INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, Lance Stephenson was comic relief and the Indiana Pacers’ resident knucklehead. Twelve months later, he is as serious as a flagrant foul and the single biggest reason the Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Last May, Stephenson was the Indiana deep reserve, all raw talent and immaturity, who got caught by the cameras making a choke sign when LeBron James missed free throws in Game 3 of the teams’ playoff series. James ignored him, in the moment and when asked about him later. But a couple of his Miami teammates weren’t so detached; Juwan Howard got into a verbal confrontation with Stephenson before Game 4 and backup big Dexter Pittman seemed to be on the floor late in Game 5 for the express purpose of flattening him (Pittman winked to the Heat bench after the hit across the young Pacers guard’s throat).
Now, it’s Stephenson doing the flattening. Not quite all growed up but making a mad dash in that direction, the 6-foot-5 kid from Brooklyn – from the same Lincoln High that produced the likes of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair – did New York’s NBA team wrong. He grabbed the game at both ends – grabbed it by the throat, one might say – and scored nine points in the first quarter to ignite Indiana in a game it couldn’t squander, then nine more (in not quite seven minutes) in the fourth when it mattered most.
His 25 were a career playoff high but then, just about everything Stephenson does this postseason is a career high, given how unused he was previously. Twice in the first half, Stephenson snagged rebounds and raced downcourt, going end to end through New York’s defense for buckets.
In the fourth, he picked off a pass by Carmelo Anthony and finished with a three-point play that broke a 92-92 tie. Next time down, he drew Tyson Chandler‘s sixth personal foul and hit two free throws. After an Anthony jumper made it 99-94, Stephenson backed his way first through J.R. Smith, then through Anthony for another layup. It wasn’t over, except that it was.
“Unbelievable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever, but he’s got some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around. There’s an old phrase – he’s a gamer.
“He’s not always going to look good. He’s not always going to be in the right spots defensively. … But you put him in a situation like this – Game 6, closeout game – the kid’s got a lot of guts and great basketball instincts.” (more…)
INDIANAPOLIS – The New York Knicks got good and bad news out of shootaround on Tuesday morning.
The good news was that J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were both back in the gym after missing practice with illnesses the last two days. Smith had been sick since before Game 3, in which he shot 4-for-12 and played just 25 minutes, the fewest of any playoff game in which he wasn’t ejected.
Expect both Martin and Smith, two of the Knicks’ three top subs, to play in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). But one of them might need to start, because it sounds doubtful that Iman Shumpert will be able to play.
Shumpert injured his left knee — the same knee he had ACL surgery on last year — in Game 3 and was held out of practice on Monday, but both he and Knicks coach sounded optimistic that he would be able to play in Game 4.
That optimism wasn’t there Tuesday morning though. In fact, Shumpert wasn’t there Tuesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, awaiting the arrival of the Knicks’ orthopedist, who was flying in from New York.
“They’ll evaluate him and give us an assessment this evening,” Woodson said. “He’s had some swelling the last two days, so they’re going to take a closer look at it and make sure everything’s OK.”
If Shumpert can’t play, it will be the ultimate test of Woodson’s Smith-is-not-allowed-to-start policy. New York has had a multitude of injuries this season and no Knick has played more games than Smith, but he hasn’t started a single one.
Ronnie Brewer, who was eventually traded for a second-round pick, started 34 games. James White, whose offensive skills leave a lot to be desired, started 16 games. And Chris Copeland, who Woodson doesn’t fully trust defensively, started 13. Smith? Zero.
But now, the Knicks’ season is on the line. Would Woodson start Copeland, who has played just 19 minutes in the series thus far? Would he dare start Smith? Or would he maybe go big, with Martin up front and Carmelo Anthony sliding to small forward?
“I haven’t even given that a thought,” Woodson said about who would replace Shumpert if he can’t play, “because I thought he would be here this morning.”
A lineup of Smith and the Knicks other four starters — Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler — has played just 16 minutes together (seven of those in the playoffs) this season. Martin and Chandler, meanwhile, have played just 12 minutes together in this series, and Anthony has been on the floor (at the three) for just six of those 12 minutes.
Woodson has a very interesting decision to make, but more important than who starts is what the Knicks would be losing without Shumpert. He’s their best perimeter defender and he’s the one role player that hasn’t been afraid to shoot in this series. Anthony leads the Knicks with 18 field goals from outside the paint over the three games, but Shumpert is second on the list with eight.
Whether or not Shumpert plays, we may see Steve Novak, who has played just seven minutes over the first three games, make an appearance on Tuesday. Jason Kidd has missed his last 15 shots and Prigioni doesn’t shoot quickly off the catch, so if Woodson wants to use Anthony as the pick-and-roll ball handler more, he’ll need another shooter out there. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday morning that Novak makes you “play four-on-four ,” because he’s so dangerous of a shooter.
INDIANAPOLIS –J.R. Smith hasn’t played well since he elbowed Jason Terry in Game 3 of the first round. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Smith might not play at all.
Under the weather with a 102-degree fever, the Sixth Man of the Year missed the Knicks’ shootaround Saturday morning and is questionable for Game 3 Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
“I don’t know if he’s going to play tonight,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “If he don’t, somebody else has got to step up and help us win.”
The Knicks will have Amar’e Stoudemire for the first time in two months, which gives them the ability to play big for more than the five minutes they have in each of the first two games. But they also have the backcourt depth to deal with Smith’s potential absence and stay small. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have all been playing well, and Jason Kidd, though he’s missed his last 14 shots, is still a critical part of this team’s success.
“I feel really good now about how Iman’s moving, jumping, and all that,” Woodson said. “So he could pick up some extra minutes, along with Pablo. Raymond’s already playing big minutes and I’m not going to forget about Kidd, because you’ve got three days of rest.”
“I don’t want to put that pressure on myself to say that I have to do more out there,” Anthony said of Smith’s possible absence. “We gotta figure it out. We’ll see how the game goes, see the course of the game, see where it takes us.”
Of course, Anthony seemed confident that Smith would play in Game 3, even though he didn’t know the details of Smith’s condition.
“J.R. gonna play tonight,” Anthony said. “We can get him right. That’s what we have team doctors for, as far as medicine and things like that. He’ll be all right … hopefully.”
MIAMI – The Derrick Rose Watch is in its final hours, so all that huffing and puffing that the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat heaped onto Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at AmericanAirlines Arena wasn’t all for naught.
It served to move Wednesday night closer to Thursday morning, which gets everything more quickly to Friday’s Game 3 tipoff, the point at which this long rehabilitative sideshow ends once and for all. Either the Bulls’ injured point guard goes for something Hollywood and steps through the darkness onto the court at United Center to a booming embrace … or he emerges again after another pregame shooting session in a suit and sits his way straight into the offseason.
Truly, it is now or it is never. There can be no middle ground.
The “never” part of that equation should have won six weeks ago but has shown itself to be a tough out. Months of daily talk shows and Twitter timelines keep alive the chatter of Rose coming back. This weekend will officially become 12 months after surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee.
The waiting game sucked most of the air out of the Bulls’ regular season – remember, the conventional wisdom suggested Rose would be back in late February or early March – and here it is, still laying claim to what at times has been a remarkable postseason precisely because of his absence.
But it all ends Friday night. Fortunately. (more…)
The best fourth quarter scorer in these playoffs, Robinson served the Heat by scoring the final seven of his game-high 27 points (he also had nine assists) in the defining minutes of the game. He did all this after needing 10 stitches to close a gash over his lip, courtesy of a LeBron James elbow and head smash during a scramble for a loose ball.
“Get stitched up and continue to battle,” Robinson told reporters after the game.
LeBron’s already snagged the “King” nickname. But after watching Robinson the past eight games (and, really, the past eight seasons), is there any doubt that he’s the pound-for-pound king of toughness in the NBA?
Yes, that’s high praise for a third-string point guard. And Robinson remains one of the more unpredictable players in the league. His highs, though, trump his lows every time. Tell me the last time a third-string point guard outdueled the MVP on the night he received his trophy? Robinson became the NBA’s first three-time Sprite Slam Dunk champ and built a cult fanbase from New York (where he spent his first four and half seasons in the league) to Boston to the Bay Area and now Chicago and beyond.
Nowhere is Robinson more beloved than in his native Seattle, where he was the big man on campus at Ranier Beach High School, where he was a three-sport (football and track, too) star. Unlike many of his NBA colleagues who love to fantasize about being crossover stars in the NFL, Robinson could have pulled it off.
He was a All-Pac-10 Freshman Team pick at cornerback at the University of Washington, where his father, Jacque Robinson, was a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl MVP. Nate Robinson was believed to have a much brighter future in that sport.
But he chose basketball instead and the rest is pound-for-pound history for a player who says he’s having the time of his life with this Bulls team.
“There’s something special about this group,” Robinson said. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for, like, 10 years. I told [Bulls] Coach [Tom Thibodeau], we just love to play for each other.”
Hoops fans love having players with Robinson’s toughness on their team. That’s why he’s the king/captain of the Hang Time Pound-For-Pound Toughness Team. These are the guys still working in these playoffs who give up every ounce of what they’ve got on a nightly basis for their respective teams, be it blood, sweat, tissue, tears or whatever else is needed.
The other starters:
David West, Indiana Pacers
6-foot-9, 250 pounds
An absolute bruiser, West changed the entire culture of an organization in Indiana with his reserved-but-unwavering leadership style. The Pacers have become the picture of defensive toughness and consistency since West arrived. West is a physical specimen who has found a way harness his brute strength and play under complete control at all times. He’s a huge reason why the Pacers are up 1-0 on the New York Knicks in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
6-foot-7, 220 pounds
Another reserve who has moved into a starring role during this postseason, all Butler has done is play every single minute in three straight playoff games (Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 against the Heat). That’s 48 straight minutes for three straight games while guarding the likes of the Nets’ Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With his tireless work on both ends of the floor, Butler has done a masterful job filling in for Luol Deng while also showing the sort of mettle of a future star.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
7-foot-1, 265 pounds
The Memphis branch of the Gasol basketball family tree is much sturdier than the Los Angeles version in every way imaginable. Pau Gasol has always been considered the most skilled big man in the family. But the toughest Gasol, the recently crowd Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, does his home work near Beale Street. He’s got it all … brains, brawn and he can ball.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
6-foot-4, 214 pounds
A defensive stopper everywhere he’s been, Allen’s junkyard dog attitude inspired the Grit and Grind movement in Memphis (where you could fill out a Pound-For-Pound roster with the likes of Zach Randolph and others). Allen’s greatest trait is his fearlessness, which was on full display during the Boston Celtics’ title run in 2008 and has been as identifiable as his No. 9 jersey is since he joined the Grizzlies three seasons ago.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls; Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks; Chris Andersen, Miami Heat.
BOSTON – The New York Knicks were the better team. And in the end, the better team won.
But, man, the Boston Celtics certainly made New York sweat, putting on one more display of Celtic pride before bowing out in Game 6 of their first round series, an 88-80 victory for the Knicks that puts them in a conference semifinals matchup with the Indiana Pacers starting Sunday.
It’s New York’s first playoff series victory in 13 years, a mixture of relief and exaltation for their long-suffering fans. It’s the first time Boston has lost in the first round since acquiring Kevin Garnett in 2007, and maybe the end of the KG era. The Knicks had already ended the Celtics’ streak of five straight division titles, but this was the official changing of the guard.
Both teams did their best to make it interesting in the fourth quarter though. The Knicks lost their way offensively after building a 26-point lead early in the period. They stubbornly stuck to isolation basketball that produced only tough shots and turnovers.
The Celtics finally found some offense by turning up the pressure defensively. Avery Bradley‘s ball hawking produced five New York miscues in a six-possession stretch in the middle of the 20-0 run. It was a furious push, but it eventually ran out of gas and the Celtics could never get to within less than four points.
The hole had been dug too deep. The Boston offense never looked more anemic than in did in the first half of Game 6, scoring a paltry 27 points on 43 possessions. Their spacing was terrible, they couldn’t hold onto the ball, and they couldn’t make a shot. In fact, they had more turnovers than made field goals until the 7:45 mark of the fourth.
“They wanted to play well, and they didn’t,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his team. “They know they’re better than what they played.”
Ultimately, as resilient as they proved to be, the Celtics were a team without a point guard or much of a shot against an opponent with much more firepower. But hey, they saved face after losing the first three games, avoiding the sweep on Sunday, making the Knicks look silly for wearing all black to Game 5 on Wednesday, and giving their fans one final thrill with the 20-0 run on Friday.
Now, they face what may be a difficult summer. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett looked older than ever in this series, and the best move for the franchise may be to part ways with their two prideful stars.
“We need more,” Rivers said “But the key is, for us, do you want to take away to get more? And that will be a decision that will be made later.”
“All three of us agreed to speak later,” Garnett added. “It’s a different day for that conversation.”
Rivers himself said he’s leaning toward coming back to coach at least one more year, but will take some time to make a decision.
The Knicks won’t have much time to prepare for the Pacers, an even tougher defensive team than the Celtics. And it doesn’t bode well that the Knicks scored less than a point per possession in this series and that Carmelo Anthony shot just 38 percent, at one point missing 19 straight 3-pointers.
“It’s not something I’m too concerned about,” Anthony said. “I’ll take those shots any day. I won’t stop shooting. My teammates need me to shoot.”
The good news is that New York may be playing its best defense of the season, having held the Celtics under a point per possession in five of the six games. It’s been three years since Boston was a good offensive team, but the Knicks’ defense was, at times, very responsible for how bad their opponent looked.
The Knicks ranked 16th defensively in the regular season and weren’t necessarily playing very well on that end when they won 13 straight games in March and early April. But they’ve seemingly flipped the switch.
“We have incredible athletes,” Tyson Chandler said. “That combined with focus is dangerous. I’ve been saying that the whole time I’ve been here and we’re starting to show it now.”
Chandler added that he feels 100 percent recovered from the bulging disc in his neck that he was dealing with late in the season, which may be the most important thing for the Knicks as they get set to face Indiana’s frontline of David West and Roy Hibbert. And that Iman Shumpert played one his best games of the season – 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, six rebounds and a critical steal down the stretch – on Friday is also encouraging.
And hey, though the Knicks almost fumbled away that 3-0 lead they had, it takes a certain amount of resilience to finish off a series when your battle-tested opponent just doesn’t want to go down.
“It was an ugly series,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “because neither team could really score or break loose. We did what we had to do to get out of this round.”
NEW YORK – They say that every game in a playoff series has its own personality. And a couple of rotation changes should give Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics’ series (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT) a new look.
The Knicks hope to have Pablo Prigioni back from a sprained ankle for Game 2. And if they do, he will start and join Raymond Felton in the backcourt. The Knicks went 15-1 with the two point guards starting together in the final month of the regular season.
The Knicks have been incredibly efficient offensively, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions in 298 minutes, with Felton and Prigioni on the floor together. And after a game in which they scored 85 points on 88 possessions, they could certainly use an offensive boost. After assisting on just 13 of their 32 buckets in Game 1, the team hopes that Prigioni will bring better ball movement.
But the lineup change could have an adverse effect on the other end of the floor. Woodson said Sunday that if Prigioni is back, Felton will guard Paul Pierce to start the game (the original plan had Prigioni been healthy in Game 1), with Iman Shumpert defending Jeff Green.
Shumpert was guarding Pierce to start Game 1, and the Celtics posted Pierce on three of the first four possessions. When the Knicks doubled the post, the Celtics got a jumper for Kevin Garnett and a layup for Avery Bradley.
Mismatches on Pierce were a big part of the Celtics’ offense all day Saturday. Later in the first quarter, they ran the same play several times to get J.R. Smith switched onto Pierce at the foul line. And they had some more success with Pierce posting Jason Kidd on a few possessions midway through the second.
With their lineup change, the Knicks will be handing the Celtics a mismatch from the start. And Boston will obviously go to Pierce in the post early and often. New York will send double-teams, and it will be up to Pierce’s teammates to make them pay.
Green was a pretty good corner 3-point shooter (45.7 percent) in the regular season, but didn’t attempt any shots from the corners on Saturday. As a team, Boston was just 1-for-5 from the corners, an obvious area for improvement in Game 2.
Doc Rivers plans on making some rotation changes of his own. He went only eight deep in Game 1, using just three guards — Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — off the bench. The trio combined to shoot 0-for-7.
Rivers said Sunday that we could see a big man off the bench — presumably Chris Wilcox or Shavlik Randolph — on Tuesday. If it’s Wilcox, it will be the first playoff appearance of his 11-year career.
We’ll have to see if that results in less minutes for Brandon Bass or if Rivers plans on playing with two bigs more than he did in Game 1. The Celtics were a plus-1 (and particularly strong on the defensive glass) in 21 minutes with both Bass and Garnett on the floor on Saturday, and a minus-8 in 27 minutes with one of the two on the bench.
The Celtics weren’t very good defensively, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions, in 396 regular season minutes with Bass and Wilcox on the floor together. And the Garnett-Wilcox pair played just 73 minutes.
Rivers also wants to see a bigger role for Crawford. Amazingly, Crawford didn’t take a single shot in his 10:46 on Saturday. And it surely goes without saying that it was the first time in the gunner’s career that he’s played at least 10 minutes without taking a shot.
The Celtics probably don’t want to get to the point where Crawford’s shooting determines the outcome of any particular game, but he can help make the Knicks pay for double-teams on Pierce if he’s aggressive and looking to make plays for his teammates as well as himself. He can also take some of the ball-handling duties from Bradley.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: It was pick-a-wild-finish night in the NBA after the thrilling endings to Heat-Cavs, Celtics-Hornets and Thunder-Grizz. We liked the finishes of all three — how could you not like the frantic action in Cleveland? — but our pick goes to the grit-and-grind guys in Memphis. The mostly unappreciated (by non-League Pass fiends) Marc Gasol came up with a big bucket in OT to seal the win (although, if you’re an OKC fan, you might have thought there was a little push-off going on there) after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed to vanquish the Grizz time after time in the fourth quarter. Our guy Zach Randolph struggled (thanks to killer down-the-stretch defense from Nick Collison), but Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless provided some smart guard play to offset Z-Bo’s absence in what was a playoff-type game through and through.
Round of ‘H-O-R-S-E’ gets Lin going — Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with the Jazz in Houston, Jeremy Lin had been hot, averaging 16.7 ppg, 5.2 apg and shooting 52 percent. But he was a bit worn down from the season’s grind and Alicia Keys taking over the Toyota Center, Lin headed to a different court and played a few rounds of H-O-R-S-E with his brother, who was visiting him. The light-hearted game obviously helped as Lin torched Utah for 24 points and six assists (most of which coming out of the pick-and-roll) as Houston got a big win to help its playoff hopes. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:
With a day off and orders to clear his mind, Jeremy Lin took the opportunity to head to the gym.
He did change things up a bit. With Alicia Keys taking over Toyota Center, Lin found a different court and a few different teammates. But Lin’s idea of a day off included basketball.
“It’s therapeutic,” he said.
After Sunday’s 30-point loss to Golden State, he and the Rockets needed the therapy, so Lin spent a chunk of Monday launching jumpers and playing HORSE.
When the Rockets reconvened at Toyota Center on Wednesday, Lin spent the night as if still goofing with his brother and buddies far from the cameras and lights. He repeatedly pierced the Utah Jazz defense, helping to drive the Rockets to a 26-point lead. And when the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter, Lin knifed through them again, with one drive to a layup and another and a pass for a Chandler Parsons dunk that finally closed out the Jazz 100-93.
Lin made eight of nine shots in the paint as the Rockets went from launching 3-pointers to beating the Jazz at the rim, and from a series of slow starts to a rapid bolt from the opening tip that set the tone for the game.
“JLin made them pay,” Parsons said. “He’s a good player, especially in pick-and-roll. He’s fast. … He can get in the paint.”
“Jeremy really attacked the rim well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought that Jeremy made some big hoops coming down the stretch when we needed them. They were really intent on staying with James (Harden) in the second half and really not giving him a lot of room, so Jeremy really broke free. Jeremy kept turning the corner and got in the paint. We needed all of those.”
“Sometimes, when you do that, you get the feel of the joy of the game back in you again,” Lin said of his day off in the gym. “I went and shot. My little brother is in town. My buddy is here. We just went out and messed around, played some HORSE. But we didn’t get to finish because other people started playing. Everyone had S.”
Karl amazed by Nuggets’ revival — Nuggets coach George Karl is the man with whom former Denver star Carmelo Anthony experienced his greatest NBA successes as well as some of his biggest letdowns, particularly in the playoffs. It’s hard to believe, but it has been more than two years since Denver sent Anthony to New York for a package of players that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and others. At the time, it looked like the Nuggets were embracing a full-scale rebuild, but Karl has kept Denver competitive and, this season, the Nuggets are one of the Western Conference elite and sport a 13-game win streak. Karl talked with USA Today’s Sam Amick about the Nuggets rise, the post-’Melo era and more in a solid Q&A:
Q. So you having fun yet?
A. You know, in coaching you don’t ever really have that joyful fun, but there’s no question that it’s enjoyable. It’s winning. And when you win and you’ve lost, what, four games in 60 days or something like that, it’s nice not having the headache of that day of losing. In the NBA, you win, and you think you’re going to win tomorrow. But as soon as you lose, you don’t think you’re ever going to win again.
Q. Are you as surprised as most people are with how quickly your franchise recovered from the Anthony deal?
A. I definitely think that the speed that we’ve built ourselves back into being a contender in the Western Conference has surprised me. We have one player on the team that played with Melo. The Melo trade was, what, two years ago in February? And you have to remember that one of those years was a lockout year. So probably the team has only played together less than 100 games … And then you had the Nene trade last year. Nene was another piece that we changed up. That was kind of the final addition that “we’re going to go with young players.” During the year, we played Kosta (Koufos) and Timo (Timofey Mosgov) a lot more than we played Bird (Chris Andersen) and Nene. We turned it over to all the young guys. The team has evolved. It’s worked hard. It has stayed focused … My team even last year always thought they could play with the big boys. Now that they have the consistency to play an 82-game season together and show that they’re good enough, that’s what we’re doing this year.
Q. Has your longevity and success allowed you to have a wall up between you and the fires that coaches are always putting out or is that still always there?
A. I don’t think there’s any question that I don’t think young coaches can maybe take the risks that I take. But in the same sense, I think my staff and I work very hard on explaining what we’re doing. And we have no problem with a player wanting to play, and we have no problem answering a question of why you’re not playing — in fact we encourage it, we like it, we want players to want to play, we want them to be angry when they’re not playing, but we don’t want them to degrade the team or negate the team (with) a negative attitude during the game or during practice or in the locker room. Do that one on one with me, do that one on one with (general manager) Masai (Ujiri), do that one on one with my assistants, and let’s talk this through. I try to tell players all the time — I’m 61 years old. It’s not personal man. I mean this is not personal. I’m past the time when I’m making a personal decision. I’m making a basketball decision based on who is playing well, who is playing hard, and who is more focused and more disciplined on that given night.
Q. That record is good enough at this point to have your group be in the discussion about title contention. I know that’s not where your head is at this point, but how do you see this idea that this deep and balanced group can take it to that level?
A. My first step is to get this team to win in the first round. And then, once you win in the first round, there’s confidence. Coach (Tim) Grgurich (formerly a longtime Seattle SuperSonics and Denver assistant) have talked about how this team responds me a little of my first full year in Seattle (in 1992-93). I think we played Utah in the first round, beat them in a Game 5 in the first round. We were down 2-1 in that series, and could’ve lost in Utah in Game 4. But we won Game 4 — that made us grow up. We won Game 5 in a really crazy game. I think it’s actually a record, where in the same game we had the lowest scoring half and the highest scoring half for a SuperSonic basketball team (the Sonics scored 30 points in the first half and 70 in the second half) … And that whole momentum of learning to win in that series, and then we took Houston to a seven-game series and beat them in overtime (in Game 5). It was really one of those weird series, where we won at home easy and they won at home easy and Game 7 was an overtime game. We won that game, and then we play Phoenix and we’re growing up right in front of ourselves (the Sonics lost to the Suns in seven games in the Western Conference Finals). You could see the confidence happen.
Now can we do that this year with this group? I think we can. I hope we can. I really think we can. That’s where I want to put this team. I want to put them in that place, the best chance possible to win a first round (series), and then see where our confidence goes from there.
Teague steps up against Bucks — Milwaukee boasts one of the more explosive backcourt combinations in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, with Ellis hot of late after a 25-point fourth quarter that helped the Bucks to a comeback win over the Magic. Hawks guard Jeff Teague has quietly established himself as one of the more solid guards in the East and took the challenge of playing against Jennings and Ellis to heart on Wednesday night, particularly with playoff positioning between the Hawks and Bucks on the line. Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details just how Teague stepped it up against Milwaukee:
Teague finished with 27 points and 11 assists as the Hawks held off the Bucks 98-90 at Philips Arena in a key Eastern Conference game. It was one point shy of Teague’s season- and career-high point total.
The Hawks (38-30) won for the fourth time in five games and kept hold of the fifth spot in the conference playoff race.
Teague was challenged by Player Development Instructor Nick Van Exel at halftime to pick up his energy and play. The guard responded with 12 points in a decisive third quarter.
“C’mon,” is what Teague said Van Exel simply told him. “Me and him a little way we talk to each other. I knew what he meant.”
The Bucks (34-33) had a two-game win streak snapped. They lost for the ninth time in the past 10 games at Philips Arena. Jennings finished with 21 points but Ellis had just five. Larry Sanders had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks.
“Not letting them get in a rhythm,” Devin Harris said of the success against the guard combination. “Obviously, Jennings did that a little in the third and the fourth (quarters). We try to take away easy baskets. Don’t let them getting any open looks. They run a lot of stuff off each other and (Teague and I) are able to switch and keep them in front of us.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going with the game tied 18-18 after the first quarter. The Hawks shot 30 percent (6 of 20) and the Bucks shot 25 percent (8 of 32). The Hawks made 12 of 19 shots in the second quarter to push to the lead at intermission.
Ellis and Jennings combined to make just 2 of 14 shots for four points in the first two quarters.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” Teague said of the challenge of the Bucks’ duo. “I just go out and play. They are talented players. They do what they are supposed to do for their team. I just try to help my team.”
Shumpert scared by knee pop – The good news for the Knicks last night? Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup and New York romped past a downtrodden Magic squad. The (possible) bad news for the Knicks? Iman Shumpert heard a pop in his knee — the same knee he had surgery on and that caused him to miss much of the early part of the season. Howard Beck of The New York Times has more on Shumpert’s injury, which doesn’t sound serious and hopefully isn’t for a Knicks team that counts Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kurt Thomasamong its wounded:
The Knicks are still awaiting the return of Chandler, who is dealing with a bulging disk in his neck, and they are moving on without Kurt Thomas, who was lost this week to a broken foot that might end his season.
But the Knicks could not escape the night without another injury, this time to their youngest player. Iman Shumpert tweaked his left knee — the same one that was surgically repaired last spring — late in the first half. He was held out of the second half as a precaution.
Shumpert said he felt a pop in the knee while pushing off toward the rim. The medical staff later told him it was probably scar tissue.
“Last time I felt it pop, I was out eight months, so I was just a little nervous,” Shumpert said, referring to the torn ligaments he sustained last spring. “It scared me more than anything.”
Doctors will re-evaluate Shumpert on Thursday, but no tests are planned.
Kurt Thomas sounded much less optimistic than team officials about his potential return this season. Thomas has a stress reaction surrounding a stress fracture in his right foot. The Knicks are projecting a recovery of two to four weeks. But when Thomas was asked if he would play again, he said simply, “We’re going to see.” Asked if the chances were 50-50, he said, “I think that’s a good number.” Thomas confirmed that he initially sustained the stress fracture in 2006-7, when he played for the Phoenix Suns, and that it never completely healed. The injury was aggravated last Thursday in Portland.
Bynum has surgery, starts rehab soon — Andrew Bynum is done for the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his gimpy knees and our crew on the weekly Blogtable chimed in on exactly where Bynum would fit in best for 2013-14. While we all sit back and wonder where the former All-Star big man will end up and, if he’ll ever be an elite-level center again, Jason Wolfof The (Wilmington) News-Journal reports that Bynum is starting rehab work on his injury this Friday:
One-time All-Star center Andrew Bynum had arthroscopic knee surgeries Tuesday to remove debris from both joints and will begin physical therapy Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers announced.
The 7-foot, 300-pounder, who did not appear in a game this season because of bone and cartilage damage in his knees, will refrain from any weight-bearing activities for about three weeks and will spend an additional three weeks on crutches, according to the team.
Bynum’s longtime orthopedist, Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed the operations. The primary focus of the procedures was to clean out loose bodies from his knees in an attempt to alleviate pain and swelling.
Bynum, 25, was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee in September, a month after the Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster four-team trade in August. The Sixers nevertheless expected Bynum to be ready to play in the season opener, but as the season progressed, the team and player repeatedly delayed the date of his expected debut. Bynum was diagnosed with a “mirror issue” in his left knee in November, when a piece of cartilage broke loose and his joint swelled after going bowling.
HANG TIME, Texas — How far around the bend do you have to go before you’ve come full circle back to the NBA?
How far do you have to fall before you get desperate enough for any kind of a soft landing?
Delonte West, meet the Knicks.
Marc Berman of the New York Post notes there will be more than a couple of teams watching as West makes his debut in the NBA D-League tonight when the Texas Legends face the Santa Cruz Warriors, but the Knicks may certainly be the most interesting of the lot.
As the playoffs draw near and the team that started out the season like a house on fire continues to look like a burned-out wreckage, would the Knicks be ready to take a real gamble on the 29-year-old point guard with a history of trouble?
Nobody questions his talent as a capable backup quarterback. He’s been part of playoff teams in six of his eight NBA seasons. But West’s career has also been marked by off-court problems that hardly make him dependable. He was said to be ready to make his comeback with the Legends earlier this season, but backed out at the last minute. Now he probably sees that the D-League is his only chance at a return.
The Knicks could be equally as desperate at the point as Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni all have not measured up of late. After opening the season 18-5 back on Dec. 15, the Knicks are a thoroughly mediocre 20-20. They have lost three straight, four of five and 10 of their last 17 heading into Sunday’s game in L.A. against the Clippers. Having spent the first month-and-a-half titillating New Yorkers as the No. 1 seed, they are now far closer in the standings to the No. 8 seed and a first-round playoff matchup against Miami than to actually catching up to the streaking Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Knicks would have to make a roster cut, probably the injured Rasheed Wallace, to make room for West and they’re most likely not there yet.
But keep an eye on how the current five-game road trip ends — with a back-to-back in L.A. and Utah — and how West performs in the D-League. Desperation makes strange bedfellows.
HANG TIME, Texas — Stubborn is refusing to take the fashion hint that it’s not OK to wear that plaid shirt with those striped pants. Stubborn is not letting the guy in the next lane with his turn signal on get in front of you during rush hour.
The admission by Knicks coach Mike Woodson that he ignored a request by Carmelo Anthony to come out of the game against the Cavaliers would seem to go way beyond stubborn to that other word that begins with “st.”
In an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM, Woodson said that Anthony had asked to be removed from the game due to knee discomfort before suffering an injury in the second quarter.
Woodson decided to leave Anthony in the game and his leading man aggravated the right knee injury when he tripped without contact. Anthony went to the locker room with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter and did not return to the game, which the Knicks rallied from 22 points down to win.
Anthony officially has been diagnosed with a sore knee and is listed as questionable for tonight at Detroit and could miss Thursday’s high-profile showdown at Madison Square Garden against the Thunder.
“Melo was hurt,” Woodson said on The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show. “For him to ask me to come out of the game before he actually took that spill made me realize that something wasn’t right. He’s never ever, ever, even hinted about coming out of the game [before Monday]. I play him too much in that regard. Melo’s a trooper — he’s a warrior, he’s a tough kid.”
Asked why he chose to leave Anthony in the game after the request to come out, Woodson said: “I should have [taken him out]. Stubborn coach — I just didn’t.”
It is almost inconceivable that a head coach would blow off such a request from his star player, which has led some to speculate that perhaps Anthony was looking for a quick exit after an 0-for-4 first quarter and ultimately a 1-for-5 shooting performance that left him with a season-low six points.
But considering that Anthony could be on the shelf now for the next two games, that cover-up hardly seems likely.
There is also the matter of Woodson leaving Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for the final eight minutes on Sunday when Miami was making a comeback from 16 points down to beat the Knicks.
Woodson said after the game that he stuck with his lineup of Anthony, J.R. Smith, Jason, Kidd, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler because he liked the Chris Bosh-Chandler matchup when the Heat went small. But he has since changed his mind.
“Bad coaching,” Woodson said. “You can blame that on coach. Hey, you live and you learn. I learned from it.”
In the little over a month since Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert have returned from injuries, Woodson has handled his rotation like a one-armed juggler, grasping wildly at anything.
At a time when the Knicks should be gearing up for the playoffs with the confidence that comes from a solid identity, they have neither. That’s on the coach.