also surfaced. They are odd accusations for one of the NBA’s noted leaders. Of course, it could be a smoke screen for the real intentions of Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, shipping out a player who didn’t fit into his triangle offense because he’s not a good jump shooter or post-up guy. Chandler is, however, a ferocious defender and the current Knicks don’t defend a lick.

***

No. 3: No reason to panic in Chicago. Yet – Thanksgiving is hours away, so Chicago Bulls fans – and NBA followers who delight in superstar talents – can feel grateful that Derrick Rose hasn’t suffered any season-ending injuries through the first four weeks of the season. OK, so the fact that his legs have been as healthy as the ones sticking up out of your bird Thursday does remain an issue for coach Tom Thibodeau and his club. Maybe the good news is that Thibodeau now has joined the ranks of the other cautious folks in the Bulls organization in protecting their resident hothouse flower – the coach was the one who shut down Rose at halftime of the team’s loss at Denver. Here is quotage and more from Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

Perhaps Rose should not have played in the second of the back to back after being back just one game after missing four with a hamstring injury. Thibodeau may have realized that as he said he approached Rose at halftime and suggested Rose not play the second half. Rose remained in the locker room to get treatment, but said he suffered no setback and Thibodeau agreed it was merely his own personal concern. Though Rose clearly was not moving well, hesitant to drive to the basket and slow to react on defense.

Though Rose said after the game with two days off he is looking toward playing Friday in Boston, you’d have to wonder what the hurry is given players staying out two to four weeks with hamstring injuries.
Returning from two years of knee injuries, such ancillary injuries are expected to be part of the process. Perhaps frustrating, they need to be dealt with in a rational and not emotional manner. It seemed at halftime Thibodeau understood that.

“It was really nothing that happened,” Thibodeau said after the game. “Other than I didn’t want to take any chances with him. The way the game was going, the way we were going, I just felt at that point I wanted to go a different way. He’s didn’t reinjure himself or anything like that. I just didn’t want to take a chance. We’ve got a couple of days now, regroup and the way they were playing, the way we were playing I wanted to see if we could change it with a different type of ball pressure. I knew the start of the third quarter (with the Bulls trailing 56-49 at halftime), the defensive transition and the speed of the game (needed to increase). That was my big concern and I didn’t want to take a chance there. That’s basically it.”

Similarly, Rose agreed.

“It wasn’t anything where I was limping or I pulled it again or anything,” said Rose. “It was just that I wasn’t moving the way I wanted to while I was on the floor. I wasn’t able to affect the game the way that I wanted to, so I came in here and talked to Thibs and we agreed on just sitting out. He initiated it and I agreed with him… “

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No. 4: Slow going in DetroitStan Van Gundy looked sweaty and anguished even in the best of times during his days in Orlando, a natural worry-wart for whom mistakes and losses always loomed larger than victories and success. So you can imagine how he’s doing these days in Detroit, where the Pistons have nothing in common with Van Gundy’s 2009 Finalist Magic team and where he shoulders an even greater burden with dual responsibilities on the sideline and in the front office. On the day they dropped to 3-11 by losing to Milwaukee Tuesday, Van Gundy spoke to Detroit News writer Vince Goodwill and others about the difficult conversations he and owner Tom Gores have been having as they try to balance the development of a young team with the urgency to compete every night:

Van Gundy, after a chunk of games that has his team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, paying an early deposit with the 76ers for a good seat at next May’s draft lottery, has begun to realize that balance is probably more delicate than his dual titles as coach and president of basketball operations.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be overnight,” Van Gundy said. “I’d like it to be. Tom would like it to be, but I don’t think it’s gonna be an overnight thing.”

“[Monday] night it was an hour and a half, just talking about our roster and where we’re headed and the whole thing. What I feel good about, what I don’t like. It was two days of texts.”

Whether it’s a 90-minute conversation or the usual text communication that happens 4-5 times during the week, much of the focus is on where things stand currently, as this wasn’t the start either envisioned.

“We talk once a week or so. [Monday] night for a long time,” Van Gundy said. “I think that we’re very much aware of what his thinking is and feeling and he is of mine and we’re on the same page. I don’t think somebody in my position can have much closer communication with an owner than I do. I can’t imagine that.”

