By NBA.com staff
According to multiple reports, the Grizzlies have offered their coaching position to Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale.
By NBA.com staff
According to multiple reports, the Grizzlies have offered their coaching position to Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale.
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:
“We are undefeated in re-signing our core players, and we will remain so. We are going to re-sign Mike Conley” – Chris Wallace
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) April 20, 2016
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.
SAN ANTONIO — Zach Randolph knows the depleted Grizzlies are in deep water against the Spurs. He knows the odds are very much stacked against Memphis even a game, let alone the first round playoff series.
But Z-Bo also knows that he didn’t appreciate Hall of Famer Reggie Miller cracking that the TNT crew could beat the Grizzlies. Talking on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday, Miller said: “Without (Mike) Conley and without (Marc) Gasol, I think we could give the Grizzlies a run right now, don’t you think?” he said.
Of course, the 50-year-old Miller was talking about a team that would include 44-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, 51-year-old Kenny Smith, 53-year-old Charles Barkley and 43-year-old Chris Webber. There might be a few oxygen tanks and the presence of an EMT unit needed on the TNT bench.
“I heard that,” a displeased Randolph told Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “For what all we’ve been through, and all the injuries, and not having our team at full strength, we still got a group of young guys that have played hard for us. And we go out every night as veterans and play hard every night. That’s all you can ask for, if you ask me.
“It has a lot to do with pride. Even though we are short. Pride is playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court so the fans and everybody else can say, ‘You know what? These guys gave it all they got under the circumstances.’ ”
Miller will be calling tonight’s Game 2 on TNT with Kevin Harlan.
SAN ANTONIO — They know the Grizzlies come struggling into the playoffs with nine losses in their last 10 regular season games. They know that with key cogs Marc Gasol and Mike Conley missing, among so many others, that Memphis will trot out a lineup of journeyman and NBA D-League refugees for Game 1 on Sunday night.
But the Spurs also know far better than to take any playoff opponent. As if coach Gregg Popovich would let them. They are expecting a team ready to put up a fight.
“Same thing they always bring,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan. “Very scrappy, very physical. They’ve got a lot of guys that are going to try to turn up the intensity and make plays with their energy, their steals, their physicality. They’re going to bring it in that respect, and they’ve got a lot of vets out there who have been in the playoffs enough, and they know what it takes to get over that hump.”
Guard Danny Green agrees that no matter the struggles the Grizzlies have had dealing with a spate of injuries coming down the stretch, there will be no taking anything for granted by the team that won a franchise record 67 games.
“Right now, the only two teams we are focused on is us and the Memphis Grizzlies,” Green said. “We don’t want to skip any steps or look ahead.”
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:
When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.
But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.
One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?
“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”
Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.
“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”
As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.
“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”
The road to the end of the regular season keeps getting longer, harder and also more dangerous in Memphis. The question might no longer be whether the Grizzlies can hang onto the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but if they can just make it to the end of the regular season.
Two nights after they pulled off a stunning win at Cleveland with just eight healthy players suited up, the Grizzlies suffered another loss when backup point guard Mario Chalmers was helped off the floor midway through the third period in Boston on Wednesday with what described by the team as a “right foot injury.”
Celtics sideline reporter Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweeted:
For a Grizzlies team that suffered 30- and 50-point losses with a full roster in the first week of the 2015-16 schedule, the season has turned into a punishing, unrelenting grind where the roster has been ground down practically to the bone.
Memphis already was playing without Zach Randolph (sore knee), Mike Conley (sore foot), Chris Andersen (partially separated shoulder), Brandan Wright (knee), Marc Gasol (broken foot) and Jordan Adams (knee).
According to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the Grizzlies have applied for an injury exception and plan to sign point guard Briante Weber of the NBA D-League if the exception is granted.
The Grizzlies trailed the Celtics by just 64-61 when Chalmers left the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter, but eventually lost 116-96. Memphis is now 38-26 with a 4 1/2 game lead over No. 6 seed Portland.
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this — Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:
Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.
Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.
Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.
So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.
For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.
If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.
Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.
Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.
But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.
The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.
Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.
No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?
LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.
Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:
We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.
But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.
James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.
So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?
No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:
“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.
“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”
Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.
But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter, Bryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.
Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.
“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”
Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.
“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”
No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:
The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.
The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.
Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?
“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”
Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.
Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”
The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.
He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.
According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).
Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?
“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”
Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.
“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto …
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does
No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:
In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.
It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:
“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”
And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.
If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.
Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.
Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.
One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:
Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”
“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”
Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.
These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).
“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”
“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.
No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:
Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.
He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.
On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.
“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”
But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.
All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.
“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”
With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.
No. 3: ‘Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:
Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.
At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.
“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”
When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.
Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.
Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.
Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.
As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.
“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”
Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.
In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.
“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”
No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:
Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?
The grit is all but gone.
The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.
Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.
The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.
That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.
“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.
However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.
Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.
Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.
“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …
ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …
One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.
For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.
“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”
The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.
It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.
Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.
A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.
Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.
It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.
No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …
For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.
Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.
“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”
That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.
That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.
“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”
No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News …
Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.
Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.
“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”
The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.
The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.
But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.
Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”
No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …
Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.
The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.
NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”
That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.
There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:
1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.
The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectations … Marcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix Suns … Klay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultant … The Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant …
ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season: