Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Analytics Art: Playoff team comparison

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

See how your team fared against other playoff teams during the 2013-14 regular season.

NBA playoff team wins

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post, and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

Numbers preview: Rockets-Blazers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Court Vision

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – At the midway point of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers were just a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Blazers went 23-18 from then on, winning nine of their last 10 games. But that wasn’t good enough to even secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets went 25-11 to close the season and edge Portland for the 4 seed.

This is a matchup of two of the top five offenses in the league and two franchises that have just one playoff series win in the last 13 years.

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

Houston Rockets (54-28)

Pace: 98.8 (5)
OffRtg: 108.6 (4)
DefRtg: 103.1 (12)
NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets notes:

Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Pace: 97.5 (10)
OffRtg: 108.3 (5)
DefRtg: 104.7 (16)
NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

The matchup

Season series: Rockets won 3-1 (2-0 in Houston)
Pace: 100.2
HOU OffRtg: 114.6 (2nd vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 105.0 (10th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: A surprising champion

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


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

A darkhorse? Maybe not, but the Clippers could still be a surprise in June. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> Your definition, your choice, your reasoning: Your darkhorse pick to win the NBA title.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDo the Clippers qualify as a dark horse? I’d argue yes and pick them, because that insta-champion business – last witnessed in Boston in June 2008 – is no simple thing. Doc Rivers might wind up as the link from the last one to the next one if his ability to manage both his roster and the unique challenges of the postseason mesh just so. The Clippers clearly have the talent, both to survive the West and to topple the three-peat-aiming Miami Heat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the past, the Clippers were just Lob City and a bunch of nightly highlight reel dunks.  In his first season as coach, Doc Rivers has given them a sense of purpose and direction.  He’s demanded and gotten more out of Blake Griffin.  He’s gotten DeAndre Jordan to play with confidence and consistency.  Of course, he’s got the best point in the game in Chris Paul running the show.  A healthy J.J. Redick gives them the outside shooting to keep defenses honest and Matt Barnes defends on the wing.  They are deeper than ever with Jamal Crawford again making a run at Sixth Man of the Year and get help from Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and Danny Granger.  Rivers knows what it takes to run the playoff gauntlet and his ability to inject a new sense of personal responsibility and commitment to the task has these Clippers looking and playing vastly different than the past few years.  They are a dark horse, but one that you wouldn’t mind saddling up for a ride.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Houston. The Rockets are remarkably young, but also remarkably talented. They’ve got the perimeter (James Harden) and the middle (Dwight Howard) covered by All-Stars, plus shooters all around. Omer Asik behind Howard provides 48 minutes of crucial rim protection. They can be their own worst enemy, especially defensively, but put it all together and they can give any opponent nightmares.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I don’t put the Clippers in the darkhorse category, but a lot of other people seem to, so that’s the pick. The Clips certainly aren’t sneaking up on anyone — Blake Griffin, CP3, Lob City, Doc Rivers — but I’ve gotten the question a few times the last couple weeks: Is it possible someone other than the Spurs or Thunder would win the West? Sure it is. The team that was a realistic pick from the start of the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ve wavered back and forth on whether to deem the Thunder a darkhorse or not. But my final answer is the Clippers. Their defense hasn’t really held up against good teams, but their offense is near unstoppable, especially if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are healthy.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can we really call a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Doc Rivers as coach really be considered a “dark horse?” I hope so, because the Los Angeles Clippers are my pick. They have all of the ingredients — star power, depth, balance, experience, etc. – needed to make their way to the championship round and win it all. We’ll find out of they are tough enough to endure the grind of making it that far. But there is no doubt in my mind that all of the pieces are in place. Blake’s work this season while CP3 was out and the overall improvement to DeAndre Jordan’s game are the two wild cards for the Clippers. They had to come back with those guys having improved their respective games for me to believe in them. And they did exactly what they had to do.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: My definition of a darkhorse is a team nobody is picking. My choice, well, that’s more complicated. I would have mentioned Golden State, but to me the Andrew Bogut injury might take them out of the running. I’ll throw a team out there: Houston. The Rockets strike me as a team that haven’t hit their stride just yet. They have it all: scoring, a strong interior presence, a tough perimeter defender, depth. Every year, there’s a team that gets hot and goes on a run in the postseason. Perhaps this spring we’ll see the Rockets’ red glare.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think only five teams can win the title (two from the East and three from the West) so my selection probably won’t sound like a dark horse. Anyway, I’m going with the Clippers as the only team outside of the Spurs and Thunder who can win the West and then, challenge for a title. We all know about their credentials offensively and they have two top-10 players, but the aspect of their game that has impressed me the most this season has been their defence, the achilles heel of this team under Vinny Del Negro. Now, with Doc Rivers in charge, they have transformed into a top-10 defensive unit and thus, can challenge for a title.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think the Nets really have a chance to hug the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. They were out of contention after a 10-21 start, but Jason Kidd somehow transformed a bunch of great players into a team around January and now they have the momentum, the depth, the experience and the talent to upset both Indiana and Miami and made it to the Finals. They need to be healthy, but they have a chance.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I guess the Clippers qualify as a dark horse contender. The major favorites have to be Miami, San Antonio and OKC, though not necessarily in that order, right? Indiana, the Clippers and Houston are the dark horses. I pick LA’s representative. Their defense still isn’t all that great, but it’s much better than it was when the season started. They have a coach who has won a ring – one of only four championship-winning coaches still in the tournament – they added key veterans with Finals experience via free agency late in the season, and I feel that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have matured enough to absorb the punishment they will take from teams still questioning their toughness, especially Golden State, their opponents in the first round. Plus, it’s time for Chris Paul to take the wheels and lead a team past the second round, even if he has to beat Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do it.

Morning Shootaround — April 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard, Blazers gear up for Rockets | Spurs’ Buford in it for long haul | D’Antoni didn’t know lottery rules | Nelson facing finale with Magic?

No. 1: Lillard gearing up for Rockets, matchup with Beverley — Few point guards in the NBA have established themselves as defensive pests as quickly as Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has. The high-energy, pressuring guard is crucial to Houston’s success this season and is expected to play a key role for the Rockets as they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Beverley will have the task of trying to slow/pester Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard throughout the series, but Beverley already got under Lillard’s skin earlier this season. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes details the layers of the Beverley-Lillard matchup and the bad feelings that may lie therein that trace back to a March game between the teams:

Dwight Howard versus Robin Lopez, James Harden up against Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons trying to outdo Nicolas Batum, super reserves Jeremy Lin going toe-to-toe with Mo Williams.

But without a doubt, the most intriguing, intense matchup will be at the point guard position featuring Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. Aside from the fact that Beverley, and his defense, arguably gives Lillard the toughest time, there’s some recent bad blood that could creep up.

The day after an early March game between these two teams, a contest the Rockets won at home 118-133 in overtime, Beverley did a local radio interview and went out of his way to respond to what he perceived to be a slight from Lillard.

The interview was coming to a close after nearly nine minutes and Beverley quickly interrupted the host as he was in the process of thanking the guard for coming on.

“Ah, you didn’t ask me no question about Damian Lillard,” Beverley said to the gentlemen on Sports Talk 790 AM in Houston, followed by urging them to ask a question about Lillard in which they did.

“…Damian Lillard whines,” he went on to say. “I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game. That’s what I do. I don’t go out there and try to hack people. I don’t go out there and do that.”

Beverley was responding to Lillard’s comment saying the Rockets’ defensive guard was irritating and that he tries to get under your skin to get you to react. When Lillard heard the interview and how Beverley brought up his name out the blue, he was taken back.

“I was surprised,” Lillard told CSNNW.com after practice on Tuesday. “I said that what he was doing in that game was kind of irritating. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was meant to say it was irritating. But to go on the radio and them not even ask about me and then you bring me up, I thought that was unnecessary.”

To be frank, this is shaping up to be one hell of a first round series.

When asked today if the two needed to talk before the series began in order to clear the air, since all this was just a simple misunderstanding, Lillard rebuffed that notion.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Lillard responded. “I don’t have no beef with the dude. He’s competing just like I’m out there competing and that’s it. There’s nothing to hash out because we’re not best friends. We don’t know each other off the floor. There’s nothing really to hash out. But I respect him as a player, but the radio and all that stuff, that’s not my style. It was unnecessary.”

There’s clearly respect from both sides. Beverley was disturbed that Lillard didn’t give him his due credit as he made that clear in the radio interview. Lillard didn’t feel he was criticizing Beverley’s play with his comments, but contends that radio interview was over the top.


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Blazers in an intense March matchup

***

No. 2: Buford in for long haul with Spurs — San Antonio has cemented the No. 1 seed throughout the 2014 NBA playoffs, it has a full, healthy roster ready to make another NBA Finals run and, despite knowing that Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will soon one day retire, remain an overall stable NBA franchise. Much of that credit goes to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who, in a recent conversation with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, says he expects to be around after Duncan, Ginobili (and Tony Parker) hang it up and San Antonio builds around youngster Kawhi Leonard. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more on Lowe’s chat with Buford:

Coach Gregg Popovich has backed away from previous jokes that he’ll be following Duncan out the door. And general manager R.C. Buford, who alongside Popovich and Duncan has helped establish the Spurs as one of the most stable organizations in North American professional sports, has every intention of overseeing the process.

“I’m incredibly happy where I am,” Buford said. “If somebody tells me they don’t want me around here anymore, then I’ll have to worry about where I go next.”

Buford’s comment was part of an extensive podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, in response to why a team in a larger market wouldn’t simply throw a ton of money at he or former understudy Sam Presti, now the architect in Oklahoma City. But like many of his colleagues, particularly Popovich and Duncan, Buford treasures working in a smaller market where distractions from the task at hand — winning championships — are kept to a minimum.

Among the other topics covered –

* Duncan’s recent injury scare: “I was sitting near Jon Barry, who was doing the game for ESPN Radio. He said that’s the fastest he’s ever seen me move.”

* The advent of player tracking and advanced statistics: “From a basketball standpoint, knowing everything that happens on the floor should help us get better at evaluating and executing the strategies that we’ve chosen. It’s helped us recognize how much work goes into being a point guard. I think it gave us better appreciation of what (Tony Parker) really goes through.”

* This year’s trade deadline: “I think we felt we had some things that might happen that could help our team, and we had a value of what those were that we were comfortable extending. Other teams didn’t feel that way. You never know how close you are because there are conversations going on in a lot of places.”

* Whether Oklahoma City is an especially problematic matchup for the Spurs: “Kevin Durant is a problematic matchup for every team. And Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They’re a really good team. We’re going to play the people who are in front of us and hopefully we’re playing well.”

***

No. 3: D’Antoni didn’t know draft implications of Lakers-Jazz game — Monday night’s Lakers-Jazz game from Salt Lake City was likely of interest to L.A. and Utah fans for perhaps one key reason: NBA Draft Lottery positioning. The Jazz entered with a 24-56 mark while the Lakers were 25-55 and a loss by the Jazz would assure Utah of no worse than the NBA’s fourth-worst record, and, with that, increased odds for a top 4 pick in the 2014 Draft. The Lakers would go on to a 119-104 rout that gave Utah what it hoped for. After the game, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made a surprising revelation that he had no idea how the Lakers-Jazz game could have actually benefited L.A.’s lottery hopes. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Intentional or not, there was more to D’Antoni’s accomplishment of snapping a seven-game Lakers losing streak with a 119-104 win against the lowly Utah Jazz. He also put himself firmly in the crosshairs with a faction of the purple and gold faithful who care only about the Lakers’ draft position at this point, rather than chasing meaningless wins to close out the season.

“What are you going to tell them? ‘Don’t play hard’?” D’Antoni said when asked whether the subject had been broached with his team before playing an equally abysmal Utah team. “That’s not right.”

If D’Antoni had stopped talking right there, he could have been spared the ire from the fan base, as the unexpected win would have been chalked up to Nick Young (who hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in eight games) and big nights from Jodie Meeks (23 points), Jordan Hill (21 points) and Kendall Marshall (15 assists).

But D’Antoni didn’t stop there, of course.

He continued his answer to reveal that he didn’t know exactly what was at stake for the Lakers, who went into the night with a 25-55 record, playing against a Jazz team that was 24-56.

“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”

Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.

A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.

“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”

Another reporter chimed in to tell D’Antoni that if the Lakers had lost to Utah, the coach would have been correct.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” D’Antoni said. “Oh, OK. That’s all right; we’re going to beat San Antonio, anyway. So, it’s all for naught.”

***

No. 4: Nelson facing finale with Magic?A cursory look at the Orlando Magic’s all-time leaderboard in various stats reveals that point guard Jameer Nelson has etched a solid place in team lore. Nelson is the club’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top five in points, games played, 3-pointers made, steals and more. The Magic close out their lottery-bound season tonight with a home date against the Indiana Pacers and Nelson, whose deal next season is only partially guaranteed, could be saying farewell to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Nelson might not be with the franchise next season. Although he’s about to complete just the second year of a three-year contract, his salary for the 2014-15 season is only partially guaranteed. If the Magic waive him before July 15, the team would owe him only $2 million instead of $8 million.

Nelson, a diminutive point guard who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, has said repeatedly he wants to remain with the team because his family loves Central Florida.

“I’m very cognizant it could be my last home game,” Nelson said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the team. It’s the team’s option. I would like to still be here and finish my career here. I have a lot more years left in me. Good years. I’m not sure what they have in store for me, but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said, it’s just one of those things. I don’t have control over it. I don’t know what their thoughts are right now.”I have kids, so I’m worried about it. That’s the biggest thing for me. My family is more important to me than anything. I just want to be treated the right way. I want to be treated fair. I want to be treated the right way. I feel like I’m a guy of loyalty, so I just want everybody that’s involved in my life and in the organization to be loyal to me.”

A league source said the Magic haven’t made a decision on Nelson’s future.

Nelson has made only 39.4 percent of his shot attempts — the second-lowest field-goal percentage of his career — largely because of poor shot selection. But through Monday, he ranked eighth in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.0 per game.

The past two seasons have been difficult for Nelson. Last season, the Magic finished with a 20-62 record. This season, the team will bring a 23-58 record into its final game. He was a member of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, so he wasn’t accustomed to losing.

Magic officials have been pleased, though not surprised, that he has welcomed the team’s young players over the last two seasons.

“Jameer means everything to me,” second-year big man Kyle O’Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have a vet like him. On the court, off the court he’s there for you no matter what. He even gets upset with you if you make a decision without him. That’s how much he wants to be involved. I love him like a brother.”`

Magic fans’ appreciation for Nelson has grown, too.

