Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

Spurs braced for history and Thunder

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich after Sunday’s practice.

SAN ANTONIO — If they needed a reminder, the Spurs could always dig deep into the NBA annals to the 1985 Finals where Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were thumped 148-114 at Boston Garden in the series opener by the Celtics. It became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

It was memorable, indeed. Mostly for the way the Lakers came back to win the next game and went on to claim the crown, the first time they ever beat Boston in the playoffs.

For a dive not nearly as deep into history, the Spurs could look back just a year ago to a 100-73 thumping they laid on the Clippers for a 2-1 series lead. Then the Clippers came right back to win Game 4 in San Antonio and went on to eliminate the Spurs in the first round.

In other words, it’s one game.

One big, ugly, hurtful bruise of a 124-92 haymaker that the Spurs delivered to the jaws of the Thunder Saturday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. But the veteran club isn’t expecting OKC to roll over again.

The Spurs shot 60.7 percent in the opener, hit 9 of 15 shots from 3-point range, scoring 73 points by halftime and building a lead that reached a ridiculous 43 points. LaMarcus Aldridge went 18-for-23 for his 38 points and Kawhi Leonard was a two-way monster.

“I think that after a game like that you are worried,” said Manu Ginobili. “I mean, the tendency is to be satisfied so you get to worry about the next one because it’s a natural tendency. Hopefully, we don’t fall for that.

“We understand it’s an exception. It doesn’t happen that often, having a shooting night like that (and) their having as bad night as they did. So my feeling now is just being worried because we know it is not being the same and we start the game a little relaxed.”

The Spurs smothered the Thunder from start and it snowballed out of control early. OKC was most definitely unprepared for what hit them and outperformed and out-executed by the Spurs and a good deal of that has to fall on rookie coach Billy Donovan, getting his first real baptism by fire against Gregg Popovich.

But if the long, six-month grind of the regular season teaches you anything, it’s that there is always another game coming up and always a chance to forget the past.

“We have been on that side of it,” said Tony Parker. “It’s easy to get motivated, because it’s just one game.  They have nothing to lose and can steal a game and do their job.”

It’s a lesson most often learned painfully, usually by a team made up of younger players. But these Spurs know that just because the jumpers and layups didn’t fall for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook one night it doesn’t mean they won’t on another.

“I think our maturity will set in,” said David West. “Obviously, they’re a great team with great players, guys who can make plays and win games…We got off to that great start that really propelled us throughout the game but, obviously, it means nothing. Game 2 is Game 2. It has nothing to do with game 1.”

“Pop uses the words ‘appropriate fear’ quite often,” said Danny Green. “That’s what you have to have. We’ll go into this next game, we’ll see things we can fix, things we need to adjust. We shot the ball well. They didn’t shoot it as well as they’re going to shoot it. We have to assume we’re not going to shoot it as well for the rest of the playoffs. We hope we do. But it’s very rare where everybody is making shots like we were last night. You have to assume it’s going to be harder for us.”

It can hardly get much easier. But even knowing all the pitfalls and the history doesn’t mean that a trapdoor won’t swing open beneath your feet. Because of, well, human nature. The Spurs are now 43-1 on the season in the AT&T Center. But all it would take is one reversal by OKC to puncture that air of invincibility on the Spurs’ home floor.

“We all talk about it. We know,” Ginobili said. “But the head is sometimes very hard to control. If it was that easy then you wouldn’t see it that often. And in every sport and athlete it happens many times. Hopefully, we don’t fall for it and we understand and we convince each other that the risks of winning like this.”

“So, yeah, we do (worry). It’s natural. Of course, during the games you love games like that because it’s not the amount of tension. But sometimes you prefer to win a close game knowing the tension is going to be similar the next game. Here, it’s going to be a completely different story and hope we don’t let down.”

History says this thing hasn’t even started.

Westbrook likes ties that bind with K.D.

Idiot.

One word.

But one you might want to keep in mind when it comes time for free agent Kevin Durant to make his big decision about where to play next season.

It’s the word that Durant directed at Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after OKC’s series-clinching win Tuesday night for saying that Russell Westbrook is not a superstar.

Durant: “He’s an idiot. He’s an idiot. Don’t listen to him. All right. That’s what we’ve got to say about that. He’s an idiot. Next question.”

It wasn’t just what he said, but the way Durant said it forcefully and immediately, reaching to put his hand over the microphone before Westbrook could respond first.

While there will be pitches from Washington and L.A. and New York and Golden State and Houston and every other corner of the NBA to get Durant to make a jump, the bond that he’s formed playing eight seasons with Westbrook shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated. Royce Young of ESPN.com noted how Westbrook felt:

On Wednesday, following the team’s practice, Westbrook was asked what it meant for Durant to jump in and defend him like that.

“It was very important [to me],” Westbrook said. “Me and Kevin’s relationship is great. He’s like my brother. We talk about different things, not just basketball-related. He’s always gonna have my back and I’ll always have his.”

When all is said and done, even an idiot knows that blood brothers could prove to be thicker than water.

Blogtable: Warriors or Clippers more capable of winning without star guard?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> The Warriors or the Clippers? Who is better equipped to win in these playoffs without their All-Star point guard? And how far can they go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Warriors. This question might have been posed before the full extent of Blake Griffin’s injury was known, but there’s no denying the double-whammy delivered to Doc Rivers’ crew. It sounds like a rehab race as far as which point guard gets back sooner – and whether Stephen Curry‘s or Chris Paul‘s team still will be alive by then – but Golden State’s superior depth makes them the favorite against either L.A. or Portland, in my opinion. If Curry isn’t back by, say, Game 3 of the conference finals, though, I think San Antonio will represent the West in The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As odd as it may sound when we’re talking about the soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry out of the Warriors lineup, I’d say Golden State can handle the loss better. For one, the Warriors roster is much, much deeper. For another, Chris Paul is the one that makes everything go in the Clippers offense. He runs the pick-and-rolls. He sets up virtually all of DeAndre Jordan’s buckets. He drives the team and also is a tough defender. Add in the fact that Blake Griffin is done for the playoffs and the Clippers are clearly more vulnerable. They are now in danger of being knocked out by Portland. However, without Curry, the Warriors can’t get past either the Spurs or Thunder in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. And it’s not even a question. The Clips will be without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, very possibly, if not likely, for the rest of the playoffs. Golden State still has two All-Stars, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, plus others, and could also have Curry back before the end of the second round.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comStephen Curry is about a week from winning another MVP, and his worth to Golden State is obvious, but the Warriors are deep enough to travel far in the playoffs. That’s because they can at least attempt to replace what Curry does well: pass and shoot. Klay Thompson is a proven 20-point scorer and Draymond Green is excellent at finding open teammates. Besides, Shaun Livingston might be the best backup point guard in the playoffs. Could they win it all? I wouldn’t dismiss that. Without Chris Paul‘s deft direction, though, the Clippers are a one-on-one troupe. And without Paul and Blake Griffin, they’re in for a quick exit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Warriors by a mile, even if Blake Griffin was healthy. Golden State has the better defense and more of a plug-and-play system where the ball will continue to move no matter who is on the floor. Both teams rely heavily on their point guards to generate offense and both offenses have been much worse when the point guard has stepped off the floor. But the Warriors’ ensemble cast beyond their star is much stronger than that of the Clippers, who look sunk against Portland without their two best players. The champs can beat the Blazers without Curry, but will obviously need him to get past the Spurs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors, by a long shot. The supporting cast in Oakland is much deeper and stronger. As critical as Stephen Curry is to what the Warriors have and continue to do, his value to his team isn’t the same as Paul’s is to the Clippers. The Warriors share the leadership load on and off the floor. Paul is the tone-setter for the Clippers in every facet. And without him, there is no way they play beyond the conference semifinals. The Warriors can get to the conference finals without Curry.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on the Clippers’ injuries and the Blazers’ youth, we can pencil the Warriors into the conference finals – which in turn relieves them of any immediate pressure to hurry Curry back into the rotation. If the next two to three weeks enable Curry’s knee and ankle to heal, then I’m thinking the Warriors’ chances of returning to the NBA Finals aren’t going to be affected. It will be as if Curry’s injuries never happened. My sympathy is with Chris Paul. This is one of the NBA’s great leaders, and another year goes by without him reaching a conference final. I can’t imagine someone like him retiring without at least one NBA Finals appearance. And yet Paul is turning 31 next week, and the years are beginning to slip away.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIs this a trick question? The Clippers are almost fully dependent on Chris Paul to get his own buckets (like those midrange jumpers he’s so great at knocking down) or to create for everyone elseDeAndre Jordan on alley-oops, J.J. Redick coming around picks. The Clips can get buckets without CP3, like if they just turn Jamal Crawford loose, but it’s nothing like the Warriors without Stephen Curry. The Warriors have two other players (Draymond Green, Klay Thompson) who can do all parts of the game — score, facilitate, play defense — and do it at as high of a level as anyone in the league.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Blogtable: Who should be Lakers’ next coach?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> The Lakers have employed five head coaches in the last six seasons, and are looking to fill that position again. Who is the right man for the job this time? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Luke Walton seems like the right choice to me. He was remarkably calm and capable handling Golden State over the first half of the season. Granted, he was working within the league’s second-most respected organizational structure, with championship talent and a clear, achievable mission to repeat. Still, the slightest hiccup, whether injury or off-court mishap, could have been blamed on Walton. He’s at a point in his coaching arc — early — that synchs up with the Lakers’ roster and rebuild. If Walton doesn’t choose to leave the Warriors, though, someone like Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie would be a strong candidate, based on his NBA experience and his coaching apprenticeship.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLuke Walton. He’s young, smart, has roots that run through the Lakers, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr and would be able to grow even more on the job while bringing along a new young core. The Lakers fan base would also be get fully behind a new era on the court and on the bench. The bad news: He’s not going there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ettore Messina. Smart, hard worker, respected by basketball people around the world even if he isn’t recognizable to most fans in the U.S., has Laker ties, well-liked within the organization, now has a wealth of experience on NBA benches — he checks all the boxes. It’s easy to see the appeal of Luke Walton, who would be a popular choice. Walton could also be a very good choice. But someone is going to be glad they gave Messina his first NBA job. It should be the Lakers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I like the idea of hiring Jay Wright of Villanova because he’s got a lot of Brad Stevens in him: Calm, smart and ambitious and he can grow into the job while the team develops. Besides, the Lakers are loaded with young players, which makes them idea for a college coach. But if they feel NBA experience is paramount, then Jeff Van Gundy over Luke Walton. My only issue with Van Gundy is he hasn’t been on the bench in almost a decade.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Scott Brooks, who did a great job of developing young talent in Oklahoma City, would have been my initial pick. With Brooks heading to Washington, I would still make player development my most important factor. Therefore, I would look at Heat assistant David Fizdale, Blazers assistant Nate Tibbets, or someone of that ilk. Don’t take shortcuts. If you have D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and maybe another top-three pick this year, making them better should be your top priority. If you can get those guys playing together and playing something other than bottom-five defense, you can take a step forward, both in the standings and in your team’s development, without making a big splash in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All of the usual suspects will be mentioned. But if the Lakers are serious about grooming their youngsters for bigger and better things, they need a known player-development minded coach like David Fizdale, who is currently Erik Spoelstra’s top assistant in Miami. Fizdale has helped mold young talent, while also working with superstar talents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others. His understanding of the culture that is needed to facilitate the maturation process for elite young talent is proven. He’s got championship experience and he’s a Los Angeles native who understands what comes with coaching one of the marquee teams in all of professional sports.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe identity of the right man depends entirely on the Lakers. Are Jeanie and Jimmy Buss unified? If Jimmy leaves after next season – as Jeanie has insisted he will, if the Lakers fail to reach the second round of the 2017 playoffs — then who will be running basketball operations? Do the Lakers realize they are going to need several years of focused development in order to return to contention? Or are they going to turn into the Knicks and sabotage themselves by pursuing quick fixes and continuing their current trend of changing their approach every couple of years? If the Lakers cannot answer these questions appropriately, then they are not going to be worthy of a high-level candidate like Jeff Van Gundy, Ettore Messina or Luke Walton. I don’t know how to answer the question, because the Lakers don’t appear to know who they are and what they stand for anymore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Pat Riley ain’t walking through that door. And neither are Magic, Kareem and Kobe. Point being, the Lakers need a lot of help, and no matter who the coach is, their roster needs more renovating than an HGTV show. So I guess I’d look to what Boston did, and hire a young coach who’s willing to be patient with the process and lose games for a few years while you teach your system and develop your guys. So I’d put in a call to a Kevin Ollie or, and here’s a crazy idea, if you want a caretaker for a few years to stay competitive while you develop younger guys, I bet Larry Brown would take your call.

