Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Conference finals’

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough

VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 30

VIDEO: The Miami Heat are 4-for-4 in attempts at making The Finals, the first time in 27 years a team has done it 4 straight times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History in the making.

History still to be made.

It’s all still on the table for the Miami Heat.

Four straight trips to The Finals. The opportunity to three-peat. 

“I’m blessed,” LeBron James said. “We won’t take this opportunity for granted. This is an unbelievable franchise, this is an unbelievable group.”

The Finals rematch is up next, the San Antonio Spurs (2013) or Oklahoma City Thunder (2012) will help the Heat finish that chapter of this championship story.

But The Finals is all the Heat have known in the Big 3 era. It’s all James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and crew have known since they came together.


Greg Oden is going to The Finals!


Three years running they go out on the wrong end of the Heat’s blade …


Bird Returning To The Pacers


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — One year away from the game was apparently all Hall of Famer Larry Bird could take. The former Boston Celtics star and Indiana Pacers coach and executive is returning to his Indiana roots once again and rejoining the Pacers’ front office.

The Pacers announced Wednesday afternoon that Bird is rejoining the franchise as president, giving the Pacers a front office “Big 3” of sorts with Donnie Walsh , who will move into his role as a consultant, and general manager Kevin Pritchard already in place.

“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” Pacers owner Herb Simon said in statement released by the team. “When he left last July, Donnie and I both told him the door would be open for him to come back when he’s ready. Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time. Donnie has been a friend and a valuable contributor to the franchise and will continue to be both. I wanted him to agree to stay in some capacity as I believe with Larry and Kevin, it gives us three of the best basketball minds in the business.”

The Pacers that Bird built during his previous stint as president, which culminated in NBA Executive of the Year honors in 2012, pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals this season. Bird is responsible for youngsters like All-Star Paul George and Lance Stephenson being in the Pacers’ fold alongside veterans like David West, George Hill and All-Star Roy Hibbert, not to mention coach Frank Vogel.

Bird took the Pacers to The Finals during his stint as coach, from 1997-2000. He left after that Finals trip in 2000 but returned in 2003 to work alongside Walsh in the front office as president. Walsh returned to replace Bird this past season and now they will team up again with Pritchard in a significant role as well.

Bird cited health reasons for his departure at the end of last year. He had been the Pacers’ president of basketball operations from 2003-12. The year off, however, served him well.

“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” Bird said in that statement. “Donnie and Kevin did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship.”

Report: Kobe Aiming For An Opening Day Return, Will Recruit Dwight Howard

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — While the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs occupy the minds of most NBA fans right now as the conference finals end and we get ready for The Finals, Kobe Bryant is quietly plotting his comeback in Los Angeles.

The Lakers’ superstar is deep into the rehabilitation process from season-ending Achilles surgery and has set his sights on an earlier than expected return to action, telling Dave McMenamin of the in an exclusive Monday interview that he’s hoping to return for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener:

“I hope so,” Bryant said . “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.

“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”

In addition to plotting his own return, Bryant plans on being an active recruiter for the Lakers’ biggest free-agent target, center Dwight Howard. Howard is sure to be entertaining suitors from coast to coast July 1 when free agency kicks off. Bryant and Howard got off to a rocky start as teammates this season but appear to have grown closer throughout the tumultuous ride.

Bryant said he’ll step in when needed and make sure to impress upon Howard the importance of the big man being a part of the master plan in Los Angeles:

“For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be,” Bryant said. “We all want him here. But then that’s when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don’t start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.

“I’ll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.”

That has to be music to the ears of Lakers fans. Having the man who has served as the face of the franchise for much of the past decade and a half work this hard to make sure Howard serves as his eventual franchise successor speaks volumes about where Bryant is in his career.

With the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are  all reportedly preparing recruiting pitches for Howard (who, along with Chris Paul and Josh Smith, are the headliners in the free-agent class), the Lakers have to be prepared with a pitch of their own. The more input and influence from Bryant it seems, the better.

Only time will tell if it works out for Bryant on both fronts. We’d be foolish to doubt his resolve as he attempts to come back earlier than expected from his injury. In fact, convincing Howard to stick with the Lakers might be the more difficult of the two tasks.

Howard has managed to avoid doing any interviews since the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs, so anyone assuming what he might do is going off of sourced information and little else.

