Posts Tagged ‘Francisco Garcia’

Suns hot pick in NBA March Madness

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The selection committee has done its job, the field is complete and now the intrigue starts all around the NBA — filling out those March Madness brackets.

But for a different kind of insanity, we thought it might be fun to go into a few arenas and locker rooms to ask one question: If the NBA playoffs were set up like the NCAA Tournament, who would be your Butler, a below-the-radar team capable of making a deep run?

Ray Allen, Heat: “In an NCAA format, one game and advance, anything is possible. Charlotte’s a team that would be dangerous. They can get hot. They’ve developed confidence. They play hard. They’re running a new system. Atlanta is a team that’s running a San Antonio offensive system and they play good defense. Both of those can really play defense. So if you put them in win-or-you’re-out format, teams like those that always play hard and don’t care about who their opponent is, they’re gonna be capable. There would definitely be more drama in that kind of a playoff system. Obviously, it would never get to that because of all the money that’s at stake over the long playoff series. But as players, you would appreciate it. You’d have to leave it all out there on the line. And every night — with the best players in the NBA going at it — it would really be madness. There would be some true grudge matches. Oh, that would be interesting.”

Mario Chalmers, Heat: “Dallas. That’s a team with weapons and can score.”

Roy Hibbert, Pacers: “In the East, I could see Toronto and Charlotte doing that. Even Chicago. In the West, Phoenix has played great a surprise people all year. Phoenix has a style of play that’s fast-paced and they have guys that are built for that.”


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Suns’ solid season to date

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst: “Memphis. Because of the style they play. Who else plays like Memphis? Who else has those two big guys like Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and (Marc) Gasol to beat you up and wear you down. That’s a team that could walk into a tournament setting, get on a real roll and just start knocking people out. And in the East I’d say Chicago for a lot of the same reasons. They don’t have those two big bangers in the low post, but with Noah and the middle and the aggressiveness and the ferocity that they play with, the Bulls could make a tournament very interesting and tough on everyone.”

Chandler Parsons, Rockets: “I like Phoenix as my Butler in the West, because they’re so explosive offensively. In transition they’d get out and they’d beat a lot of good teams. In the East, I like Chicago. They’re playing really well. Joakim (Noah)has been unbelievable for them. He’s doing everything, getting triple-doubles. Plus they’re such a good defensive team. Those are definitely two teams you don’t want to see in the NBA playoffs and in an NCAA Tournament type scenario with sudden-death, no way. Even Memphis, if they sneak in at No 8 in the West. That’s a team that could do a lot of damage. Us? We’re above that Butler level. We’re Florida. We’re Duke.”

Matt Bonner, Spurs: “Phoenix. It’s about style of play. It’s about scoring points from a lot of different places. It’s about playing at a fast pace. Definitely Phoenix.”

Shane Battier, Heat: “Who is that dark horse team? Really, still no one is talking about Houston. They have played fantastic and the Rockets would be a buzz saw to play in any single game or even a seven-game series. You know they’re gonna shoot 30 3s. If they get hot, that’s an amazing number to try to match offensively. And no one is really talking about them. The hubbub is OKC and San Antonio and the Clippers to a large extent. People are talking about Golden State and the Splash Brothers more than they are about Houston. I think Houston is a legitimate team.”

Michael Beasley, Heat: “Miami. That’s the only team I’m worried about, the only team I think about. I don’t even want to imagine nobody else making a run, nobody else doing nothing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bobcats and Al Jefferson’s play

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: “I think every team in the West is capable of being that Butler type team. It’s so close, so many good teams. It just depends which week or two you’re talking about. We’ve seen that all season long. Remember how Memphis came in and beat San Antonio in the playoffs a couple of years ago? Golden State over Dallas a few years earlier. I think everybody is close and there are so many good teams in any matchup that in the NCAA Tournament arrangement, you might be able to play it three or four times and get a different team out of the West every time.”

Paul George, Pacers: “I think Phoenix. I think the Suns could do it because that’s a consistent team. They don’t rely on just one or two players to get most of their offense. They really spread things around. They really get after you all the time. They always play hard and bring it to you. They always want to attack. And in a tournament setting, they’ve got enough guys to make shots and make plays. They would just have to get hot at the right time, which we’ve seen from them this season. They’ve taken down tough opponents. They beat us twice, OKC. So that’s a team that could be very dangerous if it was tournament time.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets: “The Rockets. Despite anything that we’ve done and any games that we’ve won, I think in general we’re still a team that nobody’s looked at as a real contender. But you know, I like being the underdog. We’d like to keep ourselves being overlooked as much as possible through the end of the season and going into the playoffs. In a tournament, in the playoffs, we’re that kind of team that I believe and rise up and surprise people.”

Dwyane Wade, Heat: “I guess if look at the West, I’d say Phoenix could be a bracket-busting Butler. That’s a team that could get hot. Lot of weapons, lot of different people and ways to score and they don’t seem to let up. That style they play, they’re always going. In the East maybe the Bobcats. They play very well together. They’ve got a big man in Al Jefferson that can go 1-on-1 and can score. That’s a team that’s also been playing hard all year, been really gaining in confidence. So if you tossed them into a tournament setting, I’d say, yeah, they could go on a run.”

Danny Green, Spurs: “Phoenix. I was watching them play and they’re very dangerous at home. You know they don’t back down from anybody. They beat Indiana and OKC. We’ve lost to them this season. They love to get out and run. They move the ball fast and they don’t ever let up. If they’re healthy, they’re gonna come after you nonstop and they could do something like go on a run through a tournament. That pace of play is tough to deal with. Another team you’d have to watch out for is Dallas. They’ve got weapons and you’d always have to watch out for Dirk getting on a roll.”

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: “Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that. But if you want a dangerous team that maybe nobody would pick, I’d say Sacramento. They got a lot of weapons — Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, now Reggie Evans over there with some experience. Derrick Williams. They got a lot of pieces they can throw out there. If they get going, they could beat some people and go far. That’s a capable team.”

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: “In the West anybody can beat anybody. You’ve got four or five teams with over 40 wins at this point in the season. You’ve seen teams go on runs with different styles. Houston went on a run recently. We went on a run earlier. Pick a day of the week. Anybody could be Butler.”

Francisco Garcia, Rockets: “I would say Phoenix, because they score in so many ways. I think everybody would take them lightly at the beginning of a tournament since they’re young and they don’t have a team filled up with All-Stars. It’s easy from the outside to overlook them. It’s only when you get out there on the court and see how hard they play and see how they are so good at moving the ball around and getting offensive from a lot of different places that you find out how good they can be. So if you put them in that kind of situation, where you get to play them only once, they could have a lot of success and make a run.”


VIDEO: The Starters talk about teams primed to make noise in the playoffs

Taipei Gets A Full Dose of Linsanity


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TAIPEI, Taiwan – It was an afternoon that began with a greeting from Paul George.

Yet the 12,905 squealing, appreciative fans who came early and stayed on their feet often left the impression that John and Ringo were also inside Taipei Arena.

It might not have quite reached the level of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but Jeremy Lin’s return to his ancestral roots hit all the notes of cultural phenomenon, NBA star and real life dream come true.

They love you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

It was the return of Linsanity, all of the attendant pregame hype and palpable buzz in the air meeting up with a performance that delivered by the main attraction.

From the moment he scored the Rockets’ first basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to his exit midway through the fourth quarter of Houston’s 107-98 win over the Pacers, Lin was the focus of virtually all attention and idolatry.

When Lin left the game with 5:52 left to play with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, four assists, two rebounds and one monster block, teammate Francisco Garcia encouraged the throng to come to its feet and then he clamped Lin like a little brother in a headlock and patted his approval.

Lin stood in a back hallway smiling and shaking his head at the experience.

“It wasn’t like anything I’m normally accustomed to, going out there before the game for warmups and having everyone yelling,” he said. “Yeah, I was nervous. I haven’t felt that way before a game since probably the first time back to MSG last season.

“Really, it was everything I could have hoped for. (Asssistant coach) Chris Finch said, ‘It was like all your birthdays rolled into one. You got the 3s, the dunk, the block.’ I think he was right. I didn’t know how this was gonna go, but I definitely didn’t think it would go this good.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Lin’s play was simply a continuation of the progress he’s made since the opening of training camp.

“He played very well,” McHale said. “The last week to 10 days he’s been very, very good in our games and our practices. I think he’s really comfortable with who he is. He’s in a good state of mind … Jeremy’s in really a good place. This is the way he’s been playing in practice.”

Nearly half the crowd wore some kind of NBA jersey or T-shirt and the lion’s share of those bore Lin’s name and number from various career incarnations. There were red Lin Rockets jerseys and white Lin Rockets jerseys. There were even a few with Lin’s name on the back of the throwback navy blue pajama-striped jerseys that Lin never wore. There were Lin jerseys from Harvard and his time with Golden State. And, of course, there were Lin’s jerseys from that magical five-week stretch of 2012 when Linsanity was born in York.

They screamed with delight when Lin came out of the tunnel and ran onto the court for pregame warmups nearly an hour before the opening tip and they roared in appreciation when he stepped into the spotlight and shined in front of an audience that included his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and thousands of other Taiwanese who claim him as their own.

“I have been an NBA fan for about 10 years,” said Taiwan native Tony Kuo, 25, who studied business at Michigan State. “The truth is the Pistons were always my favorite back, back from the days of their (2004) championship.

“But when Jeremy first came into the league with the Warriors and then he went to New York and did what he did, well, now he is my favorite and the Rockets are my team.

“I followed Jeremy when he was in Harvard and hoped that he would get a chance. But I wasn’t really sure if an Asian player could ever have the experience he did in New York.

“When Yao Ming played, he was famous here. But nothing like Lin. There is no question that Jeremy Lin is the No. 1 sports celebrity in Taiwan today. I can’t even think of anyone close enough to him to be No. 2.”

Kuo’s girlfriend, Ashley Wu, 29, said she never really took to the NBA when she was at Michigan State.

“I guess now I like the Rockets, but I went out and bought this Knicks shirt because the blue is a better color,” she said. “This is a really exciting and fun event and it’s fun to be here to support Lin and him,” she said, pointing at Kuo.

For the most part, it was fast-paced and seemed to be more intensely played for a preseason game with plenty of banging and with regulars getting a lot of minutes.

James Harden led the Rockets with 21 points. George had 19 to top the Pacers and George Hill had 17.

Nevertheless, according to how a script might have been written, Lin practically took the game into his hands in the first quarter and shaped it to fit the hype and his image. By the time the opening period was done, Lin had drilled a pair of 3-pointers, closed out a fast break with a crowd-pleasing dunk and then got a real rise from everyone when he chased down Indiana’s Danny Granger on a breakaway and used a sweeping swat of his arm to send the ball into the first row of seats.

“When I got that shot, just about all I could do was smile,” Lin said. “Not at him, but just the fact that it happened, because I’ve never done anything like that before in a real NBA game. Maybe in practice. So when I got that shot, I all could think was everything was going my way.”

Half a world away from where it was born, Linsanity was back. And, fittingly, at home.

FIBA Update: Puerto Rico Is Going To Spain

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – FIBA qualifying is still as wide open as ever, especially in Caracas, where the final day of pool play will determine the Americas’ three automatic berths for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball.

All we know right now is that Puerto Rico is going to Spain next summer. They clinched a spot in the FIBA Americas semifinals and one of the four bids with a thrilling victory over Venezuela on Saturday night.

Venezuela led by 22 points in the second quarter and was up 11 with four minutes left in the fourth, but J.J. Barea and Renaldo Balkman led Puerto Rico all the way back. Venezuela had chances to win at the end of regulation and overtime, but Donta Smith came up empty both times.

Barea led all scorers with 30 points, hitting seven of his 11 3-point attempts, two of them desperation heaves late in the shot clock in the final minutes of the fourth and overtime. Balkman, meanwhile, finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks. The competition isn’t the best and he has his issues, but he has looked great in these games.

Venezuela, playing without Greivis Vasquez and Greg Echenique, still has a shot at the top four, but must beat on Sunday night and get some help in one of the earlier games.

The Dominican Republic came up with two huge wins over the last two nights to put themselves in great position for one of the top four spots. They handed Puerto Rico their only loss on Friday and then beat Canada on Saturday, coming back from early deficits in each game.

So if the D.R. can beat 2-5 Uruguay on Sunday, they will qualify for a major international competition (Olympics or World Championship) for the first time since 1978. They’re playing without Al Horford, but have been led by James Feldeine, a New York native who plays in the Spanish League, and the Rockets’ Francisco Garcia.

Mexico is the other team with its destiny in its own hands. And with Puerto Rico having already clinched a top-four spot, Mexico has a better shot of knocking off P.R. and clinching their own berth in the W.C.O.B. on Sunday.

The big game on Sunday will be between Canada and Argentina (2 p.m. ET). The loser of that game will finish fifth or sixth and fail to qualify for the World Cup. The winner, however, isn’t necessarily in either, because they could be tied for fourth with Venezuela.

In a two-way tie, head-to-head is the first tiebreaker.

If Canada, Mexico and Venezuela all win Sunday, Mexico would finish third (with 12 points), Venezuela would finish fourth (because they beat Canada), and Canada would finish fifth.

If Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela all win Sunday, Mexico would finish third (with 12 points), Argentina would finish fourth (because they beat Venezuela), and Venezuela would finish fifth.

If Canada and Venezuela win, but Mexico loses, all three teams would have 11 points. In that case, Canada would likely finish third (with a +41 point differential going into Sunday), and fourth place could come down to Venezuela’s margin of victory over Jamaica.

If Argentina and Venezuela win, but Mexico loses, all three teams would have 11 points. In that case, Argentina would finish third (2-0) against the other two, Mexico would finish fourth (1-1), and Venezuela would finish fifth (0-2).

That’s not all the possibilities, because the Dominican Republic (if they don’t beat Uruguay) could finish with 11 points too. But you get the picture.

FIBA Americas standings

Team W L PTS Diff. Sunday opponent
Puerto Rico 5 1 11 +46 Mexico
Dominican Rep. 4 2 10 +30 Uruguay
Mexico 4 2 10 +16 Puerto Rico
Canada 3 3 9 +41 Argentina
Argentina 3 3 9 +13 Canada
Venezuela 3 3 9 0 Jamaica
Jamaica 1 5 7 -52 Venezuela
Uruguay 1 5 7 -94 Dominican Rep.

So there are five teams playing for three spots on Sunday. Here’s the schedule, with all the games on ESPN 3.

Sorting out Eurobasket

Eurobasket is 3/5 of the way through the first round, which will wrap up on Monday. The top three teams in each group will advance to the second round.

In Group A, Mike Fratello’s Ukraine squad remains unbeaten, but will play Tony Parker and France on Sunday. In Group B, Lithuania got a big win over Latvia on Friday. Slovenia remains in control of Group C, while Greece and Italy will play for the top spot in Group D on Friday.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through three games:
1. Greece – 119.2
2. Georgia – 113.9
3. France – 112.9

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through three games:
1. Spain – 75.6
2. Finland – 83.4
3. Czech Republic – 87.0

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas top four
12 FIBA Americas top four
13 FIBA Americas top four
14 FIBA Americas top four
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The dust is settling and rosters emerging after the biggest free-agent move of the summer came down one week ago. Dwight Howard has positioned the Houston Rockets as Western Conference contenders while creating altered realities for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

Because of their high-priced payroll, the Lakers have limited flexibility to strengthen their roster for the 2013-14 season. To lessen some of its financial burden, L.A. made it official on Thursday that it will use the amnesty provision to cut loose Metta World Peace, a move that Kobe Bryant made clear he’s not thrilled with on Twitter:

Had Howard remained with the Lakers, Pau Gasol might have been on the wrong end of the amnesty, but now he’ll be the Lakers starting center. L.A. has added Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar to a roster that certainly has talent, but isn’t even expected to make the playoffs by some. 

The Mavs will scale a considerable mountain to not be lottery-bound in consecutive seasons. Dallas missed out on Deron Williams a year ago and watched Dwight pick their division rivals this time around. To make Mavs fans feel even worse, Andre Iguodala told the San Francisco Chronicle that he almost signed with Dallas an hour before committing to the Golden State Warriors. Dallas met with Andrew Bynum, but passed on making an offer.

Dallas was extremely high on Iguodala as an anchor for the future with Dirk Nowitzki in the case that Howard said no. The Mavs are in difficult spot now with a hodgepodge, guard-heavy roster that bears almost no resemblance to last season’s team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. It includes newcomers Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and a couple of rookies in Shane Larkin and Israeli free-agent Gal Mekel.

At least Nowitzki kept a sense of humor after missing out on the prime DH target and signing another one:

Meanwhile in Houston, with Howard joining All-Star guard James Harden and emerging sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, the front office went to work to add more shooters around their new center, bringing back Francisco Garcia and agreeing to a deal with Reggie Williams.

Here’s how the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks have filled out their rosters and who else each might be looking at:

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

SG: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, James Anderson

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

SG: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

Possibles: C Samuel Dalembert; C Greg Oden; C/F Brandan Wright; F/C Elton Brand

Busy Saturday Of Free-Agent Deals

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Plenty of free-agent action swept through the Association on Saturday, headlined by power forward Josh Smith going to the Detroit Pistons and cashing in on the type of contract he’s dreamed about.

Others also reached verbal agreements with new teams, but keep in mind none of these deals become official until Wednesday when the league’s moratorium on signing new contracts and finalizing proposed trades is lifted.

Some of the other notable activity from Saturday:

  • Earl Watson agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.

McHale To Parsons And A Big Bounce

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HOUSTON – This is why Chandler Parsons plays basketball. It’s really why they all play the game.

To have fun.

And there are few things more fun on the court than playing without pressure, without a care, without fear of missing a shot or making a play and with a sense that it’s just your time.

“We’re fully confident that we’re gonna win tomorrow and that we’re gonna take the series,” Parsons said matter-of-factly on Thursday as he stood outside the locker room at the Toyota Center, his eyes dancing, almost bright enough to light the entire hallway.

It wasn’t a boast. It wasn’t intended to demean anyone in an Oklahoma City uniform.

It’s just the feeling that occurs when it seems that everything has suddenly turned your way. Maybe based on the last two games, it has.

History books and the oddsmakers will still tell you that Kevin Durant and the Thunder are the logical favorites to advance.

But sometimes logic doesn’t have any place in these crazy games.

It was a different team, a different time, a different Kevin McHale.


The Celtics had made one slice into what seemed like the 76ers’ insurmountable lead in the 1981 Eastern Conference finals and were going into Game 6 with a chance to tie the series.

“They better win this one, because they know damn well they’re not going to win Game 7,” said the brash 23-year-old rookie power forward.

Boston won Game 6 by two points and then finished off Philly in Game 7 by one.

So now it is 32 years later, coincidentally the uniform number that he wore on his jersey through a Hall of Fame career, and the coach McHale is approaching another Game 6 crossroad with his Rockets against the Thunder Friday night.

But in a different role.

“I was playing and had a lot more confidence back then,” McHale said. “Hey, if it was 1981 and I was still playing this series, I would say the same thing.”

Because you can’t win if you don’t believe and after the Rockets stuck a sock in the mouth of Loud City in Game 5, there is no shortage of faith.

It’s the dynamic of how a series can sometimes work. You can feel the shift, the surge of energy on one side, the planting of doubt on the other.

There were the No. 1 seed Thunder so helpless, so unable to do anything to slow down the No. 8 seed Rockets on Wednesday night that coach Scott Brooks reached into his first aid kit to find a tourniquet and the best he could do was to hack Rockets center Omer Asik and try to stop the flow.

But as happens sometimes on these occasions, the flow was like a wave that might be growing into a tsunami. Asik, a 56 percent free throw shooter, stepped up to the line to stick 8-for-11 free throws in the final six minutes and now here is OKC perhaps feeling the air getting a little thinner and the collars a bit tighter.

The last thing in the world the Thunder need is an all-or-nothing Game 7 on Sunday and all the Rockets want is a chance to walk about onto that court in OKC.

Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverley and Parsons took turns grinning and talking about having fun. That’s not likely a word that’s been tossed around in OKC much over the past few days.

“We’re growing up every game,” Parsons said. “Every day we’re going through this process together and it can only get better from here.

“We got something really special going on right now and I think the world is starting to see it, because we didn’t get as much attention as we think we deserved during the regular season. But now the lights are on and we’re playing well and we’re really shocking people.”

The Rockets aren’t jolting anybody more than the Thunder, who figured to have a much tougher road to the NBA Finals without Russell Westbrook, but not a slog just to escape the first round of the playoffs.

Now suddenly the heavily favored Thunder are walking around as if there’s a boulder on the their backs, while the Rockets are skipping around the schoolyard.

They are a reflecting of their head coach, a personality and ethic forged on the Iron Range of Minnesota, where you work hard and never take anything too seriously. That’s why a skinny kid from Hibbing could lay down the gantlet to Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney and the mighty Sixers back in 1981. That’s why a 55-year-old coach can keep pushing and molding and instilling a sense of anything’s possible even in a season when he’s suffered the unspeakable anguish of losing a daughter.

“He’s been awesome,” Parsons said. “He’ll tell you all about his experiences when he was playing. Having a coach that’s been through it, that’s been in the same situation we’re in right now really helps us and gives us that comforting feeling that he knows what he’s talking about.

“I know it’s a serious time and we’re all focused, but he makes you feel comfortable and it’s fun to be around a guy like that instead of being uptight and yelling. He does that, too, but he’s such a nice dude.”

Thirty-two years later, McHale limps around the sidelines like an arthritic crab and is a bit more circumspect with his words.

“I could talk that way,” he said laughing, “when I was young and bouncy.”

That’s a big bounce in Chandler Parsons’ step, which is why the game has never been more fun for the Rockets and why the Thunder should be worried.

Series hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Ball In Durant’s Hands, Fate In Others

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Twelve seconds left in the game and the only way for Francisco Garcia to have gotten any closer to Kevin Durant’s jersey would have been to wear it with him.

This is life now, as far as it goes without Russell Westbrook, for as long as the Thunder can keep going in the playoffs.

OKC has always been a team looking for Durant as the ultimate bailout guy in the final seconds of a game. Trouble is, now the Thunder pretty much need him to be loading, pulling and driving their wagon from opening tip to the final horn.

Yes, Durant got a luxurious six minutes of rest in Game 4 on Monday night, but he still had to make 12 of 16 shots, score 38 points, grab eight rebounds and deal six assists just to give his team an opportunity to flub the final possession.

Without Westbrook on the court, there is nobody else to simply step in and step up and make the plays at both ends of the floor that can change the tide and halt momentum. He couldn’t be a game-changer on defense when the Rockets were scoring 38 points in the third quarter and he couldn’t be the difference maker when OKC was scoring only 19 points in the fourth.

There are no more “Gipper Games” left in OKC’s locker room as it tries to rally round its fallen buddy. Now the Thunder have to live with the reality of being without their unpredictable lightning bolt if they are going to follow through on those plans to get back to the NBA Finals.

“It was a different feeling, for sure,” backup forward Nick Collison said. “I think for us, we have to be able to get over that. Russ is not going to be with us in the playoffs. It can’t always be this emotional ‘Win one for Russell’ for us because it’s too much an emotional roller coaster.

“I think for us we have to focus on what we’re doing on the court, getting ready to play and take a business-like approach to these games. Still have the emotion you need for a playoff game, but really focus on what we need to do on the floor.”

Quite simply, the margin for error to make a serious reach for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is the kind usually familiar to only the bomb squad and the Wallenda Family.

The Game 4 score when the Thunder lineup was on the floor was 31-14 in favor of Houston. The rest of the combinations beat the Rockets 89-74.

A couple of questions: How many times can OKC get away with such insignificant production from the starters? Can the reserves deliver consistently enough to tip-toe through the minefield of four full playoff rounds?

As splendid as he is and as many clouds as Durant may be able to scrape with his soaring talent level, it’s going to take much more Serge Ibaka (eight points), Kendrick Perkins (zero), Thabo Sefolosha (five) and Collison (three) to keep rowing the Thunder ship through the deeper waters. The Rockets are young and athletic and play with the abandon of a shirts-and-skins game on the playground, but they are no real threat to beat the Thunder in a seven-game series. That will come when they have to body up against the bruising Grizzlies or lobbing Clippers in the next round or the much deeper Spurs in the Western Conference finals, if they make it that far.

If the Thunder are going to stay afloat, they have to do it with the unlikely combination of the second-year man Reggie Jackson and 38-year-old veteran Derek Fisher manning the point. Jackson score 18 points before seeming to run out of gas at the end, while Fisher kept advancing the AARP cause by knocking down four 3-pointers.

While playing the point-forward position may give Durant a better view of where he can create his own scoring chances, the Thunder can’t let it come at the expense of not producing enough offense of their own.

Durant is young and willing with the legs and spirit that are capable to play virtually from start to finish every time out from here to June, if that’s what it takes. Nobody doubts that he can deliver individually. But in the end, how he can take them is not in his hands.

Series hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Rockets Answer Is Growin’ In the Win


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HOUSTON – Somewhere down the line, they might look back at it like a pencil mark drawn on the garage wall.

Perhaps one day they’ll pull it out of the back of the closet and shake their heads and smile at the memory of a favorite old pair of pants that no longer covers their ankles.

If the grand and glorious night in the future eventually comes when the confetti is falling, the triumphant music is blaring and commissioner Adam Silver is presenting the gold championship trophy up on the podium to their free agent acquisition Dwight Howard, they’ll know this is where it began.

Growth.

The Rockets shot up like weeds through cracks in the sidewalk, tripping the Thunder 105-103, also bringing down the nagging notion that they didn’t have the right stuff to finish.

It’s said that you have to crawl before you learn to walk and the Rockets had the scabs on their knees to prove it, having fallen into an 0-3 hole largely because they tumbled over the cliff late in each of the previous two games.

But this was a night when OKC’s splendid splinter Kevin Durant couldn’t get another four-bounce prayer to be answered because Patrick Beverley stepped in to take a charge in the clutch, because the hair shirt that was Francisco Garcia itched and wouldn’t let K.D. get off a winning 3-pointer and because Omer Asik stepped out to cut off a desperate, driving Reggie Jackson the paint.

It was not a win that will likely change the outcome of a series in which the Thunder are simply the better team. However, it was the kind of victory that blazes a trail and lays a foundation for where the Rockets franchise wants to go.

“Everyone else might say it’s just one game for us,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “But for us, it was our first playoff win with this group and you can’t get two playoff wins until you get the one. You can’t feel what we need to feel up in Oklahoma City with a team that says, ‘We don’t want to come back here for Game 6.”

There are still plenty of pieces missing from the puzzle until anyone thinks of the Rockets as championship contenders and trying to land Godzilla in the form of Howard over the summer remains the top priority.

Yet you can watch Chandler Parsons, the second-round draft choice who should embarrass every other scouting department with cable TV and a DVD player, blossom into a player that can do three things — shoot, drive and simply play like hell — and see growth.

You can see Asik, stuck on the bench for years in Chicago, make the most of an opportunity by defending the rim and pulling down rebounds simply because a team showed belief in him.

You can see little Beverley finishing off a basketball season that began in St. Petersburg, Russia by treating every possession on offense and defense as if he were still the last line of defense in the Cold War.

The entire NBA has seen James Harden explode like a Fourth of July firecracker since October, when he hit the ground running in Houston by trade from OKC four days before the start of the season and became a first-time All-Star and a player who could carry the load and carry a team. Here was a night when Harden was simply horrid, shooting just 4-for-12 from the field, scoring just 15 points and setting a franchise playoff record with a discombobulated 10 turnovers.

Yet where the Rockets of a few months ago might never have been in the game in the fourth quarter against the Thunder with Harden struggling and might simply have crumbled without him making every big basket, every big play down the stretch, there were others all around filling in the gaps.

Growth.

Harden knows that it’s a process that takes nurturing and patience. Barely a month into his rookie season in OKC, the Thunder were 1-12 and coach P.J. Carlesimo was replaced by Scott Brooks. They finished 23-59 that season.

A year later, the Thunder were 50-32 and got their first playoff taste of success, winning a pair of home games in a first-round series against the Lakers. The following season they reached the Western Conference finals and last year the NBA Finals.

There are never guarantees, but it usually is a process for a young team to learn how to compete, how to survive and how to thrive in the playoffs and it starts with something that might seem as insignificant as that very first win.

“It means a lot,” Harden said. “I think the previous two games, we let both of those slip away, having the lead late in the fourth quarter and just giving it away. So just to get the first one under our belt, now we have confidence going back to Oklahoma City and anything can happen.”

Someday, somewhere, somehow, if the plan keeps on coming together for these Rockets.

They’ll look at the pencil mark on the wall. They’ll smile at the pants that no longer fit. They’ll be able to remember exactly the night that it happened.

They grew.

Series hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Morning Shootaround — April 4

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: When a player has 90 points over his last two games, it’s a sure bet his game is the must-watch recap of the morning. That being said, what Carmelo Anthony did against the Hawks last night in Atlanta was a thing of beauty (unless, of course, you’re a Hawks fan). ‘Melo systematically picked apart the Hawks’ defense with some nice passes and since Atlanta opted to not double team one of the NBA’s best scorers (and a man on a hot streak of late), he torched them for 40 points for good measure. The Hang Time Podcast crew gets into a good debate/discussion about what all this regular-season scoring means for a player who has yet to have more than one deep playoff run. It’s a worthy discussion to listen to, but if you don’t have time, just watch the Knicks’ No. 1 option go to work on the Hawks.

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News of the morning

D-Will not planning on more cortisone shots | Clips’ Hill leaning toward retirement? | Different kind of beard pact in Oakland | Garcia feels for Kings fans

Report: Williams plans to forsake more cortisone shotsDeron Williams‘ season can basically be broken into two categories: the pre-platelet-rich plasma injections portion and the post-PRP portion. The former occurred up until mid-February, which is when Williams decided to have the PRP treatment done on his bothersome ankles and since then has looked more and more like the All-Star/superstar guard he has been throughout his career. While there was a notion that Williams would need cortisone shots for his ankles just before the playoffs begin, D-Will is scrapping those plans, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

When the playoffs roll around, Deron Williams says he won’t need the high dosage pain killers that helped salvage his season.

The point guard plans to ride this out cortisone-free.

Having braced himself for continued ankle pain and a fourth round of shots just before the playoffs started, Deron Williams told the Daily News on Wednesday that his treatments in February were so successful that injections aren’t necessary prior to the postseason in late April.

It’s a welcome development for Williams, who is aware of the longterm dangers of injecting too much cortisone – a hormone steroid which, used liberally as an anti-inflammatory, can weaken cartilage in the joints, leaving it susceptible to damage or ruptured tendons.

Doctors typically recommend athletes don’t take more than four injections per year, and Williams is happy he doesn’t have to test the limits with a fourth round.

“That’s a good thing,” said Williams, who indicated in February that he “probably” will receive injections before the playoffs.

Williams originally injured his left ankle during training camp for the Olympics, just after signing a five-year, $98 million contract with the Nets. At some point he injured his other ankle, and underwent his first round of cortisone shots in October.

By the time he received his third round in February, Williams was hobbling around the court and undergoing his worst season as a professional. His last cortisone shots were preceded by PRP injections to both ankles about a week prior.

Not coincidentally, Williams’ season turned around after the All-Star break. He’s also 20 pounds lighter, quicker, averaging more points, more assists, less turnovers and shooting at a better percentage.

Williams has said his latest cortisone injections were “finally in the right spot.”

Clippers’ Hill might retire after seasonWhen the Suns decided to embark on their (somewhat puzzling) rebuilding plan, it meant bringing back Grant Hill for a sixth season in Phoenix was a long-shot-at-best proposition. Hill didn’t sit on the summer’s free-agent market for long once he and Phoenix couldn’t reach a deal, as he signed a two-year deal with the Clippers and looked like a piece that would bolster an up-and-coming squad. However, a bone bruise on his right knee kept Hill off the court until Jan. 12 and, since finally playing, he’s averaging career lows across the board. With the injury problems in mind and given Hill’s age (40), the former Rookie of the Year winner tells Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic he might hang it up after this season:

Hill expected to return to Phoenix for a sixth Suns season when he stayed in the Valley to train last summer. The Suns made a one-year, minimum-salary offer of $1.35 million and the Clippers came with a two-year, $4 million one while Oklahoma City and Chicago also pursued him.

Hill, 40, joined the Clippers, began the season on the inactive list after suffering a bone bruise to his right knee, the one which underwent two arthroscopies since 2011 in Phoenix, and did not play until Jan. 12. Hill likely will not make it to that second contract year and opt to retire this summer.

“Strong chance,” Hill said. “I’m leaning toward it. I want to get to the end of the year and off-season and think about it but I’m pretty confident that’s where my mind is right now. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Except for a brief 2008 experiment under then-Suns coach Terry Porter, Hill always had started in his career until this season, when he often is not in the 10-man rotation.

“That knee injury (bone bruise) set me back a bit in terms of staying healthy and getting in the rotation so that hasn’t been good,” Hill said. “But I wouldn’t change it one bit other than to be hurt early in the year. I like the situation. I like my teammates. We’ve had an up-and-down season. We’ve experienced every emotion you can. We’re still battling for that third spot. We haven’t played well of late but we still have a chance to correct it. We have the ability and the talent to beat anybody. I have no regrets. It’s been a great experience.”

Much like with friend Steve Nash’s summer departure from Phoenix to Los Angeles, Hill did not receive the interest he expected or wanted from Phoenix and chose Los Angeles to stay competitive and close to his kids in the Valley. Hill takes trips home on off-days and will return to the Valley when the season is over.

There have long been hopes by many in the Suns organization that Hill would return in a front-office role when he retires.

“I’ve really just focused on enjoying the last year, if this is the last year, and not focusing on the future,” Hill said. “We’ll get to the end and once the end’s over, I’ll start worrying about what I’m going to do from there.”

Warriors make their own beard pactIn case you’ve been living on another planet for a few months, you might have been oblivious to the much-reported fact the Dallas Mavericks started growing beards as a show of unity that they pledged to keep until they reached .500. The Warriors, who are well above .500 and headed for their first playoff berth since 2007, are also growing beards themselves — even if everyone isn’t on board with the plan. Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune has the details:

The Warriors have made a pact that everyone will grow beards until they clinch a playoff spot. No shaving. No trimming.

“The worse it looks, the better it is for the team,” David Lee said.

From the looks of it, though, Andris Biedrins isn’t on board. He looked cleanly shaven Wednesday. And the patch on rookie Harrison Barnes‘ chin looked well groomed.

Coach Mark Jackson is even in on it. His shadow was turning into some rough real estate at practice, highlighted by some gray strands. But he had his facial mane neatened.

There was talk about extended the beard pact through the playoffs. But Stephen Curry wasn’t a fan of that idea.

“This thing,” he said at Wednesday’s shootaround, scratching his grizzled neck. “I’ve already got lint all in it.”

Garcia has empathy for Kings’ supportersRockets swingman Francisco Garcia has played 473 games over eight seasons in the NBA, with 462 of those games played coming as a member of the Sacramento Kings. As a rookie, he was a member of the last Sacramento squad to make the postseason and spent the bulk of his younger years in the NBA in California’s capital city as the Kings trudged through losing season after losing season. He also hasn’t been oblivious to the potential sale of the Kings to a Chris Hansen and a Seattle-based group that wants to buy the team and rebrand them as the Seattle SuperSonics. Yesterday, groups from both Sacramento and Seattle presented their proposed bids to Commissioner David Stern and other league officials and although no decision on the Kings’ future is expected for a while (our own David Aldridge has the full details), Garcia is watching and feels for Kings fans, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

He could have anticipated he would return to Sacramento for the first time with another team. He never could have imagined the possibility it could be his last time as well.

“My first years were great,” Garcia said. “There was a sellout every game. There’s not a lot of cities that were like we were when I first got there.”

While Garcia and the Rockets prepared to go against the Kings on Wednesday night, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was in New York to present the offer of a local group to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family and prevent the sale to a group that would move the team to Seattle.

After spending most of the last two seasons in the heart of the battle, from the near move to Anaheim through the handshake deal to remain in Sacramento and finally the Seattle-Sacramento tug of war to be decided by the Board of Governors meeting April 18 and 19, Garcia can’t begin to handicap how the competition will end.

On Wednesday, the groups vying for the Kings — Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen are seeking to buy them and move them to Seattle; Ron Burkle, Mark Mastrov and Vivek Ranadive are bidding to buy them and keep them in Sacramento — made the presentation to a Board of Governors sub-committee, which later will make its recommendation.

Garcia could not help but feel empathy for the fans who supported the Kings so faithfully through much of his career.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “One guy is saying this; another guy is saying that. I don’t know. I’d be sad (if the Kings leave Sacramento). It’s such a great city. They’re great fans. They’ve been supporting the team for a long time.

“It’s great. It’s a great city. I have nothing but good things to say about Sacramento. I had a great eight years there.”

ICYMI of the night: Trevor Ariza shows the kids at home why the pivot foot is important … and that having a little luck is important, too:

Fast-And-Loose Rockets Defy Convention

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DALLAS – What Mike D’Antoni must think of these young, run-and-gun, jack-’em-up Houston Rockets.

“They are an exciting team,” said Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, a staple on D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns. “And, on the floor, they are a team I haven’t seen in a long time.”

Maybe since your Suns teams, Shawn?

James Harden and Co., are turning conventional basketball on its ear, spurred by the analytics revolution that suggests mid-range jumpers in today’s game are a waste of time. The Rockets aren’t without flaws — namely a defense that allows far too many points — as was the case in Wednesday’s 112-108 loss at the Dallas Mavericks, a tough one to swallow as Houston tries to solidify its playoff position.

Their offensive approach, however, continues to defy convention at a pulsating pace. The Rockets score the majority of their points in three ways: Drives to the basket for the majority of their high-frequency points in the paint, free throws and 3-pointers. Consider in Wednesday’s game that 100 of their 108 points came from those three areas — 38 points in the paint, 26 points from the free-throw line and 36 more from beyond the arc.

“That’s Rockets basketball,” Harden said.

Houston is the youngest team in the NBA and, at 33-29, it is poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They’re tied for the league lead in scoring at 107.0 points a game with Oklahoma City. They’re second behind the Knicks in 3-pointers attempted per game (28.7) and 3s made per game (10.6), fourth in free throws made per game (18.9) and second in points in the paint per game (46.5).

“We’re doing what suits us best,” said Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who had 23 points and was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc against Dallas. “We don’t mind what other people do. That’s the way we should play. That’s the best style that we play is up and down with the personnel we have. I think that suits us best. I think it’s a perfect situation, a perfect style for the way we play, how young we are; we got shooters, we got playmakers. I think there’s no other way to play.”

Last month, the Rockets tied the NBA’s all-time 3-point record by draining 23 against the Warriors. Since the All-Star break, Houston has increased its 3-point attempts to a whopping 32.3 a game. They went 19-for-46 in a two-point loss at Washington two weeks ago. In the last seven games, the Rockets have attempted 30 or more 3s five times.

“They shoot about 25-30 3s a night, and that’s a lot of 3s,” Marion said.

Yes it is. But the exchange is worth it. In those seven games, the Rockets are 102-for-226 from beyond the arc for an astounding 45.1 percent. After Wednesday’s 12-for-32 performance (37.5 percent), they’re shooting it at 37.0 percent on the season.

“I don’t think, with our offense, you can’t put a number on it [3-point attempts],” Parsons said. “We go up and down so fast that sometimes in the flow of a game shots are there and sometimes they’re not. So, I don’t think the 3s hurt us. I think it’s just part of our game and if we have open shots we’re going to take them.”

The question, assuming the Rockets hold onto their playoff spot, is if this style can win in the grind-it-out postseason. Of course, Houston won’t be favored to beat either of their most likely postseason foes (OKC or San Antonio) so it might take another year or two of seasoning before the Rockets come of age and their style becomes dissected in the playoffs like the D’Antoni’s old Suns.

“We know the difference now between good 3s and bad 3s,” Harden said. “So, when guys are open I think everybody on the team is going to say shoot the ball.”

That’s exactly what they’re doing.