Posts Tagged ‘Dwane Casey’

The Value of Ice

VIDEO: GameTime: The top training camp questions around the league.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — If you watched any Chicago Bulls game over the last five years with the TV volume on, you heard Tom Thibodeau screaming his favorite word over and over again.

“Ice! Ice! Ice!” was the call whenever the Bulls’ opponent ran a pick-and-roll on the side of the floor, instructing the ball-handler’s defender to keep his man from dribbling toward the middle by almost defending him sideways.

Here’s Derrick Rose “icing” a Dallas side pick-and-roll, trying to direct Devin Harris toward the baseline. Other teams call this “downing” a pick-and-roll.


Thibodeau believed that, if his defense could keep the ball on the side of the floor, it was more likely to get a stop. And the numbers back him up.

SportVU tracks every pick-and-roll, no matter when it happens in a possession. It knows where the pick-and-roll happened, what direction the ball-handler went, and what happened afterward.

Data from last season tells us that pick-and-rolls that start on the side of the floor and go toward the middle yield more points per possession than those that stay on the side or those that start in the middle.


So the value of “Ice” is more than 2 1/2 points per 100 possessions, the difference between being an elite defense and being an average one.

A pick-and-roll is generally not designed to get the ball-handler a shot. No matter where a pick-and-roll occurs or in what direction it goes, the ball-handler passes the ball about 2/3 of the time and scores about 1/4 of his team’s points on those possessions.

But he’s a little more likely to hold on to the ball when he stays on the side of the floor than when he goes to the middle. If he gets to the middle of the floor, all four teammates are one pass away. If he stays on the side, some passes are more difficult (or impossible) to make.

And when the ball-handler does shoot the ball off a side pick-and-roll, he shoots worse and shoots fewer 3-pointers when he goes toward the middle of the floor.


Those shooting numbers are pretty bad – Dion Waiters territory – either way. Good shooting on pick-and-roll possessions comes after a pass. And there are more passes available from the middle of the floor than from the side.

Fairly simple stuff, but it’s the basis for the way a lot of teams defend the floor.

Not surprisingly, the Bulls were the best team in the league at keeping side pick-and-rolls on the side last season. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls are hard to ignore, apparently.


The five teams above were all above-average defensive teams. There is a correlation between defensive efficiency and keeping pick-and-rolls on the side of the floor in last season’s numbers.

Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls in May, of course. New coach Fred Hoiberg is expected to bring more offensive creativity to the Bulls, but changes on defense could be just as important. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls might not be missed by those of us watching Bulls games, but the lack of them could make Chicago a worse defensive team.

The anti-Bulls were the Toronto Raptors, who allowed side pick-and-rolls to get to the middle more than twice as often as Chicago did last season.


All of the five teams above were below-average defensive teams. Four of the five (all except the Heat) ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency.

Here’s DeMar DeRozan squaring up on Monta Ellis as Dirk Nowitzki comes over to set the screen…


Patrick Patterson is hedging the screen to keep Ellis from getting into the paint on a straight line, but isn’t necessarily directing Ellis toward the side like downing a screen does.

The Raptors didn’t down screen two seasons ago, when they ranked ninth in defensive efficiency. But their defense fell apart last season, they went from top 10 to bottom 10, and they couldn’t stop John Wall and the Wizards in the playoffs.

Here’s Wall getting into the middle of the floor on a side pick-and-roll and finding Marcin Gortat for a layup. He also had the option of hitting Bradley Beal in the opposite corner.

The additions of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph will certainly help the Raptors’ defense this season, no matter how coach Dwane Casey wants them to defend side pick-and-rolls. But a change in scheme could also be in order.

Of course, keeping the ball on the side of the floor is a lot easier said than done. First, the big defender has to let his teammate know that the screen is coming.

The real work starts with the guy guarding the ball, who has to put himself between his man and the screener. If he’s just a little late in doing that, his man will get to the middle of the floor, he’ll get caught up in the screen, and the screener’s defender won’t be in position to cut off the paint.

If the ball-handler’s defender is successful in downing the screen, there’s still pressure on the big defender to cut off the paint. According to SportVU, side pick-and-rolls that stay on the side result in a drive by the ball-handler more often (19 percent of the time) than those that go toward the middle (15 percent).

And once he does, he has some work to do to get back and challenge a pick-and-pop jumper if the screener was Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Bosh.

Here’s Dennis Schroder downing a screen and Mike Muscala cutting off the paint, leaving Nikola Mirotic (who never set much of a screen) wide open.




That’s why offenses that can put four shooters on the floor are generally better than those that can’t. But the only pass that E’Twaun Moore could have made on that play was to Mirotic, and the Hawks could have been quicker with help from the weak side, preventing such a wide open shot.

Defending the whole floor for 24 seconds is hard work, no matter what scheme you employ. But the numbers say that it’s better to push that screen toward the baseline, which is what most good defenses do.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30

VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season


Derrick Rose injured…again | Next man up in Cleveland…again | Durant back in action | Bennett back home in Toronto

No. 1: Derrick Rose injured…again Just hours after an unprompted Derrick Rose discussed free agency during Chicago Bulls media day, which brought up a whole range of emotions for Bulls fans, Rose unwittingly became involved in another storyline familiar to Bulls fans. During the first practice under new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Rose caught an accidental elbow and suffered a facial fracture that required surgery. More importantly, it means Rose will be out for time being, although the Bulls are holding out hope he can return for the season opener. For a guy who has battled injuries seemingly non-stop the last few years, it’s yet another tough break, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

Derrick Rose caught an accidental elbow to his face halfway through Hoiberg’s first session and left for tests that revealed a left orbital fracture. The team said Rose, who turns 27 Sunday, will undergo surgery at Rush University Medical Center on Wednesday. A timetable for his return will be determined after the procedure.

Absences following surgery for orbital fractures have run the gamut recently with players missing anywhere from five to 28 games. Whatever the case, Rose’s injury piles on top of Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery last Friday. Dunleavy’s rehabilitation process could sideline the veteran forward eight to 10 weeks.

Suddenly, 40 percent of Hoiberg’s projected starting lineup will miss most, if not all, of training camp. A source said there is optimism Rose will be ready for the Oct. 27 regular-season opener against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

And while this setback pales in comparison to the three knee surgeries Rose has endured, it’s yet another mental challenge for a former most valuable player who tried to remind all of his greatness during Monday’s media day.

“I know I’m great,” Rose said then.

Since becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2011, Rose has missed in chronological order — deep breath here — five games each to a sprained toe and strained back; 17 games to groin, ankle and foot issues; the entire 2012-13 season to a torn left ACL; 71 games to a torn right meniscus; eight games to ankle and hamstring issues and 20 games to a second right meniscus tear.

In all, Rose has played in 100 games over the last four seasons.

Suddenly, Jimmy Butler’s boast he can play point guard may not be a far-fetched idea. If Rose does miss any regular-season time, the Bulls have Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore at the position.

Three players who addressed the media said they didn’t know whose elbow caught Rose.

“Might have been me,” Taj Gibson said. “It’s one of those plays where everybody’s going so hard.”

At least Gibson, who is coming back from offseason left ankle surgery, practiced fully. But with Dunleavy not sure when he’ll return and now the Rose injury, there has been more bad news than good on the Bulls’ injury front.

Whether Rose wears a mask upon his return has yet to be determined. At the very least, he will have to overcome the fear of getting struck in the face again.

With Rose leaving practice early, teammates were left to answer if Rose’s curious and unsolicited comments about his 2017 free agency from Monday were irksome.

“I don’t care what the guy talks about as long as he’s helping us win games,” said Butler, who signed a $92.3 million deal this offseason. “Whatever he’s focused on let him be focused, but I think his objective is to win a championship. I’m pretty sure he talked about that as well — and how he wants to help this team win. Everything else, he is who he is.

“He can talk about unicorns and rainbows for all I care. Just help us win some basketball games.”


No. 2: Next man up in Cleveland…again The Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals despite a seemingly non-stop series of injuries, including season-ending stoppages to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Four months later, the Cavs entered training camp heading in the right direction, with everyone healthy or at least nearing full health. And then Iman Shumpert suffered a wrist injury and, as the Cavs announced yesterday, Shumpert will miss the next 12-14 weeks following surgery. As Chris Haynes writes for, the Cavs are relying on the same mantra they have for months: Next man up

This wasn’t the best way to begin Day 1 of training camp.

“It’s ‘next man up’ for our team,” LeBron James said. “It’s a big blow for our team. He’s a guy that we wanted around here long-term, and he still will be around here long-term obviously, but the next man up will be ready to go until he gets back.”

Cavs coach David Blatt echoed those sentiments.

“He will eventually be back and in the meantime, we will follow the same philosophy that we had all last year: Face the adversity, next man up and play the game that we know how and the way that we should,” Blatt said.

With Shumpert sidelined, Griffin said there are no immediate plans to tinker with the roster due to the team’s depth. But he’s keeping his options open.

“We’re going to give people a chance to kind of absorb it from within,” he said “but obviously we’re paying a lot of attention to opportunities that we may be able to improve the group. We’ll just play it by ear.”

J.R. Smith will likely get the starting nod in the backcourt along with Mo Williams at the start of the regular season. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson should also play a key part in stabilizing the rotation.

Griffin said Shumpert worked “incredibly hard” this off-season to come into camp in top shape.

Injuries are something that all 30 NBA teams have to deal with at some point. The Cavs know first-hand that injuries at the wrong time can hinder them from reaching their ultimate goal.

“Injuries will probably be the only thing that can stop us long-term, [but Shump] is a short-term thing,” James said.