Steve Kerr on review of Harden shot: ‘It doesn’t matter’

HOUSTON — After the NBA’s review of the officiating in Game 3 of the playoffs on Thursday found five errors in the final two minutes, Warriors coach Steve Kerr couldn’t work up any emotion, let alone outrage.

In the league’s “Last Two Minute Report,” it was determined that James Harden’s game-winning bucket should not have counted because he pushed off on the shot. The review also retroactively handed out a Flagrant 1 foul to Golden State’s Draymond Green for a takedown of Houston’s Michael Beasley in the final seconds.

If a player accrues four flagrant foul points during the playoffs, he is automatically suspended for one game.

If Harden’s basket didn’t count, the Warriors might have won 96-95 and now held a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kerr said with a shrug. “I appreciate the league trying to be transparent about calls. On the other hand, it puts the referees in a pretty tough spot. You can’t change the call afterwards. So it doesn’t really make a difference either way.

“It’s an impossible game to officiate. It really is. Players are constantly testing the limits of what they can get away with on every team. The officials are doing the best they can. They’ve got a tough job. They’ve got eight million things to look at.

“Like I said last week, every team I’ve ever been on, we thought for sure we were getting a raw deal from the officials. Every team. Trust me, if one side thinks they’re getting a bad deal, so does the other. That’s just the way it goes. You just gotta come out and play.”

Rockets CEO: ‘No disrespect to Charles’

HOUSTON — Rockets CEO Tad Brown says there was nothing personal in his Twitter fight with Charles Barkley on Thursday night during Game 3 of the playoffs.

At halftime of the TNT telecast, Barkley said, “Ain’t nothing worse than fake hustle. I guarantee you the Rockets are going to lose this game.”

After the Rockets held on to beat the Warriors 97-96, Brown tweeted: “Charles would know, his entire Rockets career was fake hustle.”

In a hallway of Toyota Center Saturday afternoon while both teams practiced, Brown said he did not intend to question Barkley’s credentials as a Hall of Fame player.

“I was a huge fan of his growing up,” Brown said. “I have the greatest respect for him. This has been going on for a long time. Just trying to stand up for my guys. It’s no disrespect to Charles, one of the top 50 players of all time. At some point, just making sure our team knows we’re looking out for them, we’re trying to stand up for them.”

Kerr: “Not worth risk” to play Curry

HOUSTON — Stephen Curry has won most of his battles on the basketball court over the past few seasons, but he lost the debate with the Warriors staff about playing in Friday night’s Game 3 against the Rockets. His sprained right ankle is improving, but not enough to get him back into the lineup.

“We talked to him after shootaround today and he felt pretty good,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “He moved well. He wanted to play. But ultimately we didn’t feel comfortable after four straight days of inactivity throwing him into the middle of a playoff game not knowing how the ankle was going to respond.

“His thought was he would be OK. We just felt a lot more comfortable putting him through 3-on-3 tomorrow, probably a 5-on-5 on Saturday and really seeing if he’s OK or not.

“It wasn’t worth the risk if we put him out there tonight and he re-injured it. It’s too big of a risk. So we’ll see what happens the next couple of days and hopefully he’ll be ready to go for Game 4.”

It was a group consisting of team orthopedist Dr. William J. Maloney, the training staff, general manager Bob Myers, Kerr and Curry that arrived at the consensus despite evidence that the ankle had improved.

“We kind of teamed up on him,” Kerr said. “He wanted to play. But he’s also very practical and he understands the thinking and he understands that it’s better safe than sorry.

“It was a very easy decision. Weighing the pluses and minuses, a very easy decision.”

As for Game 4 on Sunday?

“We’re hoping,” Kerr said. “The biggest thing for him is to play 3-on-3 tomorrow at our practice and see how he feels after that. Again, without having done anything for four days, no conditioning, no rhythm, no actual live contact, it would have been irresponsible, I think, to put him out there.”

Report: Wizards offer job to Brooks

While they may not be in the playoffs, the Wizards are in the thick of the competition for a new head coach and have offered the job to former Oklahoma City boss Scott Brooks.

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld traveled to Southern California on Wednesday to meet with the Brooks, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Grunfeld is hoping to head off the Rockets, who have Brooks as a prime target for the job that is expected to come open as soon as they are eliminated from the playoffs. Houston is still alive in its first round series against Golden State — Game 3 is Thursday night — and that means interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff is still in charge on the Rockets bench.

Brooks has been enthusiastic about reaching an agreement with the Wizards and could complete negotiations on a contract that will pay him in the range of $7 million a season, league sources told The Vertical.

Brooks was fired after the 2015 season in Oklahoma City, where he went 338-207 in seven seasons as coach of the Thunder. He led the Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals. If Brooks were to go to Houston he would be reunited with James Harden.

In Washington, he’d be taking over a roster with the high-powered backcourt of All-Star point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal, who will become a free agent this summer.

Grizzlies GM vows to re-sign Conley

The wounded Grizzlies have no answer for the Spurs and very little chance of grabbing even a single game in their first round playoff series at the end of a star-crossed season that has worn them down and out.

But the grit and grind bunch has plans to be back at full strength for 2016-17 as general manager Chris Wallace vowed that the club will keep soon-to-be free agent point guard Mike Conley in Memphis. Wallace made his proclamation Wednesday on the Chris Vernon radio show on 92.9 FM ESPN in Memphis:

The 28-year-old Conley will be the top point guard on the free agent market this summer. He’s always been underrated and under-appreciated — not a single All-Star appearance — in the Western Conference that is crowded with talent at his position. But Conley is a smart quarterback of the offense, an excellent defender and is a solid 3-point shooter at 37.3 percent on his career. He did not play the final 20 games of the season after suffering continued soreness in his Achilles tendon.

There was a report earlier in the week that said Conley was ready to bolt Memphis in free agency and the Knicks might have him at the top of their off-season wish list. However, he played a pivotal role in getting teammate Marc Gasol to re-sign with the team last summer, it’s hard to see Conley heading for the door if the Grizzlies do the right thing and make a five-year maximum offer. Listening to Wallace, it sounds like that’s exactly the plan.