The urgency is the conversations is certainly a point of emphasis, but Van Gundy said “I don’t think anyone’s on the ledge right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver met with Milwaukee community leaders to discuss the need and timetable for a new downtown arena. … First you get the $4.85 million to spend, in the form of a disabled player exception for veteran guard Steve Nash. Then you have to find someone on whom to spend it. The Lakers can look for help but can they find it? … Even spotting the Pelicans 37 points when they were missing Rudy Gay (right Achilles strain) and Darren Collison (left quadriceps), the Kings were 10 points better in New Orleans. … If by “We’re not a 3-11 team” Kobe Bryant means the Lakers aren’t likely to sputter at that pace to an 18-64 record, he might be right. But they are bad, especially on defense.

 

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lamb may play tonight vs. Grizz | Green says he didn’t taunt Griffin | Scott, Bryant growing frustrated in L.A.

No. 1: Some better news on OKC’s injury front — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had more than their fair share of injury concerns early in the season, but that load may be lessening for them. According to Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lamb seem to be progressing nicely from their injuries and, as Slater notes, Lamb could make his season debut tonight:

There were actually some positive health updates out of Oklahoma City Thunder practice Thursday.

One was the news of Kevin Durant walking without his walking boot. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player hasn’t seen any game time this season following foot surgery, but his road back (a projected 6-8 weeks) seems to be going as scheduled.

Another positive was shooting guard Jeremy Lamb taking some jump shots. Through five games, Lamb (back) hasn’t played for the Thunder so far this season.

Per Mayberry, Perry Jones (knee) and Andre Roberson (foot) didn’t practice on Thursday. But it looks like the Thunder may have more players available for the Friday/Sunday homestand of Memphis and Sacramento — including newcomer Ish Smith.

Keep your eye on an Anthony Morrow debut, possibly in the next two games.

And here’s some more detail on Lamb:

Barring any unforeseen setback, Jeremy Lamb is expected to make his season debut Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. And it’ll be much needed, with the Thunder currently out of healthy shooting guards.

After tweaking his back in the final practice of the preseason, Lamb missed the first five games. During his absence, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones also went down, joining Lamb and Anthony Morrow as a four-man group of shooting guard options on the shelf.

“Jeremy Lamb practiced today. It’s going good,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and make a decision.”


VIDEO: The Thunder’s many injuries may be slowly starting to mend

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D-League Hack-a-Shaq attack is out of whack

It could eventually mean a lot less time in the gym for Dwight Howard. Josh Smith would cut out early, too. Omer Asik wouldn’t have to waste all those extra hours on shooting form. Tony Allen, Draymond Green and Kendrick Perkins would have far less to fret about every time they show up for a game.

The NBA D-League announced a handful of rule changes for its 14th season, which opens next week. Coaches’ challenges are on the table, but effectively eliminated is the Hack-a-Shaq strategy of intentionally fouling away from the ball.

What is being sold as a way to speed up the game is actually cop-out to give poor free-throw shooters a free pass.

Labeled Hack-a-Shaq for its frequent use against Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal (career free throw percentage 52.7) to make him go to the foul line, some critics have complained that the ploy interrupts the flow and detracts from the artistry of the game.

What they miss, of course, is that all a highly-paid professional player need do is put in the time and effort to become a C-level foul shooter, say 70 percent, and no coach would ever use the strategy.

But by extending the current rule used in the final two minutes to the entire game, the change is extending the worst shooters — and quite often the biggest players — a crutch. Now if a player is fouled intentionally away from the ball at any time during a D-League game, any player on his team will shoot a free throw and his team will retain possession.

Free throws are a fundamental part of the game and learning to make them is no different than developing the skills to make a layup or hit a jump shot. The fact that Howard (44.5 in five games this season), Smith (47.4), Asik (50.0), Allen (53.8), Green (55.6) and Perkins (57.1) are virtual coin tosses from the foul line is entirely on them.

Nobody is asking the likes of Howard to become as proficient as a Steve Nash (90.0). But there is no need to bail out a perennial All-Star who cannot become acceptably average a decade into his career.

This a case of the Nanny State invading basketball. Not every Tom, Dick, Dwight or Shaq can make his free throws. So let’s spare him the trouble — and the glaring spotlight — give everyone a juice box and a cookie and go home early.

There’s always been a better way. Just make your free throws.

 

Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

***

No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

***

No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

***

No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Hot-headed Clips trying to cool down

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Clippers won a physical game in Oklahoma City back in late February

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Clippers and Thunder engaged in battle in late February, L.A. left Oklahoma City with a hard-fought W and three hard-earned Ts.