Pacers’ Hibbert Fined $75K For ‘Inappropriate And Vulgar’ Language



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Not all speech is free.

Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert found out the hard way on the eve of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, when the NBA fined him $75,000 for using “inappropriate and vulgar language” during postgame interviews after the Pacers’ Game 6 win over the Miami Heat Saturday night in Indianapolis.

“While Roy has issued an apology, which is no doubt sincere, a fine is necessary to reinforce that such offensive comments will not be tolerated by the NBA,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern in a statement released by the league.

Hibbert’s apology, issued via earlier Sunday, summed up the big man’s feeling after realizing that he might have offended some people with his remarks:

“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers’ organization. I sincerely have deep regret over my choice of words last night.”

Heat’s ‘Birdman’ Grounded For Game 6


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Miami Heat won’t be able to lean on Chris “Birdman” Andersen in their quest to finish off the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The backup big man was suspended for one game without pay by the NBA this evening for a Flagrant-1 foul on Pacers’ forward Tyler Hansbrough that was upgraded to a Flagrant-2 foul, a penalty announced by NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson.

Losing Andersen is a blow for a Heat team that has struggled to find consistent help for LeBron James in this series. Andersen is a perfect 15-for-15 shooting in five games against the Pacers, averaging 7.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 18.4 minutes. His energy and effort on both ends of the floor have been critical to the Heat’s cause.

Things went overboard, though, Thursday night in Game 5. Andersen was shoved from behind by Indiana’s Paul George, while chasing a rebound, and instead of checking to see who delivered the blow he went after Hansbrough, knocking him off of his feet as the two ran upcourt after the play.

Hansbrough and Andersen went chest to chest immediately after Hansbrough got back to his feet. Andersen followed that contact with  a shove to the chest and then had to be restrained by official Marc Davis, who Andersen was quick to shove aside as he continued barking at Hansbrough.

The video of the sequence went viral immediately. And even though there was no suspension, we all knew what was coming. The Heat’s paper-thin depth up front will be tested Saturday night. The Pacers will attack with Roy Hibbert and David West, as they should.

No offense to the Birdman or his legion of followers, but the Heat aren’t going to win or lose Game 6 based on Andersen’s contributions — not if Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continue to struggle the way they have against the Pacers.

The Heat need a better all around effort from the entire supporting cast, and the usual spectacular work from James, if they have any chance of snatching another game on the road in this series. If the series does go to a seventh game, Andersen will back for that tilt Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But he’ll sit for Game 6, as he should, for allowing his emotions to get the best of him in what has turned out to be an unbelievably tense series for both sides.

Pacers: ‘Battier Is Dirty’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The war of words between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat should be at full tilt by tip-off tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Finals, thanks to Pacers forward David West and center Roy Hibbert and their continued sniping about Heat forward Shane Battier being a “dirty” player.

“I always have to have my guard up and protect my knees when he’s on me,” West told reporters today. “He’s got this funny way of moving into your knees, so we’re very conscious of that. So we talk about protecting our knees. It’s an irritant. I’m doubly conscious of it because of my own knee issues (an ACL surgery before last season). You just know the way he plays, he’s trying to make an impact any way he can, so you just have to be prepared for everything.”

“It’s an irritant; when guys are bearing into your knees. I’m doubly conscious of it having an ACL (tear) a year and a half ago. I don’t know (if it’s an intent to injure), I just know the way he plays he’s trying to make an impact any way he can.”

Hibbert offered up his own assessment, calling Battier “dirty.”

“I know what (Battier) brings to the game and it’s worked for him in the past. He has to do whatever he has to do to make sure his team wins,” Hibbert said. “I’m going to watch my knees, watch my groin. … To tell you the truth, I don’t care. I’m in there, I’m playing tough. He has to do what he has to do. Obviously I don’t like it but it’s a part of the game. I don’t want to look back say I gave in to a dirty player.”

This is not exactly breaking news, the Pacers complaining about Battier. Hibbert was on this kick after Game 1, insisting that Battier’s raised knee on a drive to the basket was routine for the veteran forward who is known for agitating opponents with some of his tactics.

But after three players (the Pacers’ West and Lance Stephenson and the Heat’s LeBron James) were fined $5,000 each for flops committed in Game 4, the undercurrent of animosity between the two sides should be intense tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena.