Back when the team was a title contender, some fans regarded Nelson as a liability because of his lack of height, his deficiencies as a defender and his shoot-first ways.

In recent years, however, he’s become a fan favorite, almost always receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions.

“The fans have definitely embraced me, and whenever I get to see fans or people that I know that are outside of the basketball arena, it’s all love,” he said. “It’s nothing but love.”


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson reflects on his career with the Magic

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell was standing in the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings took place last year about “7-8 minutes” before the event took place … Paul George, David West, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson will all get the night off tonight against the Magic … The Mavs are trying to value this 50-win season as much as any other … If he starts tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns forward Channing Frye will, amazingly, have started all 82 games this season … How has Jeff Green done this season as Boston’s go-to guy?

ICYMI of the Night: Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Andrei Kirilenko was making highlight reels as a member of the Jazz with amazing, no-look dimes like this one he threw to Mason Plumlee last night …


VIDEO: Andrei Kirilenko throws a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Mason Plumlee for the dunk

Morning Shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors stumble again at home | Pacers, Heat ready for showdown | Howard quietly recreating his image | Report: Mavs PA announcer suspended | Young ‘confident’ he’ll be back in L.A.

No. 1: Warriors racking up bad home losses — The Golden State Warriors boast one of the more dedicated, vocal fan bases in the NBA and last season, that support paid off mightily as the team amassed a 28-13 record at Oracle Arena. That mark was Golden State’s best home mark since 2006-07, when the Warriors went 30-11. The fans at Oracle still remain as die-hard as ever, but Golden State has had trouble holding up its end of the bargain this season. The Warriors fell to 26-14 at home with last night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets and as Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com points out, bad home losses have become a norm of sorts for the team:

The first quarter reminded us of how Oracle Arena can be a harrowing place for visitors. Andre Iguodala put the ball behind his back before violently yanking it back across his body, sending Quincy Miller into an embarrassing tumble. Fans stood in a sudden wave, jeering Miller’s misfortune. The older-style concrete stadium makes for disorienting acoustics. The crowd noise spills from the rafters, bounces around the walls and descends on opponents and disliked referees with a force that feels almost dangerous. In last year’s playoffs, the Warriors were struggling to hear play calls on the floor. The crowd energy, and its subsequent ref-intimidation powers, was worth it, though.

Given their vaunted “Roaracle” advantage, why are the Warriors suffering embarrassing home losses to lesser opponents? Since Feb. 1, they’ve suffered home losses to Charlotte, Cleveland, New York and now Denver.

The trouble at home has frustrated owner Joe Lacob, who back in February told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, “The road’s been fine. But at home we’ve lost a couple games — to Minnesota and to San Antonio when they played their scrubs, if you remember … and Denver and Charlotte. Maybe another four games that we just absolutely should’ve won. We didn’t. And I’m not sure why. The team wasn’t ready in those games. I can’t explain it — why we don’t play so consistently at home as we should. We have a great home-court advantage, great fans, great atmosphere. It’s not clear.”

Thursday night’s game ended in a one-point loss, sealed by a tough Kenneth Faried post-up fadeaway. It’s easy to dismiss that as poor luck for the Dubs, but Denver’s energy far outmatched an opponent who could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

“There’s a lot of reasons this is such a terrible feeling in the locker room,” a downcast Stephen Curry said after the game. “We could have taken care of a playoff spot.”

When asked about what it means in the big picture, Curry said, “We gotta learn these lessons, man. Simple as that. We can’t take off possessions, we can’t take off quarters and just expect to turn it on when you need it.”

Draymond Green expressed disappointment about Golden State’s rebounding effort but felt the loss came from getting too comfortable: “We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing a game against a team like that, who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, if those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night.”

The loss means the Warriors likely won’t get to play an ailing Houston Rockets team in Round 1. To emerge from the first round, they’ll probably have to go through one of the West’s big-three teams (Clippers, Thunder, Spurs) as a substantial underdog. Losing to bad teams put them in this position, but at least they’ll have incentive to conjure necessary energy against the West’s elite.


VIDEO: The Warriors blow a big lead and lose to the Nuggets at home

***

No. 2: Are you ready for some Pacers-Heat? –The race for the East’s No. 1 seed between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers has been one of the main storylines as the season approaches its final week. In case you’ve been asleep or in a cave somewhere, this chase has traded hands a couple of times over the last few weeks, but Indiana has the oh-so-tenuous grasp on No. 1 as of this morning. But as the Pacers get ready to head to South Florida and take on the Heat, our Sekou Smith looks ahead to a matchup that is a lot bigger than both teams are making it out to be:

LeBron James insists the collective health of the Miami Heat means more to him than chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel rested his entire starting five Wednesday night in Milwaukee, swearing that his starters needed a break (mentally, physically and emotionally) more than they needed to continue their season-long quest to wrest away that top spot from the Heat.

What do you take us for, gentlemen? Surely you don’t think we’re buying this business about the No. 1 seed in the East, and the home-court advantage that will come with it in the Eastern Conference finals, suddenly morphing into some trivial pursuit at this late stage of the season.

We all know what’s at stake Friday night in Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in your final regular-season matchup of the season. Don’t toy with our emotions because yours are frayed after a wild, roller coaster of a season that has seen both of your teams endure your fair share of struggles  (relatively speaking, of course, for two teams with a combined 107 wins and just 50 losses). It’s basically a winner-take-all showdown for that No. 1 spot, a chance for the struggling Pacers to make one last statement to the world about their intentions for the postseason and the Heat’s opportunity to remind the upstarts from Indianapolis that if they want the crown they better be ready to bleed for it.

It doesn’t matter that neither the Heat nor Pacers have looked like a championship team for much of the past six weeks. The Pacers have won just eight of their past 20 games and struggled to get most of those, while the Heat (playing without Dwyane Wade for eight straight due to a hamstring injury) have won just 10 of their past 21 while struggling to find the groove that guided them to 27 straight wins down the stretch last season.

The Heat, grinding through a fourth straight season with a target on their chests every night, appear to be wearing down just a bit under that relentless pressure. The Pacers, who thought they knew what it took to be an elite team night after night, are finding out that it’s much easier to talk about it than to be about it.

“If I’m Indiana, I just want to get my mojo back,” TNT and NBA TV’s Chris Webber said, “go to wherever Stella went and get my groove back. Right now, they’re not playing well and it’s obvious to everyone in the league.”

They know that controlling your own destiny based on home-court advantage comes at a price. That regular-season grind is expensive, it takes a toll on the body and mind, one that the Heat are a bit reluctant to pay when they know that they have an extra gear they can get to in the postseason.

“It’s not controlling our destiny about the No. 1 seed,” LeBron told reporters after the Heat lost in Memphis on Wednesday night. “We want to get healthy. That’s all that we care about, going into the postseason healthy. Once everyone comes back, then we can get everything rolling.”

Why wait for the playoffs when you can get it rolling against the Pacers one last time? The playoff-level intensity is already embedded on both sides. They cannot stand each other and play like it every time they suit up against one another. This fourth time this season will be no different.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks ahead to tonight’s Pacers-Heat showdown

***

No. 3: Howard quietly reminding folks of his greatness — If you have some time today, settle in and read this great piece from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. In short, it touches on how the happy-go-lucky big man has gone from a player many viewed as a franchise pillar (during his Orlando Magic days) to a reviled figure (during his L.A. Lakers days) to, now, being somewhat of a quiet force on a dark-horse contender:

Dwight Howard is still a very tall man, just shy of seven feet, with a wingspan and personality to match. He still dominates the painted area of a basketball court. If you are an opposing player or coach, he is still difficult to ignore.

And yet something odd has happened in this, his 10th NBA season. Howard, this towering personality with the Superman complex has become nearly invisible. Obscured. An afterthought.

Check the MVP leaderboards. Dwight Howard is not there.

Listen to the pundits gush about the league’s great young bigs. Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert have commandeered the discussion. Anthony Davis generates the most excitement. DeMarcus Cousins, the most angst.

And Howard? What does he generate? Polite applause? Quiet appreciation?

By the time he arrived in Houston last summer, he was a broken player and a reviled figure.

And now? Now Dwight Howard has quietly turned the Rockets into a dark-horse contender in the rugged Western Conference. And he’s generating indifference. He seems fine with this.

“I think people forget,” Howard said in a recent phone interview, referring to his fleeting status. “But it takes time. It takes time to get stuff back. It’s something that I know that I can get back, everything that I’ve lost. But all that stuff takes time. My focus is really on helping this team, and helping these young guys be as good as possible.”

By any standard, Howard is having a perfectly productive season, averaging 18.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. His field-goal percentage is a stout .590, his best mark in three seasons. His player efficiency rating (PER) is 21.5, down from his peak Orlando years, but two points higher than last season.

Howard, now 28 years old and two years removed from back surgery, might never match his Orlando production. But he doesn’t need to.

Here’s the number that matters most: .675. That was the Rockets’ winning percentage as of Wednesday morning, their best mark since 2007-08, when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were in their prime.

“We had a very good defensive center (in Omer Asik),” said general manager Daryl Morey, “but with Dwight we were hoping to get something close to the Defensive Player of the Year, which we have.”

The payoff has come more quickly than anticipated. The Rockets, who finished eighth in the West last season, are 52-25 and in fourth place as of Tuesday night, trailing only San Antonio (60-18), Oklahoma City (56-21) and the Los Angeles Clippers (55-23). Of those teams, the Rockets are by far the youngest, and with the least amount of time together.

Ultimately, the Rockets will go as far as James Harden and Howard can carry them. That partnership is still in its early stages, but the results have been promising. Harden is averaging 25.5 points and a team-high 16.6 field-goal attempts per game, while Howard has settled into a complementary role.

Harden, with his bustling beard and his electrifying offense, is the scruffy face of this franchise. At times, Howard is more sidekick than superhero.

“James, he has to score,” Howard said. “So that’s not my concern. I can do other things besides scoring the basketball.”

Indeed, Howard never seemed entirely comfortable as the No. 1 scoring option in Orlando, and he seems happy to be trading shots for wins. He’s also playing just 34 minutes a game, the least since his rookie season.

“Every day we bring it in (for the huddle), we say ‘Family,’ we say, ‘Together,’” Howard said. “Me and James, our relationship has grown throughout the season—the road trips that we’ve had, the time that we’ve spent together off the court, just made us a lot better. And it’s showing up on the floor.”

“I don’t think we’re at our peak,” Howard said of the partnership. “We’re still developing as players. I always had to create for others. Having a guy like him that can create for him and create for others, it just makes both of our lives better.”

***

No. 4: Report: Mavs public address announcer suspended for tweets — When someone in the Dallas Mavericks organization is suspended by the NBA for comments or tweets, most of the time the person getting penalized is owner Mark Cuban. However, that wasn’t the case in this instance, as the team’s public address announcer, Sean Heath, was the guilty party. Heath sent out some tweets after the Mavs’ OT loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1 that had a controversial ending that incensed many Mavs fans. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more:

The NBA issued a two-game suspension to Dallas Mavericks public-address announcer Sean Heath due to tweets criticizing officiating, multiple sources briefed on the situation told ESPNDallas.com.The suspension will begin Saturday night, when the Mavs face the Phoenix Suns in the final home game of the regular season. Heath will complete the suspension either in the first home game of the playoffs or next season’s home opener, depending on whether the Mavs advance.

The league office acknowledged in a statement the next day that Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal should have been called for goaltending when he blocked a potential go-ahead shot by Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 16 seconds remaining in overtime.

Three of the tweets from Heath’s account with 253 followers were directed to the NBA’s account, the most inflammatory of which said that games such as the Mavs’ loss to the Warriors are why the league has a “reputation that the games are rigged.”

Sources said that the league issued the suspension Thursday but granted a request from the Mavs to postpone it until the next game to give the team time to find a suitable replacement for Heath, who is known for his high volume and passion.

***

No. 5: Young ‘confident’ he’ll return to Lakers — The man known as “Swaggy P”, Lakers swingman Nick Young, has enjoyed being in Los Angeles … even if his team has had an awful season. Young is an L.A. native and former standout at USC, so playing before more friends and family than he had at any point in his career has been a boon for him. But Young, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, tells ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin that he’s (not surprisingly) confident he’ll be back with L.A. next season:

As Nick Young‘s first season with his hometown Lakers winds down, the high-scoring guard is starting to wonder if these will be his last days in Los Angeles.Young, who can opt out of his $1.2 million contract for next season with the Lakers to test free agency this summer, said he anticipates a lot of upheaval in the team’s future.

“I always wanted to be a Laker and it will be a dream come true to still be here, but it’s crazy,” Young said after practice Thursday. “You never know what happens. Last year they had a whole different team. It’s obvious they’re going to make some changes.”

Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPNLosAngeles.com in February that his client played at a discount for L.A. this season, accepting a big pay cut to $1.2 million from the $6 million Philadelphia paid him in 2012-13.

“His value is certainly much greater than what the contract is,” Bartelstein said. “There’s no question about that. But our goal is to sit down with [Lakers general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and hopefully work something out so Nick can be with the Lakers for a long time.”

Young echoed the same goal.

“This is home,” Young said. “I would love to finish off here as a Laker. My kids get to go to school and say, ‘My dad is a Laker.’ That’s big.”

“Just wearing that purple and gold has been great, it’s been amazing,” Young said. “Especially to learn from and share the same locker room as Kobe [Bryant] and pick his brain a little bit. That helped me a lot. Just going out there and being able to play and play my game in front of my fans and family and eat home-cooked meals and wake up and not have to deal with that snow every day.”

Young, who went to Cleveland High School in the L.A. suburb of Reseda, Calif., and attended USC for college, was asked if he feels like he has any unfinished business to take care of with the Lakers.

“Most definitely,” Young said. “Of course I want to be here and be a part of a team that’s going to the playoffs and fighting for championships and really get a chance to get that feeling of being a part of that Laker parade and having my little speech like [Shaquille O'Neal] did, ‘Can you dig it?’ Have my own sayings, you know? So, I’ve thought about that a lot. That would really be a great dream come true.”

Young made it sound like he thinks those dreams can be realized.

“I’m very confident,” Young said when asked about his chances of returning to the Lakers. “I think we’re going to come to some kind of agreement and hopefully it happens. We just got to see what they’re going to do.”