No. 3: Durant back in action One day after he turned 27 years old, Kevin Durant went through his first full day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing 55 games last season following three foot surgeries. While the team announced Durant was fully cleared to return to action, as Durant explained yesterday, there’s a difference in being cleared to play and being in game shape. But, as Durant told ESPN’s Royce Young, he’s the same player he was before the injury

“I feel great, actually,” Durant said. “It’s really different being out there in a practice setting. I haven’t been there in a while. It’s definitely going to take me some time to really get comfortable out there again.

“I’ve been injured, but I’m healed now. So I try not to think about it. If I’m on the court, I’m OK. So I’m the same player I was.”

Despite the frustrations of last season, Durant enters his ninth NBA season full of the confidence. Asked about how long it’ll take to rediscover his rhythm, the 2014 MVP says his game isn’t back — because it never left.

“The most humble way I can say it is I’ve always got feel,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the court I feel great. I know how to play the game. My body might say a little different, but I always feel like I’m in rhythm. That’s just from me being a skill player and knowing what it takes to go out there and showcase my fundamentals of the game. I always feel like I’m in feel, but my body has to catch up, I guess.”

The one area Durant said may take a bit of time is his conditioning, though he said he felt like he was in already in a good place.

“My conditioning feels great,” Durant said. “I know it’s gonna take some time for me to really get back to feeling great and mid-season form, but I’m on my way.”

Monday’s practice was also the first for new head coach Billy Donovan, who said the focus was working to establish an identity, specifically on the defensive side.

“I think it went well,” Donovan said of his first NBA practice. “Guys were obviously very, very excited, certainly a lot of teaching to do in the first couple hours just to try and get a defensive system and a philosophy, trying to break down and teach. I thought we got a lot in, especially considering it was the first day.”

Said Durant of adjusting to a new coach: “It’s the first day. We’ve still got to figure it out. It’s just the first day. We’re smart players, and we know how to figure things out.”


No. 4: Bennett back home in Toronto The Cleveland Cavaliers made him the first pick of the draft in 2013, but since then Anthony Bennett has struggled to find a home in the NBA. After one season in Cleveland he was traded to Minnesota, and this summer his contract was bought out, making him a free agent. But for Bennett, his latest team is the Toronto Raptors, which is actually home. And as Bennett told CBS’s James Herbert, that’s a good thing

After Bennett walked into the practice court at the Air Canada Centre wearing a Raptors shirt — apparently his new No. 15 jersey wasn’t quite ready, and when he put it on a short while later, there was no name on the back — he called playing in Toronto “the perfect situation for me.” It was “definitely not an easy decision” to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, but when he got back from the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, his agency and his former team were working on a buyout. Other teams were interested, but he knew where he wanted to be.

“It has been something I’ve been thinking about growing up, watching Vince Carter play,” Bennett said. “And now I’m back here. It’s surreal, but at the same time it’s work. I’m just ready to go all out.”

Playing for the Canadian national team, Bennett had a solid summer. He was perhaps the team’s best player at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, and he had his moments at the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, too. Unsurprisingly, fellow Canadian Raptor Cory Joseph believes he can build on that.

“I feel like it’s a new beginning here,” Joseph said. “I think he’ll do great for us, for the city, for the country. I think he’ll revive his NBA career.”

While the homecoming angle is nice, Bennett’s redemption story has been written before. He looked in shape and confident at last year’s summer league, where he said he was having fun again after a rookie year filled with adversity. Just like with Team Canada, in Vegas he showed off the athleticism that made him such a great prospect, screaming into the stands to punctuate his dunks. He didn’t play much in his second season, though, and it wasn’t pretty when he did. Bennett missed way too many midrange jumpers and often looked lost on defense. He has a long way to go, and there are proven players in front of him.

As Raptors training camp begins, Bennett will find himself battling Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola at power forward. DeMarre Carroll is also expected to spend some time at the 4, and James Johnson could be in the mix, too. Given Toronto head coach Dwane Casey‘s preference for veterans and his dedication to defense, it seems unlikely Bennett will be a regular part of the rotation.

“This is an opportunity,” Casey said. “This is a good place for him. It’s home. He should feel comfortable. But, all the [playing] time and everything else, he’s going to have to come in and earn it, which I’m sure the other players would be happy to hear.”

For the Raptors, there was little risk in signing Bennett. He’s on a one-year contract for $947,276. Where he was selected doesn’t matter anymore.

“It didn’t work out in a couple places,” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri said. “I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him. For us to get a Canadian 22-year-old power forward that is athletic and can play at the minimum? We’ll take it. He’ll have a chance.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Allen says the Blazers have moved on from losing LaMarcus AldridgeBen Gordon went vegetarian and now hopes to make the Golden State Warriors roster … In Denver, Kenneth Faried is the Nuggets’ biggest wild card … The Brooklyn Nets want Brook Lopez to take more of a leadership role

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas reach deal

VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas talks during Summer League

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Toronto Raptors have reportedly reached an agreement with center Jonas Valanciunas on a contract extension.

A report from Monday had the parties discussing a four-year deal worth more than $60 million. That’s far from the max (it’s about half of what Damian Lillard got in July) and seems like a good deal for the Raptors, considering Valanciunas’ size and offensive skill set.

But the center has been a defensive liability, and Toronto is trying to get back to being a good defensive team after a big fall-off on that end of the floor last season. In a Q & A with last month, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that he’ll look to go small late in games in order to keep up with the rest of the league.

Q: Is there still a big role for Jonas Valanciunas in the way that you want to play and in the way the league is going? How can you use him, but also make up for his deficiencies when he’s on the floor?

DC: The league is going smaller, but as long as the goal is at 10 feet, size is going to matter. You still got to have size.

At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre [Carroll] gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with [Luis] Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We’re better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.

The league is going to their more skilled guys toward the end of games. Trends come and go, but right now, we have to participate in that trend.

Casey was already looking away from Valanciunas late in games. The seven-footer played just 292 fourth-quarter minutes last season, which ranked 254th in the league and were just 14.0 percent of his total minutes. Among players who logged at least 1,000 total minutes, only seven played a smaller percentage of them in the fourth quarter.

Still, Valanciunas just turned 23 years old in May. The Raptors hope he’ll be lighter and quicker this season, so that pick-and-roll coverage and weak-side rotations aren’t as much of an issue as they’ve been in the past.

Valanciunas was taken with the No. 5 pick of the 2011 Draft, but is with the class of 2012 in regard to extension eligibility because he didn’t come to the NBA until a year after he was drafted. Anthony Davis, like Lillard, was given a max extension early in free agency.

Other first-round picks from 2012 (that had their third and fourth-year options exercised) have until Oct. 31 to sign extensions. Otherwise, they will become restricted free agents next summer.

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas discussing 4-year, $60M contract extension

Big man Jonas Valanciunas and the Toronto Raptors reportedly are in advance discussions on a contract extension, according to’s Marc Stein, with terms said to be hovering in the DeMarre Carroll neighborhood of four years/$60 million.

As Robert DeNiro‘s character says in “Midnight Run,” that’s a very respectable neighborhood. It’s also a potential bargain for the 7-foot, 255-pound center’s services if the Raptors can lock him in before the salary cap bellows next summer, when Valanciunas would hit restricted free agency.

But, assuming this extension gets done, it won’t qualify as a steal unless the Raptors figure out better ways to deploy Valanciunas.

The big guy posted solid stats last season: 12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 26.2 mpg. His PER climbed from 15.9 in his first two seasons to 20.6. But he stuck out from much of what the Raptors did, or how they preferred to play, like the proverbial sore thumb. Their commitment to Valanciunas typically waned as games went on. Though he made 80 appearances, he played in the fourth quarter only 57 times and he averaged just 5.1 of his minutes in that period. His usage percentage in the first quarter: 22.7 percent. In the fourth: 17.0.

That’s why some close to the team could joke that, based on the first few minutes of games, Valanciunas seemed a lock some day to break Wilt Chamberlain‘s single-game scoring mark set that 1962 night in Hershey, Pa. Invariably, his involvement and production would fizzle fast, Wilt’s mark safe again.

There has been speculation that some personnel changes in head coach Dwane Casey‘s staff were made due to Valanciunas’ lack of progress. Hopefully, there’s truth to that, because if there isn’t, you’d hate to think that keeping a lid on him was all about keeping his asking price within reason.

Morning shootaround — July 19

Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson


RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”


No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.


No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”


No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …

Morning Shootaround — May 14

VIDEO: Daily Zap for Wednesday’s playoff games


Horford saves the Hawks | Warriors find the formula | Gasol says he’ll play Thursday | Rockets hoping to attack again | Casey to return as Raptors coach

No. 1: Horford saves the Hawks — After Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, the Atlanta Hawks were in danger of going down 3-2 with the conference semifinals heading back to Washington, against an opponent that had it’s point guard back. But Al Horford saved the day, rebounding Dennis Schroder‘s miss and putting it back in the basket to put the Hawks on the brink of reaching the conference finals for the first time in 45 years. Sekou Smith was at The Highlight Factory for the wild finish

So if there is anyone affiliated with the Hawks who understood the significance of winning this game on this night, with all that was riding on the outcome, it was Horford.

The Hawks have checked every box during his journey from rookie sensation to face of the franchise. First up was just making the playoffs. Then it was advancing past the first round and now comes that final hurdle, making it to unchartered territory that is the conference finals … and perhaps beyond.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of crunch time play, “but more importantly we won. We all get to celebrate. And it’s about our team. I was just in that position and I just made a play. I’m just excited we’re in a position of 3-2 now, and took care of home … and now we have a chance to go up to D.C. and wrap the series up.”


No. 2: Warriors find the formula — The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the regular season (by a wide margin), thanks to top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they outplayed the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the conference semis on Wednesday to take a 3-2 series lead, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes

The Warriors laugh at Charles Barkley and others, who say their jump-shooting team can’t win a NBA title.

They laugh, because the Warriors know they aren’t merely a jump-shooting team.

They also sport the league’s best defense as they showed Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, where they made 14 three-pointers on one end and played championship-level defense on the other in beating the Grizzlies 98-78 and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Of the 180 NBA teams that have broken a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 of a seven-game series, 81.7 percent have won the series. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memphis’ FedExForum.

“Our intent is to go down there and try to play the kind of defense we’ve played the past two games, which has really turned this series,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I said the first couple of games that our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense. I was wrong. It wasn’t good enough. This is what it’s going to take, this kind of defense from tonight and Game 4.”


No. 3: Gasol says he’ll play Thursday — The Chicago Bulls’ season will be on the line in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). So Pau Gasol, who’s officially listed as “probable” by his team, says he’ll fight through whatever hamstring pain he has after missing the last two games (two Cleveland wins). Our Steve Aschburner has the story

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.


No. 4: Rockets hoping to attack again — No team in NBA history attempted more 3-pointers than this year’s Houston Rockets. But the Rockets extended their historical season by outscoring the Clippers 64-46 in the paint in Game 5 on Tuesday. To get Game 7 back on their home floor, they’re looking to do the same thing in Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

It was as much as anything the key to the Rockets escaping the ignominy and damage of their lost weekend in Los Angeles with a blowout win of their own to cut the Clippers’ series lead to 3-2 heading into Thursday’s Game 6.

There was, however, one more benefit that came with going at the Clippers instead of trying in vain to go around them. It’s better to hit than be hit. That’s not just a strategy, though the Rockets’ success on Tuesday started there.

“Basketball is a mindset,” McHale said. “Everybody is really talented. It usually is the toughest minded team that’s going to win.”

Though much of the series, that had been the Clippers. On Tuesday, the Rockets turned that around by attacking the paint as they had throughout the season.


No. 5: Casey to return as Raptors coach — Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said that the postseason “influences everything” in regard to his offseason decisions. So, because the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion, we can expect some changes in Toronto. But those changes won’t start with the head coach, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports. Dwane Casey, who has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be back for fifth season with the Raptors …

No news is good news for Dwane Casey.

While Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri has not declared one way or the other whether Casey will be back as the team’s head coach next season since the team crumpled to the mat in four games against the Washington Wizards, his return is not in question, sources have told the Sun.

What is less clear, is whether his coaching staff will remain intact, or whether there will be some alterations.

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall came back from his broken hand and almost led the Wizards to a huge win … After a quick start, the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with the Warriors on WednesdayMatthew Dellavedova picked up an after-the-fact technical foul for the leg lock that preceded Taj Gibson‘s flagrant foul in Game 4 … The Clippers aim to be better in their second chance to close out the Rockets … The Miami Heat, heading to the Lottery for the first time in seven years, should like what they see wherever they draft … and when it comes to the Draft, don’t underestimate the importance of the interview.

ICYMI: Al Horford rebounds the missed layup by Dennis Schroder and puts it back to win game 5 for the Hawks:

VIDEO: Play of the Day: Al Horford

Williams made a good bench better

VIDEO: Lou Williams talks about his recovery and feeling at home in Toronto.

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had one of the league’s best benches in 2013-14, with midseason arrivals Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez giving them a big boost on their way to their first playoff appearance in six years. But that didn’t stop general manager Masai Ujiri from acquiring the man who would go on to win the Kia Sixth Man Award.

That Lou Williams was acquired for basically nothing from the team that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record makes the story all the more fascinating.

Williams had a tough stay in Atlanta, tearing his ACL 39 games into his first season there and trying to get back to full strength in his second year. But he flourished upon arriving in Toronto, where his instant offense helped the Raptors win their second straight division title

Williams earned 78 of a possible 130 first-place votes for the Sixth Man award, finishing ahead of the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.

All season, the Raptors were at their best with their reserves in the game. They outscored their opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor and were outscored by 0.5 with him on the bench. Williams didn’t start any games this season (even when DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry were out), but he finished a lot, ranking third in the league in fourth-quarter minutes.

It’s important for a coach to feel comfortable when he goes to his bench. And Raptors coach Dwane Casey feels a lot more than just comfortable when he calls on his reserves, who consistently build on leads or turn deficits into leads.

“It’s huge,” Casey said. “When we get behind, we know that Lou is there, Patrick is there, our bench comes out and gives us a huge shot in the arm.”

It did last season too. But Williams brought added playmaking, which helped Toronto rank in the top three in offensive efficiency for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors were one of two teams that ranked in the top 10 last season and improved this season.

“When Lou comes in, we stretch the floor, get more up-tempo,” Casey said. “His ability to handle the ball, to go pick-and-rolls and be a semi-point guard is also a big benefit.”


The adversity he went through in Atlanta has Williams appreciating this award a lot more than he could have earlier in his career. He finished second for the award in 2011-12 behind current MVP candidate James Harden.