Technical fouls follow the Clips like a cartoon-strip storm cloud, always overhead, always ready to rain down at a whistle’s notice. Tonight’s meaningful Western Conference matchup between the Thunder and Clippers at Staples Center (10:30 p.m., ESPN), won’t be for the faint of heart or short of temper.

The Clippers are nipping at the Thunder’s heels, just 1.5 games back of the No. 2 seed, important because it guarantees homecourt advantage through the second round. These two title contenders enter tonight’s game ranking in the top seven in the league in three separate categories: Offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and technical fouls.

“Obviously we’ve got to get better because we’re a very emotional team,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said recently in Dallas after another three-technical outing, in which he got one. “We probably lead the league in techs, something like that.”

Something like that. The Thunder is actually the league’s runaway technical-foul leader with 90. The Clippers are second with 76. It’s a recurring theme first-year coach Doc Rivers inherited and has made him ponder whether his team is too hot-headed. He’s worked hard to, if not eliminate, at least diminish the potentially detrimental trait in his team’s makeup.

“Emotional and mental toughness, they’re all in that same category,” Rivers said. “You have to be able to play with emotion. I don’t think anyone lives life greatly without it, but then you have to be able to control it.”

It’s easier said than done when dealing with a headstrong point guard, frequent target of agitators Blake Griffin and loose canon Matt Barnes.


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about Blake Griffin and the state of the team

“We’re getting better at it,” said Barnes, who’s technical foul total stands at five, surprisingly low considering he’s been known to get nailed on reputation alone. He does have three of the Clippers’ league-leading nine flagrant fouls.

“All I can say,” Barnes said, “is it’s a work in progress for us.”

Which is enough to have Rivers genuinely concerned. The Clips’ penchant for getting caught up in officiating or the opposition’s antics makes them lose focus and cost them exactly when it can’t — in the postseason.

Last season’s disappointing first-round loss to Memphis in six games, which happened under ex-coach Vinny Del Negro, saw L.A. blow a 2-0 lead and get smacked with 10 techs. Five came in the final, height-of-frustration Game 6. Still, the Clippers earned at least one tech in five of the games.

“We have the fourth-quarter tech rule,” Rivers said. “We don’t want any of those because you can’t make up that. We just have to make sure we stay focused on our task.”

The fourth-quarter rule doesn’t always stick. On March 26 at New Orleans, Barnes got hit with one with 4:14 to go in a tight game. The Pelicans converted the gift free throw and won the game, 98-96, a costly loss for L.A. considering the razor-thin margin in the standings.

Paul earned his 10th technical of the season with five minutes to go at Houston on March 29. James Harden made the extra free throw to cut L.A.’s lead to 102-96. The Clippers would go on to win, 118-107. Over the last seven games, they’ve been whistled for seven technicals. They’ve been tech-free in the last two games, the first time the Clippers have done that since March 22 and 24.

“One thing we always talk about is fourth-quarter techs; we can’t have those,” Paul said. “I don’t care what’s happening. We’ve got to start getting ready for the playoffs.”

The importance is heightened in this final week of the regular season. Griffin and Durant each have 14 technicals on the season, tied for second-most in the league behind Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins with 15. A 16th technical results in an automatic one-game suspension.

It’s in the playoffs, though, where one extra free throw can make the difference between survival and an early exit. Especially so if the Clippers and Golden State Warriors meet in the first round. The teams have developed a healthy dislike for one another and the Warriors will surely be eager to put their Pacific Division rival’s mettle to the ultimate test.

The teams split a heated season-series, 2-2. A combined nine technical fouls were called, five on the Clippers, three on Griffin. Two of Warriors center Andrew Bogut‘s six technicals came against the Clippers. In a wild Christmas Day game, first Draymond Green got to Griffin with an elbow to the throat that drew double technicals. Early in the fourth quarter, Bogut and Griffin tangled and both received technical fouls even though the sequence was instigated by Bogut. The game was tied, 78-78.

Because it was Griffin’s second technical, he was automatically ejected. The Warriors won the game, 105-103. The next day, the league reviewed the play and ruled that Griffin’s actions were not worthy of a technical and, thus, he should not have been ejected. It didn’t change the outcome of the game, and it won’t in the playoffs either.

Such are the perils the Clippers must avoid.

“I think we’re OK because we all understand the big picture, that’s win,” said Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who has four technicals. “It’s OK to play on edge, it’s OK to play with that toughness, not just physically being tough, mentally being tough and weathering the storm. I think that’s good for us.”