VIDEO: Nick Young talks after the Lakers’ practice Thursday

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: University of Tennessee star Jarnell Stokes may soon be making a decision about the NBA … Here’s a good little interview with Magic rookie standout Victor Oladipo … ICYMI, referee Dick Bavetta treated Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia a little cold the other night … And speaking of refs, here’s our own Steve Aschburner on what officials will be looking for in the playoffs …

ICYMI of the Night: Is there any play worth talking about other than Andre Iguodala‘s sick crossover on Quincy Miller last night? …


VIDEO: Andre Iguodala crosses up the Nuggets’ Quincy Miller

 

 

Morning Shootaround — April 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade: Big Three haven’t talked opt out yet | Warriors band together in OT | Howard has fluid drained from ankle | Report: Lillard nearing deal with adidas | Lakers to build new practice digs

No. 1: Wade: Big Three not decided on future plans yet– The playoffs are nearly here, which means all eyes will be on the Miami Heat to see if the squad led by stars Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can make a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance and, perhaps, win a third straight title. Whenever Miami’s playoff run comes to an end — and likely, well before that even happens — the next topic folks will discuss is whether or not James, Bosh and Wade will opt out of their contract this summer. ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell reports that in an upcoming ESPN the Magazine article, Wade says he and the rest of the Big Three haven’t broached that topic yet:

Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all have opt-outs in their contracts at the end of this season, but no collective decision has been made as to whether they will all choose to test the free agent waters.

The three met before they made their free agent decision in 2010 and could have another such meeting before their June 30 opt-out deadlines, which allows them to leave in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

Wade revealed on Tuesday as part of an interview for the cover story of an upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine that the three, who have gone to three straight Finals and won the last two, plan to have that conversation at some point.

“I’m at a position where I don’t really have to worry about it,” said Wade, who also won a title for the Heat in 2006. “I’ve been with the same organization for now 11 years. We’ve won multiple championships, so it’s no reason where I need to think about that yet. I’m not at a point where we are a bad team and I need to think about the future so right now I’m really focused on just enjoying this team, enjoying our quest to try to ‘Three-peat.’ And when the season is over, and whatever happens, then I will sit down and I will sit down with Chris and I will sit down with Bron and I will sit down and make the best decision for myself and my family.”

Last week, Bosh hinted that he and LeBron would stay in Miami when he answered “True” to a question posed by ESPN’s Dan Le Batard as to whether he and James would be back with the team next year.

“When we sat down and we signed our deals and all of us made sure we had an opt out in that fourth year, that was our option, so the option is there and you would hope that someone wants to be able to use their option as a player,” Wade said:

“As players, you only have so much time and you only have so many moments where you have the ability to control your own fate, so it’s not a bad thing at all if that’s what someone is thinking. I haven’t had that conversation with Chris. I haven’t had that conversation with Bron,” he added.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks with Steve Smith about his contract future with the Heat

***

No. 2: Warriors come up with big OT win — With less than 10 games left in their respective seasons, last night’s Warriors-Mavericks game in Dallas took on plenty of significance. Both Dallas and Golden State are, in their own ways, fighting for their playoff lives. And both put on a classic game last night as the Mavs built a sizeable first-half lead and seemed to be in control for a win before the Warriors came back and forced in OT. In the extra period, Steph Curry took the spotlight and delivered a game-winning jumper with :00.1 left to give Golden State some extra breathing room in the postseason chase. Our Jeff Caplan was on hand and details how Golden State stuck together all game long: 

Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”


VIDEO: Golden State’s players celebrate a big win in Dallas

***

No. 3: Howard has fluid drained from left ankle — Much like fellow All-Star big man Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, it sounds like Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard is going to do all he can to be fully healthy for the playoffs. Howard is recovering from an ankle injury and had some fluid drained from it, but remains confident he’ll be fully ready to go once the playoffs begin, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Aiming to be 100 percent by the playoffs, center Dwight Howard said Tuesday he had fluid drained from his left ankle for a second time but that he is “not worried at all” that the issue will linger through the remainder of the Rockets’ regular-season schedule.

“There was more fluid in there the next time I saw the doctor,” Howard said. “It was best I get the fluid out and just rest. I’m not worried.”

Howard, who missed four of the Rockets’ past six games, has no target date to return, but he won’t play Wednesday in Toronto.

Forward Terrence Jones sat out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms.

Coach Kevin McHale said a timetable has not been determined on point guard Pat Beverley’s return, saying the Rockets will “play it by ear.”

“(Howard) had a shot in the back of his ankle to ease some of the pain,” McHale said. “He had some swollen soft tissue in there. When that calms down, he’ll go.”

Howard missed three games last month before returning to play against Charlotte and Philadelphia. The soreness returned in the third quarter against the Sixers last Thursday. He sat out Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and is sitting out this week’s two-game trip to Brooklyn and Toronto.

“The main thing is that I am able to run and be who I am without any concerns,” Howard said. “For a while, I (felt good) in both games. But after a while, it started hurting again so I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do. (Playing in those two games) wasn’t smart.”

***

No. 4: Report: Lillard nearing deal with adidas – To say that 2013-14 has been a breakout season for Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is a bit of an understatement. Lillard, who is second on the team in scoring (21.1 ppg) and leads it in both assists (5.6 apg) and 3-pointers made (204), became an All-Star this season and helped Portland surpass last season’s 33 wins weeks ago. It’s no surprise that more marketing opportunities are opening up for him and as Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports, a new shoe deal is coming down the pike for the Blazers guard:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and adidas are on the cusp of finalizing a multiyear, lucrative shoe endorsement deal barring any hiccups, a league source informed CSNNW.com.Once official, an announcement is expected in the coming days.

“We’re close,” Lillard told CSNNW.com on Tuesday. “Nothing final yet. I’m excited.”

Adidas had a 30-day exclusive window to reach an agreement with Lillard and that period was set to expire on April. 1, according to another source briefed on the situation. If a deal was not reached, conversations with Nike and other shoe rivals would have commenced as soon as this week, we’re told.

However, the talks have progressed to the point where adidas is in the driver’s seat.

Lillard, along with his agent Aaron Goodwin, were spotted on Tuesday with adidas’ officials at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., where positive back and forth dialogue took place, CSNNW.com learned.


VIDEO: Damian Lillard talks after his monster game against the Lakers on Tuesday

***

No. 5: Lakers to build new practice facility — The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of history and a future Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant on their roster that they hope will entice some free agents to look their way this summer. But one thing that likely won’t draw tons of free agents to L.A. is the Lakers’ outdated practice facility. The Lakers, though, are working with a local company to buy five acres of land on which they’ll one day build a new practice facility, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

For all the glitz and glamour surrounding the Lakers’ franchise, their current practice facility does not exactly exude such a mystique.

The Lakers have only one basketball court and its office space is somewhat cramped. So in an effort both to expand room for their day-to-day operations and provide a mechanism to lure free agents beyond their storied championship history, the Lakers plan to build a modern practice facility in El Segundo.

The Lakers did not provide any details on the beginning or completion date. But they announced entering an agreement with CDC Mar Campus, LLC to purchase a five-acre undeveloped portion at Campus El Segundo near the northwest corner of Mariposa Avenue and Douglas Street. The completion of the purchase hinges on the City of El Segundo’s approval.

The Lakers currently practice at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, a building shared with the NHL’s Kings and a skating rink that is often open to the general public. The Lakers would own their future facility and would have more room to accommodate their business and basketball operations. The Lakers’ marketing, ticketing, corporate sponsorships and community relations are located in a different building about a block away. The Lakers also have no sign of their logo outside of the building proclaiming their existence.

The Clippers opened a $60 million practice facility in Playa Vista in 2008 that includes two basketball courts, spacious offices and expansive video and weight rooms. They had practice before at Spectrum, an El Segundo health club, and L.A. Southwest College.