“It means tons more now,” he said, “to win it my first year in Toronto, to win it right after getting traded, and just to go through so much adversity. Timing is everything. So if I was ever going to win it, I think this was the perfect time for me.”

Williams doesn’t have all the athleticism he had before his knee injury, but he’s found a way to still be effective. He took almost 200 more 3-pointers this season than he had in any previous year.

“I learned so much about myself and how to be patient,” he said. “If you look at the first seven years of my career and look at me now, I think I’m a completely different player.”

He’s a crafty player, as evidenced by his league-leading 102 fouls drawn on jump shots.


“When you make shots, teams have to guard you honest,” he said. “And you start using that to your advantage, when guys want to reach in and be physical with you.”

Williams is the first Raptors player to win an individual end-of-season award since Vince Carter was named Rookie of the Year in 1999. A guard has won the Sixth Man award 10 of the last 11 seasons, with Lamar Odom (2010-11) being the only exception.

Expect to see Wizards play Pierce more at power forward against Raptors

VIDEO: Randy Wittman and Paul Pierce talk about the Wizards’ win in Game 1

TORONTO — It’s interesting when a team does something in the playoffs that they didn’t do much all season. In Game 1 of their first round series on Saturday, both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards went with relatively new looks.

Though Tyler Hansbrough had started the last six regular season games for Toronto, Saturday’s starting lineup — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Hansbrough and Jonas Valanciunas — played just 38 minutes together in 2014-15. And in the second quarter, the Wizards turned a seven-point deficit into a three-point lead with a lineup that had played only four minutes together this season.

That lineup — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat — had the veteran Pierce at power forward. Pierce flourished at the four in Brooklyn last season, and had some big games against the Raptors in last season’s first-round series.

But with a full complement of bigs and a lack of depth in their backcourt, the Wizards didn’t use Pierce at the four very much in the regular season. He played just 167 (nine percent) of his 1,913 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor.


On Saturday, Pierce played 17 of his 36:32 with just less than two bigs on the floor. The results weren’t all good. Washington’s small lineups were a minus-16 in the fourth quarter as the Raptors came back from 15 points down to send the game to overtime.

But the Wizards played small the entire overtime, which they won 11-4. And we’re sure to see more of Pierce at the four for a team that struggled offensively for most of the season, especially with its spacing.

“With me at the four,” Pierce said after Game 1, “I think it really opened it up for Brad and John. I think when I spread the floor or be a 3-point, drive threat, we get in the lane a little bit more, find the roll man, and if they help, I’m there for an open three. It’s a little bit different for us having two bigs when they pack the lane and wait for us to drive.”

After averaging 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting in his last 10 regular season games, Pierce scored a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in Game 1. Ten of those 20 points came with Washington playing small in the second quarter, and another three came on the first possession of overtime with Pierce at the four again.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said his team wasn’t surprised to see Pierce at the four, and didn’t think it made a huge impact on the result.

“We were ready for that,” Casey said after his team’s film session on Sunday. “He scored a couple of [times] off of pick-and-pop, and we just didn’t execute the pick-and-roll coverage very well. It wasn’t anything that he was isoing, going one-on-one at us.”

Still, more minutes with a small lineup than we saw in the regular season would make the Wizards a better offensive team. And if Game 1 is any indication, both of these teams need to find offense wherever they can get it.

Morning Shootaround — April 19

VIDEO: Recap Saturday’s four playoff games with the Daily Zap


Warriors strong from start | Rose returns | Raptors lose game, homecourt | Rockets blast off

No. 1: Warriors strong from start They were the best team in the NBA all season long, and the Golden State Warriors came out Saturday in their first playoff game and delivered a warning to anyone who may have doubted that their regular season strength would translate to postseason success. And when facing arguable the NBA’s best backcourt, it probably doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ long-term chances that their own backcourt is banged up, writes Scott Howard-Cooper …

It’s not a body blow like losing Davis, the superstar, but a thinning depth chart is a huge deal, because New Orleans was facing an uphill battle against the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Hurting in the backcourt while facing the Warriors inevitably leads to a damage report not covered by most insurance policies. Neither went crazy in Game 1 and Curry, the MVP favorite, still had 34 points despite missing nine of 13 from behind the arc and Thompson still had 21 points while missing 11 of 17 field goals. It could, and will, got a lot worse for the Pelicans trying to contain the Golden State backcourt.

Now imagine New Orleans confronting the danger with Jrue Holiday limited to 21 minutes, after playing 25, 15 and 16 minutes the previous three games, and Tyreke Evans probably ailing Monday if he is able to play at all.

“I’m not sure about Tyreke just yet,” coach Monty Williams said. “He tried to come back. They’re going to get him an MRI (Saturday) evening and see where he is. But as far as being painted in the corner, we’ve dealt with this all year long with our team. So it’s not a big deal for us. Obviously we’d like to have Jrue and Tyreke healthy, but Norris (Cole) did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half. We’ll see where (Evans) is (Sunday) and we’ll make our adjustments from there.”

