Posts Tagged ‘Golden State Warriors’

Rockets encouraged by Howard’s play


VIDEO: GameTime: Game 2 Analysis

OAKLAND — The return of Dwight Howard on Thursday night at Oracle Arena was actually the return within the return, with Howard back in the Rockets’ starting lineup against the Warriors but not really back in the flow until later.

The Howard of early in Game 2, after missing all but 51 seconds of the fourth quarter two nights before because of a bruised left knee, was ineffective. He didn’t move well. He didn’t look like someone capable of making a difference, or at least a positive difference.

By the second quarter, though, he was contributing. And by the end, he had become one of the few remaining reasons for the Rockets to remain hopeful about their chances in the Western Conference finals as the series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 19 points on eight-for-11 shooting along with 17 rebounds was an important part of the Rockets nearly winning. But the 40 minutes was most meaningful of all, and not just in the moment. It was a sign of optimism, that if Howard could go from being listed as questionable most of the afternoon to a game-time decision as tipoff approached to a woozy start to a real impact by the end, imagine where he could be with another full day of rest and treatment before stepping on the court at Toyota Center.

“I felt a little bit better as the game went on,” Howard said. “Really just trying to protect it a little bit, but at the end of the day, this is very important to myself and the rest of my teammates, so just got to go all in.”

The guy who missed almost all the fourth quarter on Tuesday played the entire final period on Thursday. The longer the game went, the better he got, until the Rockets had nearly rallied from 17 points down in the second quarter before fumbling away the chance on the final possession to complete the comeback.

“Dwight did a great job for us,” coach Kevin McHale said. “We were really struggling to rebound the ball if he wasn’t on the floor. James [Harden] came in and got nine defensive rebounds, which is huge for us. What can you say? I mean, the guy played fantastic. His knee is bothering him a lot. One thing about Dwight is when Dwight starts a game, he very seldom wants to come out. In Game 1 when he told me he couldn’t go, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ That’s really saying something.

“I think the brace that the training staff got him [Thursday] morning gave him some confidence in that knee, but that’s just a hell of an effort by Dwight Howard. There’s really nothing else you can say. He played his [butt] off. There’s just nothing else you can say. The guy played really, really well.”

It would have been a welcome sight no matter what. Down 0-2, a healthy Howard is more like a necessity.

Morning shootaround — May 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 2 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors lock up Harden | LeBron: Too much iso ball in Game 1Nuggets take their time vetting coaching candidates

No. 1: Curry: Warriors didn’t want to let Harden be ‘hero’ — Once again in the Warriors-Rockets West finals series, James Harden and Stephen Curry waged a fantastic scoring duel. And, once again, Curry’s squad came out on top, claiming a 2-0 series edge after Thursday night’s win. But it wasn’t an easy victory for Golden State as the Rockets had a shot at tying the game in the waning seconds. Curry and his “Splash Brothers” cohort, Klay Thompson, trapped Harden on the final possession, keeping him from a shot attempt in a move Curry says was definitely planned. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene and has more:

The Splash Brothers became the Mash Brothers, squeezing the life and any last desperate attempt by the relentlessly splendid James Harden into a two-man vise.

It was a night when Curry (33 points, 5-for-11 on 3-pointers, six assists) and Harden (38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) could have danced on the head of a pin with their fearless, peerless offensive fireworks.

“Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat, because these two guys are the two best basketball players in the world,” said Bogut. “Steph knocks down a big shot and then we come down and try to stop James and he knocks down a big shot.”

Yet it was fitting that it all came down to a final stop.

“Got the ball off the glass, and I’m thinking, just to try to get an easy one,” Harden said. “They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack, and when I looked up I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight, so I tried to throw it back to him. At that time I’m thinking five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there, and I watched the film, it’s just a tough, tough play.”

Tougher because Curry and Thompson have been playing the roles of the disrupters in the backcourt all season for a team that finds a sense of defensive urgency to keep digging itself out of tough spots when the alarm bells start clanging. It was the defense that turned everything around in the first round of the playoffs when the Warriors came from 20 points down in a rousing fourth quarter to win Game 3 at New Orleans. Then it was the defense that ultimately found a way to stifle the interior game of Memphis.

In their 10 playoff wins this spring, they have trailed by at least 13 points behind on six occasions. It’s not a coincidence that so many of those breathtakingly amazing and gorgeous shots come as the end product of simple down-and-dirty defense that stokes the fire.

“Once [Harrison Barnes] went for the layup and missed and Draymond tried to get the rebound it was kind of me and Klay and Andre [Iguodala] on the other side retreating,” Curry said. “You saw James kind of put his head down, you knew he probably wasn’t going to pass in that situation, so just to kind of stand him up before the 3-point line, Klay fronted him right to me, I was able to get a body on him. He threw it away to Dwight and threw it right back, so at that point, it’s just don’t let him get a shot off and try to be the hero, so we were able to get it done.”


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lock down on James Harden at the end of Game 2

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Blogtable: Who wins it all (and why)?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOThe Starters make their picks for the West finals winner

> The _________ will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. And here’s why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Boy, this is going to be a controversial pick: the Golden State Warriors. They’ve been the best team at both ends all season, they continue as that in the postseason. They have the MVP in Steph Curry, they have the versatility, they have the depth. They have the greatest home-court advantage in the league and they’ll get any Game 7s on that court. I’ll stop here, because we’re going to be at risk of redundancy as the rest of our crew weighs in.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Warriors. They have been the best team in the league from opening night till now and a relentless sense of purpose and who they are. They also passed a big test in the conference semifinals when the Grizzlies put them in a 2-1 hole and they came back to win three straight. The Western Conference finals promises to go the distance to seven, but home court makes the difference and this is a tougher test than anything that comes from the East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors. Why? The usual reasons. They score and defend. They have the best home-court advantage still going. The versatility of mixing lineups. And no one is better equipped to withstand four to seven games of LeBron James if it comes to that (which I think it will). Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, with Andrew Bogut waiting inside. Golden State of the first six or seven games of the playoffs was vulnerable. Golden State since then, playing with much better focus, will be very tough to beat four times.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors. They seem incapable of playing two bad games in a row, and of course it takes four to beat them. The other three remaining teams are all hopelessly flawed, at least more than the Warriors. Their balance on offense and their rotation quickness on defense seems just too much for anyone in the field. And as you know, the Warriors win titles every 40 years.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State Warriors. Quite simply, they’ve been the league’s best team all season long, by a pretty wide margin. They had the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense (best remaining of the four teams). They have multiple defenders who can take on tough assignments and they move the ball well enough to take advantage of defenses that try to take their first option(s) away. They have home-court advantage, a 44-3 record at Oracle Arena, and, as we’ve seen multiple times already in this postseason, an ability to erase big deficits pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. They’re the best team in basketball, on both ends of the floor, and have been for so long now that I cannot remember who held that distinction before they did. The Warriors have the balance, depth, star power and a coach with a wealth of championship experience steering the ship. The MVP, Stephen Curry, has plenty of help and the Warriors have home court advantage on their side throughout the remainder of the playoffs. That’s always a solid recipe for hoisting a title.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors are in charge, though the Cavs have two things going for them: They’re suddenly playing lockdown defense, and LeBron has the championship experience that Steph Curry has yet to earn. Is that enough to make up for the front-line absences of Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao? Probably not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. Playing against the Warriors is like trying to run uphill while waist-deep in water. They have too much depth, too much talent, and as soon as they get ahead of you, they press down on the gas. We should also mention that at this point, the Warriors seem to know that they’re good. They’re playing with the confidence of a champion, which is something no coach can teach.

Morning shootaround — May 20


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 1 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets try not to fret Howard’s injury | Presti: Durant healing up so far | Dellavedova steps up | Knicks have a plan for No. 4 pick

No. 1: Rockets not fretting Howard’s injury too much (yet) — Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard had limited effectiveness in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals last night after teammate Josh Smith rolled into his left knee on a play. Howard’s status for Wednesday’s Game 2 remains unknown, but based on the postgame buzz our Scott Howard-Cooper was able to sniff out, Houston is trying to remain optimistic as it awaits further updates:

The good news, because there actually is some: It was the left knee this time, not the one that cost him 41 games in the regular season, and the initial diagnosis on Tuesday night was that Dwight Howard had suffered a bruise when the impact from Josh Smith crashing into the leg in the first quarter could have been much worse.

The bad news: Almost everything else.

The Rockets lost the opener of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors on Tuesday at Oracle Arena, lost Howard for most of the night because of another knee injury, are unsure of his availability heading toward Game 2 on Thursday, and all while facing a team that never needs a second invitation to jet around the court playing small ball.

There was no telling in the aftermath of Golden State’s 110-106 victory how much the Rockets can expect, if anything, from Howard two nights later. Another update on his status is likely to come after practice Wednesday at the same Oracle Arena that thundered with noise right on schedule as the home team played in the conference finals for the first time in nearly 39 years.

Teammate and long-time friend Smith said “I’m really concerned,” but declined to elaborate what pushed him to that place as Houston gave no sense the injury was serious. Coach Kevin McHale, not waiting for the end of the first question at his postgame news conference, said “I don’t know. We’ll probably know tomorrow.”

Howard sounded the most optimistic tone of all, insisting: “I don’t think that it’s going to be something that is going to restrict me from playing for the rest of the series. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not going to kill myself over it. I’m just going to stay positive, stay focused and the doctors are going to do their job to make sure I get on the floor.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard suffers a knee injury in Game 1

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Ariza won’t ‘chip’ in on Curry’s talk


VIDEO: Jan. 21: Ariza, Curry have mix-up

SAN FRANCISCO — Trevor Ariza shrugged and chuckled at Tuesday’s shootaround when told that Stephen Curry said the Western Conference finals might get “chippy” based on the history of the Rockets and Warriors in the regular season.

“To be honest with you, I don’t remember any chippiness,” Ariza said. “I just remember us losing and that’s the only thing that was a problem, us losing. So we’ve got to come out here and stay focused, remember what we’re here to do and that’s it.”

The Kia MVP Curry was referring to the last meeting between the two teams on Jan. 21 at Oracle Arena when the Warriors completed a 4-0 sweep of the Rockets that included a third-quarter incident with Ariza. Curry didn’t like the way Ariza bumped him as he ran up court and went after the Rockets forward before teammate Draymond Green wrapped him in a bearhug.

Ariza was slapped with a technical foul — one of five in the game — and was later fined $2,500.

“You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Curry said Monday. “But we expect the intensity and just the atmosphere — I don’t know the word; I’m trying to think of a better word to use — it’s going to be, there might be some chippy episodes, just because we know where we are. We’re in the Western Conference finals. We’re four wins away from getting to The Finals and one step closer to the dream. So there’s one team in our way to get there and whatever happens in between games, you’ve kind of just got to try to keep your composure and stay focused on what the mission is and not get caught up in any of that stuff.”

For his part, Ariza refused to even get caught up in pre-game verbal jousting with Curry.

“I was running and he just turned into me,” Ariza said. “That was it. That was during the season. That was a long time ago. That was totally different. We were in a different place. We’re trying to beat them. We’re not trying to be friends with them or anything. We’re trying to come here and just win.”

McHale wants Rockets in attack mode


VIDEO: Rockets coach Kevin McHale before Game 1 vs. Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO — Are the Rockets still playing the Mavs? The Clippers? Does it even matter that they’ve moved on to the Warriors for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals tonight?

“We’ve got to do what we do,” coach Kevin McHale said after Tuesday’s pregame shootaround. “You guys never believe me that I’m not worrying much about what they do. I’ve been telling you guys for four years now that I can’t control anything they do on that other side. I can only control us and we’ve got to play the way that we need to play.”

Look at the scouting reports, of course. Be aware that there is no such thing as too little daylight for Klay Thompson to fire up a 3-pointer or anything that exists that could even be considered a bad shot by Stephen Curry. But all McHale wants his team to think about is their own attitude, their own game.

“We’ve got to go at them,” McHale said. “We’ve got to attack them off the dribble. We’ve got to attack them off the pass. We’ve got to attack them off the offensive glass. We’ve got to go full attack mode on them. There’s three ways of getting the ball in the paint. You can dribble in it, which is very effective. You can throw it down to the big guy, which is very effective. And you can offensive rebound, which is very effective. We’ve got to do all three.

“They’re gonna run. We’ve got to run back that them too. I don’t think we’ll hold them scoreless. They’re gonna make some shots. They’re gonna make some runs. We’ve just gotta keep attacking.

“We’ve got to get back in transition defense, there’s no question. But we don’t want to turn the ball over. They’re very handsy. We don’t want to play in crowds. We want a low turnover game, a high rebounding game and a high energy game for us.”

Just as he spoke to his team about keeping their heads when the Rockets fell behind 3-1 to the Clippers in the previous round, McHale continues to draw from his own 13-year Hall of Fame playing career to get his message across to the Rockets.

“I understand that it’s not always gonna be the prettiest,” he said. “You can’t lose your mind over every little thing. You gotta go compete. You gotta compete on every single possession. As you start advancing in the NBA, we’re down to four teams left. Thirty teams started last October. There are four teams left. Those are four good teams. There’s not gonna normally be a huge talent gap…You just gotta go out and and fight. These games very seldom come down to ‘Oh, I’m just way more skilled than you are.’ They come down to who wants to fight more.”

Morning shootaround — May 19


VIDEO: Get geared up for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol’s next move is anyone’s guess | Report: Paul, Jordan at odds on Clippers? | Reports: Pelicans get OK to talk with Gentry

No. 1: Next move for Grizzlies’ Gasol anyone’s guess now — When the Portland Trail Blazers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, it opened up talk about where Blazers free-agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge would land this summer. Now that the Grizzlies have lost in the West semifinals to the Golden State Warriors, similar chatter is beginning with their big man, Marc Gasol. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein tries to get a feel for just where Gasol’s heart may lie as the summer approaches:

Marc Gasol’s fondness for the Bluff City has been well-chronicled. He went to high school there when Pau was playing for the Grizzlies, wound up in the Grizzlies’ organization via the same unforgettably controversial 2007 trade that sent Pau to the Lakers and, through an increasingly maniacal devotion to getting fitter and fitter, has seemingly shed half a person since his teen years to evolve into maybe the league’s best two-way center.

The Grizzlies are thus understandably jittery about Gasol’s looming turn on the open market and will remain so until they have him re-signed to a new max deal. San Antonio, specifically, is the team they fear most.

Yet it’s premature to try to establish the Spurs as some sort of favorite to steal him away, since they’re also widely expected to focus first on the guy perceived as this summer’s more gettable superstar: Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge.

What is obvious to everyone some six weeks out, especially the Grizzlies, is that Gasol is irreplaceable. The mere threat of losing him is chilling, because there’s no telling how long it would take Memphis to recover.

Most rival teams favor Memphis to ultimately win the Gasol sweepstakes because A) Gasol’s ties to the city are legitimately deep and B) he’s the unquestioned starting center on the NBA’s “I Just Want To Win” team. Which is another way of saying that few league observers can picture him leaving when there isn’t an obvious landing spot that immediately positions Gasol to do more winning than he’s currently doing with the Grizz — unless Tim Duncan retires to create a gaping hole in the San Antonio frontcourt.

Let’s face it: If the Grizzlies could just find the means to acquire a quality shooter or two to add to their “Core Four” of Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, based on all the problems they managed to give Golden State without a long-ball threat, they’d presumably be closer to real contention than any of the teams expected to pursue Gasol hardest in free agency.

Knicks? Lakers? Who else besides San Antonio can mount a legit threat?

Yet we repeat: Gasol has given his own coaches and bosses no hints. Unlike Aldridge, who, according to league sources, hasn’t been afraid to share the occasional whisper with a few well-placed folks about the prospect of leaving Portland, Gasol is saying pretty much nothing.

So it’s going to be a long 43 days until July 1 for the Tennessee incumbents.

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Numbers preview: Warriors-Rockets


VIDEO: GameTime: A look ahead to the West finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Houston Rockets are seemingly facing long odds in the Western Conference finals. Their opponent — the Golden State Warriors — was the league’s best team in the regular season by a wide margin, has home-court advantage and a 43-3 record at home, and swept the season series.

But the Rockets faced long odds in the conference semifinals, as well. And they became the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, coming back from 19 points down late in the third quarter of Game 6 along the way.

This is a matchup between the MVP and the guy who finished second. Both averaged between 25 and 26 points in those four regular-season meetings, but Stephen Curry did so much more efficiently than James Harden.

With a healthy Dwight Howard, Harden will have more help than he did earlier in the season. Still, the Warriors look to have a good shot of reaching The Finals for the first time in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Beat New Orleans in four games.
Beat Memphis in six games.
Pace: 94.3 (14)
OffRtg: 107.4 (2)
DefRtg: 98.8 (5)
NetRtg: +8.6 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors playoff notes:

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Beat Dallas in five games.
Beat L.A. Clippers in seven games.
Pace: 104.8 (1)
OffRtg: 105.9 (6)
DefRtg: 106.8 (12)
NetRtg: -0.9 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 4-0
Pace: 104.5
GSW OffRtg: 109.6 (2nd vs. HOU)
HOU OffRtg: 95.8 (22nd vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.

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No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

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No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.

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No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of ESPN.com evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

For Warriors, 15 is the magic number


VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Note to the Memphis Grizzlies and any other team that may cross paths with the Golden State Warriors this postseason: Don’t get down by 15.

After Wednesday’s Game 5 victory over the Grizzlies, the Warriors are 52-0 in games they’ve led by 15 or more at any point. They went 47-0 in the regular season and are 5-0 in the playoffs after leading by 15-plus.

Three other teams never blew a 15-point lead in the regular season, but none of them were perfect in half as many games as the Warriors. The Utah Jazz were 22-0, the Indiana Pacers were 16-0, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were 6-0 after leading by 15 or more points. In total, the league was 734-72 (.911) after leading by 15-plus.

The biggest lead the Warriors had in a game they lost was 14 points. They led an April 7 game in New Orleans by 14 late in the second quarter, but lost it by the middle of the third and eventually lost the game.

They got their revenge in the playoffs, coming back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the first round on their way to a sweep. That was one of just two playoff games in which a team blew a lead of 15 or more points and lost. The other team to do it was the Milwaukee Bucks, who led Game 3 of the first round by 18 points, before losing in double-overtime.

The Atlanta Hawks have led nearly as many games by 15-plus as the Warriors have. But they’ve blown three of those leads: in Boston on Feb. 11, in Philadelphia on March 7, and in Chicago on the last night of the regular season.

The Clippers were 38-0 after leading by 15-plus in the regular season last year, but blew two leads of 15-plus in the playoffs.

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