For his part, Battier is attempting to stake out high ground in this totally unnecessary debate about who should or should not be labeled as “dirty.”

“In a perfect world, we’d all love to be stoic, immovable forces where the force of very large men throwing themselves into you doesn’t affect you,” Battier said. “Yeah, that’d be great. But unfortunately, there’s a thing called physics involved that seems to win out more often than not.”

Playoff drama is one thing. Bickering and battling on the court is another. Calling out an opponent as “dirty” and suggesting that his aim to injure someone, however, crosses a line that no one involved here needs to, particularly at such a crucial stage of the series.

It makes for great theater, of course, heading into tonight’s Game 5 showdown (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) . We’ll find out exactly how the Pacers deal with Battier and how the Heat respond to yet another shot from their new rivals in the East.

Heat, Pacers Hit With Flopping Fines


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Not all flops are created equal, as LeBron James and David West (above) and Lance Stephenson (below) illustrated in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The fines handed down by the league, however, came down the same. All three of those players were slapped with a $5,000 penalty for the extra flair they showed in their flops, Hollywood-worthy acting jobs in all three instances.

There were just four flop fines (Tony Allen of the Grizzlies vs. the Spurs in Game 2, J.R. Smith of the Knicks vs. the Pacers in Game 1, Derek Fisher of the Thunder vs. the Rockets in Game 5 and Jeff Pendergraph of the Pacers vs. the Hawks in Game 5) before this current windfall.

The message from the on high is clear to us: Enough of the dramatics!

Unlike foul calls that can be interpreted a million different ways, no one can dispute the acting jobs turned in on these flops. All three of these latest fines were well-earned.

Now we’ll see if the fines will curb the enthusiasm of the Heat and Pacers in Game 5 tonight in Miami (8:30 p.m ET, TNT) …


Another Look: LeBron, Heat in A Foul Mood After Late Call In Game 4


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You can’t play hero when you’re on the bench with the game on the line.

And that sixth foul on LeBron James in the final minute of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals eliminated any chance of the four-time MVP duplicating his late-game heroics from Game 1.

But that foul call looked different to folks depending on their area code.

It was definitely a foul anywhere near the 317, 812 and 765 and basically anywhere in the state of Indiana. But in the 305 and 954 (and the rest of the South Florida), Lance Stephenson stumbling over the foot of James on a screen at crunch time looked like the tick-iest of tacky fouls on a night filled with a number of questionable fouls called on both sides.

Seeing the reigning MVP exit the game on a call like this one, though, was sure to start a few arguments around the basketball world.

The officials are an easy target, especially when you lose.  And I’d argue that the Pacers outworked the Heat top to bottom in Game 4 anyway and that there is no guarantee LeBron could have rescued the Heat again, had he been on the floor.


The Play Of The Game: What Would You Do?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ve got plenty of time to debate the final play of the Miami Heat’s 103-102 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 isn’t until Friday night. So let the second-guessing begin.

The question is simple, should the Pacers have had their rim protector extraordinaire Roy Hibbert on the floor for the final play of a game? There were just 2.2 seconds to play and LeBron James spun to the basket and finished with the lefty layup to win it, thanks to Paul George‘s defensive gaffe (he overplayed the pass after seeing Ray Allen fly past him to the wing on a beautifully designed play). Pacers coach Frank Vogel has already said that if he had it to do over again … kudos to him for coming clean, many of his colleagues around the league would bark at us for questioning him.

Watch the play (above) again and play coach. Would you rather go small and give up those last two layups LeBron scored (the first was a driving layup on George Hill) or do you take your chances with Hibbert, praised by Vogel recently as the best rim protector in the game, and force the Heat to beat you with a lower percentage shot from distance?

George answered the question for me when he admitted afterwards that he needed to force LeBron to take a jumper rather than give up the clear lane to the basket. Had Hibbert been on the floor, that path would have at least been a bit cluttered. Tyler Hansbrough, who was fantastic earlier in the game, was chasing Allen on that last play but did not close off the lane the way Hibbert might have if he were in there.

I know it’s hindsight now and that everything but what Vogel did looks like a better option now. Sorry. That’s the way it works when we all get to play armchair coach after the fact.

So again, what would you do?