There is that — the Pelicans dealt with injury problems much of the season, with Davis sidelined four times in February alone and Holiday missing half of 2014-15 and Ryan Anderson missing 18 consecutive games just after the All-Star break because of a sprained right knee. And they survived. All those problems and they still clawed their way into the playoffs.

That was the same resiliency on display Saturday, when Golden State built a double-digit lead with the game barely eight minutes old, was up 18 at halftime, and ahead by 25 with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans was done. Except then New Orleans wasn’t, thanks to a 31-18 charge through most of the final period that closed the deficit to 102-97 with 20 seconds left as Davis piled up 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth. The comeback ended there.

Now all the Pelicans need is to play like that for more than 11 or 12 minutes, while possibly playing short-handed.


No. 2: Rose returns The Chicago Bulls have learned how to survive and advance the last few years even while missing key members of their team — the injury bug has unfortunately been a constant companion for Chicago. So it was a nice change of pace Saturday when the Bulls got a strong performance from Derrick Rose, their point guard who has battled back from so many injury outages the last few seasons. As Steve Aschburner writes, Rose may have gotten knocked down, but he got up again and helped the Bulls get a Game 1 win over Milwaukee …

When Derrick Rose tried to split a pair of Milwaukee defenders in the open court Saturday and seemed almost to eject out the other side — taking contact and landing like a dervish with his legs and knees at improbable angles — an entire fan base held its collective breath.

It was that way, too, for most in the grizzled media who have chronicled Rose’s sad cycle of injury, rehabilitation and re-injury dating back to April 28, 2012. That one was a playoff opener, too — Game 1 of the first round, leaving Saturday just 10 days shy of a gloomy three-year anniversary — when the Chicago Bulls’ point guard first tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Rose’s explosiveness and torque, so vital to his game, set them all on an alternate path from which they’ve yet to stray.

“Man, I’m like y’all,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “When he get hit, I be like, ‘Awww, man…’ I was like, ‘Lord, please, not again.’ When he bounces up, I’m happy. But we’ve been through so many, like, scares, you never want to see anybody go through that kind of pain.

“So whenever he gets a little hit, a little bump, of course you’re gonna cringe. But I’m just happy he was able to get up and keep attacking.”

Gibson is one of the neglected victims of the Rose ordeal. As with center Joakim Noah, wing Jimmy Butler, coach Tom Thibodeau and a few others, they are collateral damage, colleagues and peers who had their own plans and hopes and dreams deferred or maybe derailed by Rose’s knee surgeries.

People focus most frequently on the micro or the macro.

It is either what Rose’s chronic injuries and extended layoffs have meant to him and his MVP-certified career, or how they blunted Chicago’s championship ambitions through most of Miami’s Big Three era and perhaps beyond.

Falling in between, though, are teammates who have had to soldier on, facing and failing against the Heat or, last year, the Wizards. Gibson, Noah and the rest knew how undermanned they were in those postseasons, yet there was nothing to be gained from saying so.

So they did their best, took their lumps and wondered along with the rest of us whether Rose (and his doctors) ever were going to put it all together again.


No. 3: Raptors lose game, homecourt The Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans have combined to give the Raptors one of the most prominent home court advantages in the NBA. But it wasn’t much help yesterday in their Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, when the Raptors couldn’t get a bucket in overtime and lost not only the game, but also their home court advantage in the series. But it wasn’t all about missing shots, writes John Schuhmann, as for the Raptors it was also a function of getting beat on the boards by the Wizards …

You could say that both teams played great defense. But as anyone who thought DeAndre Jordan deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration will tell you, the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure a rebound. The Raptors didn’t do that enough, and that’s why they’re in a 0-1 hole after the Wizards’ 93-86, overtime victory.

Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 1, turning them into 20 second-chance points. The Raptors allowed only 73 points on 96 initial possessions, but the second chances made the difference.

The Raptors used a 21-8 run to send the game to overtime. But on the first possession of the extra period, Otto Porter tipped a John Wall miss out to Bradley Beal. The second chance resulted in a Paul Pierce three that gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Later in the overtime, Nene grabbed offensive boards on three straight possessions. Only one of them produced points for the Wizards, but the all kept the Raptors from building on the offensive momentum from the fourth quarter.

“They got three straight offensive rebounds that broke our back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That took our will, our mojo that we had going in [to overtime].”

The Wizards averaged 28 seconds per possession on their first six possessions of the extra period, helping them build a seven-point lead and sending Raptors’ raucous crowd to the exits.

Jonas Valanciunas‘ solution for the rebounding problem was simple.

“Be tougher than them,” he said. “Show that we can battle.”