Part of the Lakers’ thought process entails wanting to have another mechanism to attract free agents, according to a source familiar with the details.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers’ Paul George is an All-Star, but he hasn’t been living up to the scoring task of late for Indiana … Suns guard Goran Dragic gets his own Slovenian music video tribute … Blazers forward Victor Claver isn’t happy with his role and playing time in Portland … Jason Kidd downplays his new Coach of the Month Award

ICYMI(s) of the Night: There were lotsa great blocks in Dallas last night, starting with Shawn Marion‘s denial of Marreese Speights and ending with Jermaine O’Neal‘s game-saving block that led to Steph Curry‘s game-winner …


VIDEO: Marion takes flight to deny Speights’ jam


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal gets the crucial late-game denial vs. the Mavs

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

***

No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

***

No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

***

No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

***

No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Blogtable: The NBA’s most dynamic duo

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


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to snuff out Portland’s chance at a win Monday

> Right now — taking health problems and everything else into consideration – who would you name the most formidable pair of teammates in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This reminds me of the trivia question about baseball’s all-time brother act among HR hitters. Of course it’s the Aarons, on the strength of Henry’s 755 and Tommie’s 13. To me, any pair of teammates that includes LeBron James as one of them is a serious contender as top tandem. Some might argue that Chris Bosh is Miami’s second-best player now, but I’ll stick with a rested and recuperating Dwyane Wade as wingman to the NBA’s best player (not necessarily the 2014 MVP), based on how well Wade and the team have managed his health and workload.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because there are questions going forward about how Russell Westbrook will hold up over the long haul of the playoffs and because there are constantly questions about Dwyane Wade’s knees, you have to go past the obvious.  I’ll put Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at the top of my 1-2 punch list.  Paul can run the break, get everybody a good shot at any time and Griffin has raised his all-around game to be part of the MVP conversation.  Formidable isn’t the word to describe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, just incredibly efficient.  The pairing that could leap up and make an even bigger splash still in the playoffs is James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I know Westbrook’s been in and out of the lineup and might be a knee bump away from potentially being shelved again, but together this tandem of 25-year-olds is a two-way terror like none other. Durant is the best player in the game right now, simply unguardable. Put the strength and speed of Westbrook, practically unguardable in his own right, next to KD and say goodnight.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFour first names and two players equal one top tandem: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin. The best point guard in the world and one of the top, maybe the top, power forward gives the Clippers a dynamic inside-outside pairing with a season of Griffin’s commendable improvements and Paul coming back from the shoulder injury. James Harden-Dwight Howard and Paul George-Roy Hibbert (defense, defense) are in the conversation. Paul is not 100 percent, but the potential challengers of Westbrook-Durant, Lillard-Aldridge, Rose-Noah have larger health issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLeBron James and Chris Bosh. James is the best player in the world and Bosh is the next most important player on the Heat, with his ability to defend the pick-and-roll and space the floor offensively. Dwyane Wade can create more offense when James is off the floor, but Bosh is the better complement. He’s bigger and a better perimeter shooter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most lethal pair of teammates, injuries included, remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. There aren’t two guys working in tandem that can wreak more havoc or affect more change, on both ends of the floor, during the course of a game than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo and their Miami Heat counterparts. When they crank it into high-gear, who else can wade into that deep water and still stay true to what they do best? Sure, Westbrook and Wade have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues this season. But the entire league knows what happens when they have it going. They are the obvious choices for the most obvious of reasons, we’ve seen them go to that next level so often over the past three or four years that there should really be no argument here.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’m sure we’ll see nominations for Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Howard, maybe even LeBron and Bosh. But I think I’ll go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think CP3’s leadership or toughness have ever been questioned, and with CP3 missing time this year due to injury, I think we saw exactly how good and complete a player Blake has become. The thing I also like about these two is that they combine to form a terrific inside-out combination, or at least as much of an inside-out combination as exists these days in the NBA.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Right now it’s the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo. The smartest PG in the league paired with one of the most athletic big man gave us Lob City, but now that Griffin is evolving into something more than just a spectacular dunker, the Clippers have a spectacular duo who’s winning a ton of games. They can both win games by themselves, as a duo or involving their other teammates. I really like what Doc Rivers has turned them into. Without injuries, I’d go with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I was thinking about Howard/Harden, Nowitzki/Ellis, Paul/Griffin and Westbrook/Durant. But right now I don’t believe that any duo is as good on both sides of the floor as LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his fourth season with the Heat, Bosh is so much more than the third-best player of the team. You could argue that Miami would be going nowhere if they didn’t have the lefty big man. He takes and makes big shots with great regularity and is capable of a key defensive play anytime. And LeBron is just the best player on the planet. I really believe that if you have those two players working together, you’re guaranteed a shot at the title. And they’re the only duo I think about in those terms.

Morning Shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo to explore ‘options’ in free agency | LeBron backs off vs. Cavs | Bynum suffering from swollen knee | Rondo struggling with how to lead rebuilding Celts | Pau backs Jackson’s move to N.Y.

No. 1: Report: Bulls, Rockets top suitors for Anthony — As Phil Jackson was introduced as the Knicks new team president yesterday, one of the main topics of conversation was the future of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony intends to opt out of his contract this summer and test the free-agent waters and while the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team on the open market can, rumors have bubbled up about him being interested in leaving. In a review of the Knicks’ addition of Jackson, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says that two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets — are in the lead to make a big push for ‘Melo this summer:

Jackson has limitless resources to construct a front office, coaching staff and roster. Everything’s on him now. James Dolan won’t be cramping Jackson’s style in those big free-agent meetings, because it will be Jackson playing the part of Miami’s Pat Riley now. Throwing his rings on the table, selling management credibility born of coaching genius.

And make no mistake: One of the most important things Jackson offered on Tuesday was a nod toward his old Chicago Bulls nemesis and GM, Jerry Krause, whom, he said, set a standard for thoroughness and legwork in the evaluation of talent. All of them mocked Krause, but no one – not Jackson, nor Michael Jordan – would’ve had multiple titles without him. Or maybe even one.

The NBA is a talent business, and the Knicks’ most important asset, Carmelo Anthony, will welcome listening to Jackson’s pitch on the future. Anthony heard part of it in the news conference when Jackson went out of his way to suggest the Knicks star’s freewheeling, isolation-scoring days are done.

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

“He’ll give New York every option,” one source with knowledge of Anthony’s plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “But he has options – and he’s going to explore them all.”


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks about his desire to keep Carmelo Anthony in New York

***

No. 2: LeBron backs off a bit after epic start vs. Cavs — After the first quarter of last night’s Heat-Cavaliers game from Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James had 25 points on a 10-for-11 shooting performance in the first quarter. In short, it looked like James was headed for another record scoring night just weeks after he set the team mark for points in a game with 61 against the Charlotte Bobcats. But a funny thing happened as the game went along: James tapered off his field goal attempts and worked to get others involved. While he still finished with 43 points, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst notes how James chose to back off against Cleveland after his hot start:

LeBron James had the hammer raised on his former team Tuesday night, the chance to inflict another lasting scar with the sort of record-setting performance that would hang on the books for years.Maybe it was mercy, maybe it was maturity and maybe there was just some pride from the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers. It was hard to figure exactly what happened, but James uncharacteristically stood down and perhaps allowed a chance at a record to pass and left satisfied that his Miami Heat took a 100-96 victory.

James, who possesses a flash-drive memory, easily remembered Allen Iverson scoring 54 points on the Cavs back in 2001 when he was a teenager in nearby Akron. It was a vendetta that night, Iverson upset the Cleveland crowd had mistreated him in his view in an earlier visit and he was determined to make a statement.

Iverson’s angry night still stands as the Quicken Loans Arena record and it was so within James’ grasp. James himself carries the date Dec. 2, 2010, around in his head like a family member’s birthday because of the rancor he encountered in the building in his first game back after signing with the Heat. He mentions that date numerous times a year, usually when brushing away someone insinuating he’d run into a hostile crowd that particular day.

He referenced that date again Tuesday, in fact. But James doesn’t seem to have the same desire to strike back as Iverson. If nothing else, James played almost 400 games in his life in the building and never eclipsed 50 but was halfway to that number just 12 minutes in.

“With that type of start, you see if you can go for 70,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just human conditioning to think like that.”

And it’s human conditioning for the coach to let his player try. Instead of sitting James to start the second quarter as normal, Spoelstra sent him to the floor to continue the streak.

Then something odd happened. James backed off. He started passing up open driving lanes. He started looking for teammates inside. He started calling plays for teammates, especially looking to get Ray Allen some open looks. He eased off the pure attack mode he seemed to be reveling in only moments before.

“When I started the game off, I felt like I could have went for 50 or 60,” James said. “But you can’t really dictate what’s going to happen.”

James would take just eight shots the rest of the game, which is simply incomprehensible after one starts 10-of-11. He took just three shots in the entire second half when the Cavs, who were also without All-Star Kyrie Irving because of a biceps injury, were pushing back and trying to pull an upset.

Just imagine how many shots Iverson might’ve taken had he started a game 10-of-11, much less a game in Cleveland during his prime.

James did reach the 40-point mark, getting there with some late-game free throws when the Cavs starting intentionally fouling him to stop the clock to keep comeback hopes alive. In all, he had 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting. It was barely above normal: James averages 17.5 shots a game and most of the time he’s sharing the load with Wade.

“He’s not a selfish player, never has been,” said Chris Bosh, who was the Heat’s main offensive weapon in the second half as he scored 12 of his 21 points despite a little scare when he twisted his right knee in the third quarter.

“He’s still had [43], that’s pretty good. Some guys probably don’t have the maturity to handle that but he did a pretty good job of playing a complete game.”


VIDEO: LeBron James gets off to a quick start in Miami’s win in Cleveland

***

No. 3: Bynum dealing with swelling in knee — The Pacers have to be more than pleased with what they’ve seen from center Andrew Bynum in the two games as the big man is averaging 11.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg while shooting 40.9 percent. But it appears they’ll have to wait a while to see him on the court again as knee swelling will keep him sidelined as the Pacers travel to face the Knicks tonight, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Andrew Bynum won’t join the Pacers on their trip to New York, but instead will stay in town to treat swelling in his knees that are causing him pain — and to miss games.

“The knees are still swollen so he’s going to stay behind to get some work in here and some treatment here,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll see where he’s at when we get back.”

Bynum, who was in practice gear but didn’t participate on Tuesday, admitted there’s some concern for his recent setback. After scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in exactly 20 minutes of work Saturday night in Detroit, Bynum has experienced significant swelling in his right knee to the point where he underwent an MRI and had it drained Monday afternoon.

“This one is a little concerning for me because it caused a lot more fluid,” he said. “I haven’t had that much fluid in there since like the (2010) Boston Finals in L.A.”

That was almost four years ago.

“It’s not fun,” Bynum added. “It is what it is at this point.”

Doctors analyzed the MRI Tuesday morning, according to Bynum, and he expects to know more Tuesday afternoon.

As Vogel has said, they knew what they were signing up for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with.

“[It's] not really disappointing at all, to be honest,” he said. “We knew he was going to be in and out of the lineup. He’s got some problems with his knees, we’re well aware of that, and we’ll be excited with what he can give us when he’s in there.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks about his knee injury

***

No. 4: Rondo struggling to lead Celts during rebuild – After Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Celtics have an 0-15 road mark against the Western Conference, a feat no other Celtics team had accomplished. If nothing else, that’s proof of a rebuilding season in Beantown as Boston tries to figure out its direction for next season and beyond. Star point guard Rajon Rondo is the de facto leader of these Celtics, who are comprised of many players on expiring contracts, and as Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe points out, Rondo is finding it tough at times to lead a group with an uncertain future:

There’s always some degree of uncertainty as the front office works to reshape the roster.It’s an unsung challenge for rookie coach Brad Stevens to keep his players united even though they know they might be on unsettled ground.

Likewise, it’s an unsung challenge for the team’s captain, Rajon Rondo.

And around the time Rondo returned to action in January after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he brought up this topic with his former point guard.

It’s not unusual for the two to talk, even with Rivers now coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. They have history, with Rivers coaching Rondo from 2006-07 until last season.

“I speak to Doc all the time,” Rondo said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve talked to him after games, text-wise. He gives me advice all the time.”

“Everybody is not going to buy in, because all they hear is that they’re all getting traded because they’re in the middle of a rebuild,’” Rivers said he told Rondo. “So you’re going to go in there and talk about, ‘Hey, let’s buy in as a team,’ and half of them are going to say, ‘I’m not even going to be on this team.’ ”

“Well, the first concern is to make it through the trade deadline,” Rondo said.

Indeed. The Celtics made two swaps before the deadline. And though he involved in numerous rumors, Rondo wasn’t moved.

But the roster is by no means settled.

The Celtics figure to be especially active this summer, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently told the Globe, “This June there could be some fireworks.”

Technically speaking, only Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger are on guaranteed contracts for next season.

Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, and Avery Bradley will become free agents, though Bradley will be restricted, meaning the Celtics can match any offer he receives.

“For the most part, guys are playing for contracts,” Rondo said. “It’s not a matter of being here. It’s a matter of staying in the league.”

That pressure can weigh on a player.

“If a guy is not under contract, obviously he wants to play well every game,” Rondo said. “He wants to make all his shots, do all the intangibles.

“I’m not necessarily saying that a guy under contract won’t do all those things, but obviously it’s amplified when you’re playing for your life or you’re playing for your career.”

Leading a locker room in which players might be playing for their career is new for Rondo, but Wallace recalled being in that situation in Charlotte.

In 2004-05, his first season there, the team was rebuilding (it finished 18-64) and most of the players were set to become free agents. Ideally, Wallace said, players buy into the system, but that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said, “because even though you don’t want to think about that, once you start losing, you start thinking about your career — ‘Oh, I’m up next summer, I’ve got to figure this [expletive] out.’

***

No. 5: Pau backs Knicks’ signing of Jackson — With Phil Jackson officially entrenched as the Knicks new team president, he’s got his work cut out for him in trying to turn New York into a stable franchise again (as our John Schuhmann points out). But for now, many folks are commending New York on getting a person of Jackson’s caliber to lead the charge and one of those backers is none other than Lakers power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol won two championships and made three Finals trips under Jackson when both men were in L.A. and Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin he backs the Knicks’ latest personnel move:

The New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Phil Jackson as their new team president Tuesday, and will reportedly pay him $60 million over five years for the job. It may have been an unprecedented payday for a front office executive, but it also qualifies as a sound financial decision by the Knicks in Pau Gasol’s eyes.

“I think the Knicks are fortunate to have him,” the Los Angeles Lakers big man said after practice Tuesday. “I know they gave him a big contract and a big investment, but I think he’s worth every cent of it.”

Gasol, who played under Jackson in L.A. from 2008-11 and reached three NBA Finals while winning two championships in the process, said it will take some adjusting seeing Jackson working on the opposite coast.

“It’s weird,” Gasol said. “It’s weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him in the picture today. But I know he’s in a good place.”

Gasol said he still sees Jackson “regularly” since the 11-time champion coach retired from the sidelines following the 2010-11 season, but will have to curtail that contact because of Jackson’s new role.

“Apparently we can’t really talk to each other from now on since I’m going to become a free agent and he’s an executive for another team, so it’s under rules that we can’t communicate,” Gasol said, referring to the league’s tampering clause. “He can be penalized. So, our communication has been cut off until July 1st.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired over Jackson last November, said Jackson will do a “great job” in New York, but also detailed the challenge the former coach will face. D’Antoni coached the Knicks from 2008-2012 before being unceremoniously showed the door, so he knows the pitfalls associated with the franchise more than most.

“It’s a big job anywhere,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think just New York. I think it’s a big job anywhere to turn it around. I think you have to look at the cap room and what they have and how quick you can do it? Can you get lucky? So there’s a lot of things. I know that there will be a lot of effort put into it. Good, sound decisions. And you hope — well, I’m not a Knick now so I don’t hope — it works out for him. But it’s a tall order for anybody at anywhere at anytime. This league is not easy to get on top. And we know in New York, you’re either winning or you’re a failure. So, it will be tough but they got a good man and he’ll do a heck of a job.”

D’Antoni does not believe that Jackson’s coaching resume will automatically translate to front office success.

“I don’t think one correlates to the other,” D’Antoni said. “I think they’re two completely separate jobs. It’s like turning a great player into a coach. It’s a different job. So you don’t know if they can do it or not. I think that obviously he’s got a good basketball mind, so he’ll approach it a different way and let’s see if it works out. I think there’s a lot of great qualities there, so there’s no reason it doesn’t. But there’s no reason it does. So we’ll see what happens.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: As our Scott Howard-Cooper reported last night, the Hall of Fame is weighing a potential change to the voting format … A detailed look at what it might take for Chicago to bring over prized foreign talent Nikola Mirotic to the NBA next season … A groin strain will sideline Lakers guard Jordan Farmar for at least two weeks … Cool little chat with Pacers coach Frank Vogel about his game day routine and more … Blake Griffin doesn’t think he has much of a chance in the MVP race this season … The shared grandfather of the Magic’s Tobias Harris and the Suns’ Channing Frye was a Tuskegee AirmanMo Williams has been playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge has been out of the lineup … Quick guards have been giving the Raptors fits of late … Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas may get some rest down the stretch of the season

ICYMI of the Night: Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza is in the midst of a great season, to be sure. But sometimes even a great season needs a little luck, as demonstrated by his wild fadeaway bank shot last night in Sacramento …


VIDEO: Trevor Ariza nails a wild off-the-glass fadeaway jumper

Down goes Dunleavy…before getting back up to spark Bulls


VIDEO: Stitched-up Dunleavy scores 21 second-half points to lead Bulls to rout of Rockets

CHICAGO – Despite his years at Duke and his status as NBA offspring, factors that might cast him as one of the game’s bluebloods, Mike Dunleavy made it painfully clear he bleeds Chicago Bulls red Thursday night in his team’s 111-87 victory over Houston at United Center.

Dunleavy’s head got in the way of Chandler Parsons‘ elbow as the Rockets forward bore down on a fast break in the second quarter. Dunleavy got the call – a charge on Parsons – along with a gash over his right eye that bled instantly and profusely. The Bulls wing player, though dazed, pushed himself up to the floor and hurried to the dressing room, where he took 10 stitches.

Video and photos showed blood running down his face, and ball boys had to mop on the diagonal from the lane nearest Houston’s bench to the far corner to clean up the trail.

Naturally, since he wasn’t more seriously injured, Dunleavy’s mishap was met with amusement and a little locker-room admiration – especially since he returned in time to start the second half and score all of his game-high 21 points from that point, despite the bandage, the throbbing and the swelling.

“That gash looked scary, man,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “That gash looked like a Rocky cut, like when Rocky was in the movie going ‘Cut me, Mick. Cut me!’ Everybody was like, ‘Yo, if you get hit one more time, it’s over for you.’ And he kept a smile on his face. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna light it up.’ “

Said Dunleavy: “It was pretty hard initially and kind of knocked me back. But once I hit the ground and realized I was bleeding, you’ve got to go to the locker room and get stitched up. No point in hanging around the court and getting blood everywhere. … I just knew, once they got the stitches done, I was coming back.”

He hit 7 of his 11 shots in the third quarter, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, for 18 points. The Bulls, up 50-42 at halftime, outscored Houston 35-16 in the third. But Dunleavy stuck around for nearly nine minutes in the fourth anyway – Rockets coach Kevin McHale largely had yanked his starters by then – to finish 8-of-15 with seven rebounds. He even took another charge.

“That was very impressive and I think it inspired the team,” Chicago’s Joakim Noah said. “He had a huge knot on his head. Looking like Holyfield – the white version. And just coming out there, putting on a new jersey and gutting it out in the second half … it was good for Duke’s street credibility.

“It shows a lot about the character of this team, that somebody could get hit the way he got hit. I’d never seen nothing like that really, getting rocked the way he got rocked. It [blood] was really coming down. Ten stitches. Then to play the second half the way he played? I like that [stuff].”

Easy for Noah to say. Dunleavy said the Bulls’ medical staff checked him for symptoms of whiplash and also peppered him with some questions as part of the NBA’s concussion protocol. “They were asking me questions and I was answering them in a way that wouldn’t lead them to believe I had a concussion,” he said.

At that point, Dunleavy said he had no doubt he would play in the second half, though he didn’t attribute his performance to the blow or any emotions from it.

“It was just a matter of how long it took ‘em to stitch me up. I’ve had that happen a couple times. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s 20,” he said. “It wasn’t a malicious hit on Parsons’ part. Sometimes in that case, when it is intentional, yeah, it can fire you up. But I was kind of sitting back here bored, getting stitched up. I wanted to play.”

It’s been a long season for Dunleavy, who signed a bargain contract (two years, $6.5 million) with the Bulls last summer in the hope of becoming a valuable reserve on a championship contender. Then Derrick Rose went down again, Luol Deng got traded and Dunleavy got bumped into the starting lineup for 44 of 65 games so far.

He’s averaging 30.4 minutes, his most in six years, while shooting just 42.8 percent, 37.0 percent from the arc. Right up to the trade deadline three weeks ago, there were rumors that Dunleavy might be moved, an extra shooter for an ambitious team. But the Bulls kept him, and coach Tom Thibodeau has used him every which way.

“That is the price of winning,” Thibodeau said of Dunleavy’s gash, “and that is why he is so valuable to our team. When you talk about toughness, that is toughness.”

Teammate Jimmy Butler said: “He’s on this team for a reason. He’s a tough SOB. Mike’s been big for this team. Helluva player, helluva shooter, helluva scorer.

“But I will make fun of him when he comes in tomorrow with a black eye.”