No. 4: Rockets blast off Down in Texas, arch-rivals Dallas and Houston met for Game 1 in their first round series, and a key member of the rivalry wasn’t able to make it through without feeling some physical pain. The Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets in the offseason, and their prize free agent had a knee injury in the second quarter that kept him from ever really establishing a rhythm in Houston’s Game 1 victory over Dallas, writes Fran Blinebury

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lob City has been fun in Los Angeles, but the Clippers still have title aspirations … Toronto GM Masai Ujiri dropped another curse word to get the Raptors fans fired up … The Blazers have battled injuries all season, and now Arron Afflalo may be unable to go Sunday … Ty Lawson posted video of Brian Shaw‘s pregame scouting rap that he tried earlier this season …

Morning shootaround — March 5

VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 4


Durant waiting for pain to subside | Howard on schedule | James takes another hit | Noah working to stop violence in Chicago

No. 1: Durant waiting for pain to subsideRussell Westbrook is tearing through defenses and getting a triple-double every time he takes the floor. But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still in a fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won six of their last seven games and just got Anthony Davis back. That doesn’t mean that Kevin Durant is in a rush to return from surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. He spoke about his eventual return with Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman

You had a reevaluation yesterday. Were you happy with what you heard?

Um, I’m more so just focused on trying to get this pain out of it and coming back when I’m ready, when I’m 100 percent ready and not trying to force it or play with pain. Just trying to conquer this little stage I’m in right now, which is getting this thing right, working as hard as I can in the weight room and on the court. Yeah, it’s tough, but I just gotta be ready to go.

Was there any relief that the pain you were feeling, there was a reason for it?

Yeah, now I know what happened in that Memphis game, in that Dallas game. I know why I was having so much pain and to have that corrected feels so much better. It’s just a matter of when somebody digs in your foot, you’re going to have some pain. That’s what happened when they reinserted a different screw. The pain that I had before is gone, but there’s still some pain there obviously from them going in there and stitching me up. But I should be fine soon.

You feel very confident you will return this season?

No doubt. No doubt. I’m looking forward to returning this season. No doubt. I’m not packing it in at all.


No. 2: Howard on schedule — It’s been a month since Dwight Howard had a “bone marrow aspirate injection” on his right knee. Howard was reevaluated this week and his recovery is “on schedule,” but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be taking the floor for the Rockets any time soon, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

Rockets center Dwight Howard’s “checkup” with the team physician, including an MRI, confirmed the team’s confidence that Howard is progressing “on schedule,” a person with knowledge of the process said, though reports from his workouts remain the most important measures of his progress.

Wednesday marked four weeks since Howard’s bone marrow aspirate injection, but Dr. Walter Lowe said last month that he expected the time out to be the key to healing the edema that had built up on Howard’s right knee, rather than the procedure.

“He’s coming along,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I saw him on the treadmill which is a good sign, but I haven’t seen him on the floor. Until you see him on the floor, who knows.”


No. 3: James takes another hit — Three days after getting kicked in the groin by James Harden, LeBron James got tackled by Jonas Valanciunas in the Cavs’ win in Toronto on Wednesday. James isn’t the type for retaliation, but he’s certainly getting a little frustrated with the physicality, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes

After being the recipient of a second flagrant foul in his past three games, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he might have to take matters into his own hands in the future.

“Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more, too,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas wrapped James up around the neck and shoulders as he drove the lane with 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The infraction was initially whistled as a common foul before being upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 after an official’s review of the video replay.

“I don’t want to get too much involved in it because I don’t want to cry about it because it’s not like I’m not able to get back up, but it’s a lot of plays that are just not basketball plays,” said James, who was kicked in the groin Sunday by Houston’s James Harden, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Rockets swingman.


No. 4: Noah working to stop violence in Chicago — Joakim Noah is from New York, but Chicago has been his home for eight years now. He’s been trying his best to help curb violence in his adopted city, and has a new initiative that he talked about after practice on Wednesday. K.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there

On the direct heels of Noah’s well-received, anti-violence video “You’re Not Alone,” produced by Noah’s foundation and award-winning journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, Noah has launched another initiative.

“I think the video was very important for people from all shapes of life to look at it as it’s not just a problem that’s just going on the South Side or the West Side. It’s everybody’s problem,” Noah said. “So me and my mother started this movement, it’s called Rock Your Drop: The Drop of Consciousness. It’s a necklace that represents a tear drop. It’s something we’ve been working really hard on. It’s to bring awareness to all the violence that’s going on and also that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone.

“It’s our movement and we’re very proud of it, and we just hope that it can spread. The more money we raise with these drops, the programs we can put in for these kids.”

The necklaces are available for purchase on


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steve Kerr explains why David Lee didn’t play in the second half of the last two games of the Warriors’ road trip … Kevin Garnett says the Nuggets quit on Brian Shaw … Raptors coach Dwane Casey is using the last part of the season to do some experimentingKelly Olynyk returned from an 18-game absence in the Celtics’ win over the Jazz on Wednesday … and bidders for the Hawks continue to emerge.

ICYMI: Russell Westbrook, Western Conference Player of the Month for February, took an early lead for the same award in March with 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Sixers:

VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook