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Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Frank Vogel out as coach of Indiana Pacers

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Frank Vogel is out as coach of the Indiana Pacers, team president Larry Bird announced today.

Vogel’s contract expired, and Bird announced they would not be renewing Vogel’s contract.

“I just thought it was time for the guys to hear a new voice,” said Bird, who described Vogel as “the best” and “a great man.”

“My experience has been, good coaches leave after three years,” Bird said. “I played for Bill Fitch and I seen it happen first hand.”

“[Vogel] will do fine,” Bird added. “He’s looking forward to his next job, and… he’s the real deal.”

In just over five seasons as coach of the Pacers, Vogel compiled a regular season record of 250-181. Vogel became the coach of the Pacers midway through the 2010-11 season, serving as interim coach after Jim O’Brien was fired before being named permanent coach that summer.

Vogel led the Pacers to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, including trips to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014. The Pacers lost to the Miami Heat in both of their trips to the conference finals, and after their All-Star forward Paul George broke his leg playing for USA Basketball in the summer of 2014, the Pacers missed the playoffs last season. This season, with George back at full strength, the Pacers returned to the playoffs, losing a first round series to Toronto in seven games.

Pacers president Larry Bird has been vocal about wanting to see the Pacers improve offensively. This season, the Pacers averaged 102.2 points per game, good for 17th overall in the NBA. The Pacers’ offensive rating of 102.4 ranked them 23rd in the NBA.

Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters: ‘One guy can’t beat us’ | Carroll says Lowry must ‘man up’ now | Report: Celtics in pursuit of Butler | Hawks shell-shocked by barrage of 3s | Report: Bickerstaff pulls out of consideration for Rockets’ job | Vogel awaits fate today

No. 1: Waiters says Aldridge alone can’t be Thunder — The San Antonio Spurs are more than getting their money’s worth out of free-agent addition LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals. The newest Spur has been on fire in the series, averaging 39.5 points and shooting 75 percent in the first two games of the series. But to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters, the numbers that matter are 1 and 1. That’s the state of the series despite Aldridge’s heroics and, to Waiters, things are looking down for the Spurs as a team if Aldridge continues to sizzle. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:

“One man can’t beat you,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said Wednesday. “So we’re fine with that. If they want to continue to get out of their offense and throw the ball down there to him, we’re fine with that. One guy can’t beat us, no matter how much he scores.”

“We’ve just got to make adjustments, try to make it tough on him,” Waiters said. “He’s a great player in this league, an All-Star. He’s going to make shots. He’s playing tremendous right now. But we’re fine with one guy just beating us. We’re fine with that. At the end of the day, Serge [Ibaka] and Steven [Adams] got to continue to do what they’ve been doing, but guys are going to make shots in the NBA and as long as they’re not running the offense and dropping it down to them, we’re living with that.”

Aldridge was asked by reporters in San Antonio if he’s putting pressure on himself to not cool down after his two big games in the series.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m not trying to go do it [have a huge game],” he said. “You know, honestly, I didn’t think that I’d do it again after the first game. It’s just I’m going with the flow of the game out there.”

The Thunder primarily stuck with single coverage on Aldridge, with coach Billy Donovan saying they were mostly happy with the defense on the Spurs power forward. In the series, Aldridge is 17-of-26 on contested shots.

“We’re making him take the shots that we want, and he’s just making them,” Adams said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of bumming us out right now. … We’re making him take similar shots [as in the past] and he’s just making all of them. And it sucks.”

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Blogtable: Who made your All-NBA teams?

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


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Give me your All-NBA selections (first, second and third team).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Generally, my First Team is a reflection of my MVP ballot, which goes five deep. Doesn’t always synch up position-wise but this year it was close (I plugged in Drummond at center and had to put Chris Paul on my Second Team). I don’t agree with the gimmick deployed by a few voters who put Draymond Green as First Team center because of how he and Golden State do in his 15 minutes or so, on average, in the middle. If a guy played only 15 minutes, period, at a position, we’d never consider him All-NBA at that spot.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

There’s Green where he belongs, and Durant would have been sixth on my MVP ballot. I had Jordan on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot, so he’s an easy pick from a Top 6 team. What Lillard did in leading a brand-new group in Portland was, to me, no less impressive than the job Terry Stotts did coaching them up or Neil Olshey did in assembling them.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

A pair of Pauls at the forward spot, determined by Millsap’s underrated game along with George’s remarkable, reassuring return season. Cousins’ team didn’t make the playoffs, he’s a certified coach killer and he might not “get it” until it’s too late, but there’s no denying the talent. Thompson is a two-way sidekick to greatness who deals well with the shadow Curry casts. Lowry’s postseason hasn’t matched his regular season but then, the latter is what All-NBA status honors. Supremely talented James Harden? Nope. The way he ball-hogs, he’s unwatchable. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Leonard steamrolled onto the first team with his dominant play at both ends of the court. Green practically reinvented the center spot with his versatility. Westbrook was the king of triple-doubles. And do I really need to explain about Steph and LeBron?

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G:
 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Drummond stakes a claim for the traditional big man. George’s comeback to an elite level was inspirational and maybe is finest season. I still would take Paul as my point guard in one game with everything on the line. Lillard was no surprise on the surprising Blazers. And it’s almost sacrilegious to make K.D. a second-teamer.

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

Aldridge made steady progression into the perfect fit in San Antonio. Millsap is the heartbreak in Atlanta. Towns is the future. Thompson spends too much time in Curry’s shadow. And if Harden played just a little less defense — is that possible? — he might have slipped right off the map here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F:
 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

The only room for change would be putting Draymond Green at center and moving Drummond to second team. I considered that, before ultimately going the conventional route. Otherwise, the other four spots are pretty locked in.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Not too bad of a pair of forwards on the second team. And if CP3 can’t crack the first team, that says a lot about what kind of 2015-16 that Curry and Westbrook had.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought about George for second team and would have put him there if the dominoes fell once Draymond Green was first-team center. Either way, there is no way to overemphasis the importance of George’s season. The same could be said for Lillard as the foundation in play and personality of the new Blazers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I didn’t struggle with this one. Putting aside his team wrecking and coach killing attitude, Boogie was clearly the best center in the game, so he was judged purely on that. In fact, the entire first team is comprised of players who show ability on both ends or at least bring multiple skills, something that helps separate them from their peers.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

I’m tempted to put Draymond Green at center, but he played most of his minutes at power forward. I’m taking Chris Paul over Russell Westbrook, because he was just as important to his offense as Westbrook is, and was a much better defender. Center is obviously the weakest position and it’s difficult to find one that really deserves a first-team designation, but Jordan was a two-way force for a team that ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G: Russell Westbrook,
Oklahoma City Thunder
G:
 James Harden, Houston Rockets

The guards and forwards here are pretty straightforward. Green really deserves a first-team designation, but the forward position is just stacked. Harden’s defense was a disaster, but he carried such a huge load for a top-10 offense.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Bending the position designations a little bit, so that I can include Aldridge, George and Millsap. Aldridge was huge in the second half of the season for a team that won 67 games, George was the best player on both ends of the floor for a playoff team, and Millsap was an all-around stud for a top-four seed. Lowry and Thompson were pretty easy picks, though it was difficult to leave off Damian Lillard. He’s obviously a great player, and he emerged as a real locker-room leader this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite rumors of his demise, LeBron remains the most dominant all-around talent in the game, Leonard has emerged as the best two-way threat in basketball, Drummond’s a double-double machine. Curry had an otherworldly season and Westbrook morphed into a walking triple-double down the stretch of the season.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Green could have been on this team at two positions. Durant showed us this season that he’s all the way back from his injury hiccup. Jordan’s continued improvement (everywhere but the free throw line) is remarkable. Thompson is the best shooter in the world not named Curry and Paul was as valuable to his team as any player in basketball after Christmas.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Damian Lillard,
Portland Trail Blazers
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

George’s comeback from his nasty injury to two-way superstar is complete. Aldridge clearly made the right choice to leave Portland for San Antonio in free agency. Cousins, as much as it pains me to reward someone who causes as much drama as he does, is simply a force. Baby Dame put on a show this season and Lowry led the Raptors to the best season in franchise history.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Whiteside turned the Heat into the No. 7 team defensively. Paul (and Jordan) kept the Clippers in contention without Blake Griffin. My most difficult absences are James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins, whose tremendous statistical years were offset by their disappointing leadership.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Picking three centers was the toughest call for me. I know some people argued that Draymond Green could be an All-NBA center, but to me that’s not his primary position, and I think Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli would agree. So, DeAndre makes the cut, which I don’t mind because of his durability and defensive presence for a top-four team in the best conference.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeMarcus CousinsSacramento Kings
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

For the most part, I tried to reward winning with my selections. And then there’s DeMarcus Cousins. I thought about it a lot, but eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t entirely blame Cousins for the dysfunction in Sacramento, and his 26.9 and 11.5 per game were just too great to overlook.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought really hard about putting Andre Drummond in as my third-team center, but couldn’t justify saying someone is one of the three best at his position in the NBA when he can’t play at the end of games. The one player who I couldn’t find room for was James Harden, who is still an elite scorer but, at least to me, wasn’t one of the best six guards in the NBA this season.

Morning shootaround — May 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson dominating on glass again | Bird won’t commit to Vogel as coach | Warriors back Green’s star status | Batum wants to re-sign with Hornets

No. 1: Thompson breaking Hawks’ hearts again — Thanks in large part to a monstrous performance in the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson netted himself an $82 million payday last summer. His work on the offensive glass against opponents during that 2015 run was something to behold. He averaged 11 or more rebounds in every round from the semifinals on and in the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta, he averaged 4.3 offensive rebounds alone. As the Cavs took a 1-0 lead in their East semifinals series with Atlanta last night, Thompson was up to his old tricks writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

While LeBron James (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals), Kyrie Irving (21 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (17 points, 11 rebounds) occupied their regular starring roles against Atlanta, Thompson kept setting them up with opportunities to succeed.

“When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds, it’s just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of Thompson. “That’s what he’s done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is.”

Thompson let the basketball world know who he is last spring, filling in for the injured Love as the undermanned Cavs made it all the way to the Finals. He was particularly effective against Atlanta in last year’s conference finals — averaging 11.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series while racking up a plus-46 over the four games — and only continued that effort to begin the conference semifinals this year.

Atlanta, which led the league in defensive field goal percentage this season, is used to getting stops. But those stops become watered down if Thompson keeps generating possessions.

“If you help, then he’s active on the boards,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I know it’s more important that we make them miss first. That’s our priority and then we have to have all five guys in there competing, getting after it. Credit to him. He’s a good player. He plays off their penetration and shots well.”

Is it something about the Hawks that unleashes Thompson’s game?

“Every series is different,” Thompson said following the game as he shared the podium with James after adding eight points, two assists and two blocks to his rebound total. “Against the Hawks, in terms of [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford, we kind of weigh about the same amount, the same active bigs — for me it’s just staying with it on the glass.

“The first half I only had two offensive rebounds, but I’m just going to keep hitting the glass every possession, and as the fourth quarter, third quarter hits — that’s when I try to use my technique to be able to create second possessions for my teammates.”

Thompson, at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds, is indeed in the same size range as Horford (6-10, 245) and Millsap (6-8, 246), prompting teammate Richard Jefferson to suggest that Atlanta had “two Tristans” when previewing the series. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Jefferson was comparing two of the Hawks’ best players to someone considered to be a bit player for the Cavs.

“Just take the challenge,” Thompson said. “Horford and Millsap are both All-Stars and two terrific players, very good players in our league, so for me as a young guy I want to take advantage of an opportunity. I guess it’s extra motivation just because you’re playing against guys who are All-Stars and very talented. Just try to come with my hard hat and make it tough for them.”

James, who passed Michael Jordan in career postseason wins on Monday with 120, was asked if Thompson serves as the Dennis Rodman to his MJ as he sat beside him.

“I think what Dennis did for the Bulls — on the floor, make sure we note that part — Double T does for our team,” James said, referring to Thompson’s nickname.

While surely Rodman might have picked feather boa over Stetson as his flashy fashion choice, there weren’t rebounds just falling from the sky into his hands, either.

“Just giving us extra possessions, defending guys that are sometimes bigger than him, defending guys that are sometimes smaller than him,” James continued. “We know that every night he’s going to give us everything that he got, and a lot of it sometimes doesn’t show up in the box score. But what he does on the glass is huge for our team.”

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Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

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Can Pacers survive with George off the floor in Game 7?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Game 7 is when you leave it all on the floor. If you lose, you have all summer to rest.

In Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Indiana Pacers will need as many minutes from Paul George as he can give them. He’s their best player by a wide margin, their most important player on both ends of the floor. And they’ve been much better in this series with him in the game (plus-48 in 160 minutes) than with him on the bench (minus-33 in 59 minutes).

But part of the issue with the minutes when George is on the bench is who’s on the bench with him. About 10 of those 59 minutes that George has been on the bench have been garbage time (in four different games). But George Hill has been on the floor for less than five of the other 48 minutes that George has been on the bench. Monta Ellis has been on the floor for less than three of the 48.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has generally rested all three together early in the second and fourth quarters. The Pacers were a plus-4 with George off the floor in the second quarter of Friday’s Game 6 (with Hill subbing in midway through the 4:26 span), but those minutes have generally been terrible for the Pacers.

In 43 non-garbage-time minutes with Ellis, George and Hill all on the bench, the Pacers have been outscored 93-66, scoring less than 80 points per 100 possessions.

If Vogel were to stagger the minutes of his three starting perimeter players, he’d obviously get less time with all three on the floor. But those minutes haven’t been all that great for the Pacers. The Ellis-George-Hill trio is just a plus-1 in 164 minutes in the series and they’ve been their best with two of the three on the floor.

George won’t be able to play 48 minutes on Sunday. But the Pacers don’t have to be awful when he steps off the floor. The Raptors’ first two wins in this series weren’t close, but Game 5 was decided by three points and things really started to go downhill in those first four minutes of the fourth quarter, when George, Hill and Ellis were all on the bench.

This has been an erratic series and you never know what you’re going to get from either of these teams on any given night or in any given period. But Vogel can maximize his team’s chances of winning Game 7 by making sure he has another playmaker on the floor in those few minutes that his best player has to rest.

Morning shootaround — April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers look to finish off Clippers | Pacers’ George willing to play full game | Warriors’ depth getting it done | Drummond to shoot Barry style?

No. 1: Blazers look to close out series tonight — Months ago, when the 2015-16 season began, who would have thought the young, mostly-untested roster of the Portland Trail Blazers would be one win from the Western Conference semifinals? Granted, injuries to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul made life a little easier on Portland in their series with L.A. But nonetheless, the Blazers are on the cusp of their first Western Conference semifinals trip in two years and as John Canzano of The Oregonian writes, want to seal the deal in tonight’s Game 6 in Portland (10:30 ET, ESPN):

The Blazers defeated the Clippers 108-98 Wednesday night in Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, snatching a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. A Blazers win Friday night at the Moda Center would improbably secure them a second-round date with the Golden State Warriors and add a stunning twist to a surreal season.

As Griffin scooted off toward uncertainty, the Blazers pushed ahead toward inevitability. Doesn’t it feel like this series is over? Doesn’t it seem like the shorthanded Clippers need a miracle?

Fighting without injured stars Chris Paul and Griffin, the Clippers played inspiring basketball Wednesday, pushing the Blazers to the brink before Lillard went nuts in the fourth quarter. But the Blazers won their third consecutive game in the series and left Los Angeles fueled by momentum, optimism and purpose. They return to Portland aware they’re on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable, saying they remain the underdogs but sounding very much like the favorites.

“We want to close the series out,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home, and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.”

About 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent nearly eight minutes answering questions about his injured stars, his team’s bleak outlook and his long-term hopes for his hard-luck franchise. Near the end, a reporter asked Rivers who he leaned on during such trying moments, when it was hard to stop from growing discouraged.

This series was supposed to be emotional, as two budding rivals went toe-to-toe in what was expected to be the most competitive and alluring series of the first round in the West. But it wasn’t supposed to feature this kind of emotion.

A couple hours after tearing up, Rivers, who had said he was contemplating 10 different lineups, was forced to start Austin Rivers, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and DeAndre Jordan. The group had played just four minutes together all season.

Now the Blazers come home, leading 3-2, owning the unlikely opportunity to close out their series and continue their improbable season.

“Obviously we want to finish it off,” Ed Davis said. “We don’t want to come back (to Los Angeles). We’ve got to watch film, focus on us, stay in the moment and just be ready to play.”

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DeRozan once again under the microscope for Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The first round series between the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers has become a referendum on the value of DeMar DeRozan, and maybe even a determination of whether DeRozan will remain in Toronto beyond these playoffs.

The question of whether the Raptors should give DeRozan a big contract this summer or let him leave via free agency is one for another day. But it’s hard not to evaluate it as this series goes on and DeRozan’s career playoff *effective field goal percentage continues to hover below 40 percent.

* Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

DeRozan is not the only Raptors All-Star who has shot poorly through the first four games. Among the 33 players who have taken at least 50 shots in the playoffs through Monday, DeRozan (29.6 percent) ranks 33rd in effective field goal percentage and teammate Kyle Lowry (36.4 percent) ranks 32nd.

But Lowry contributes more than his scoring. He has more than twice as many assists (and secondary assists) than DeRozan in the series and provides better defense. Lowry is a plus-13 through four games, while DeRozan is a series-low minus-20. And after averaging 8.4 free throw attempts in the regular season (third most in the league), DeRozan has gone to the line just 15 times in four games.

The numbers tells us that mid-range shots are worse than 3-point shots, pull-up shots are worse than shots off the catch and contested shots are worse than uncontested shots. Kobe Bryant has long been the king of pull-up, contested, mid-range shots, and DeRozan has long been the prince.

According to SportVU, 34 of DeRozan’s 49 jump shots in the series have been contested and 35 have been pull-ups. Of his 71 total shots, 38 have been from mid-range.

He’s also a brutal 6-for-17 in the restricted area, with Pacers rookie Myles Turner doing a particularly good job of shutting DeRozan down at the rim. And really, if you were to list the reasons why DeRozan has shot 30 percent, “He’s been guarded by Paul George” and “the Pacers are a top-three defensive team” are Nos. 1 and 2.

But DeRozan has been unable to adapt or use the attention on him to make his teammates better. The Raptors are learning (for the third season in a row) that if you rely heavily on an inefficient, one-on-one scorer in the regular season, it could come back to bite you in the playoffs.

“Every time I’m coming off, there’s two to three guys there,” DeRozan said on Sunday. “They’re doing a great job of sitting in, bringing help, consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter. It’s just a thing of us figuring it out and using our teammates, get them going to get guys off of us.”

Toronto managed to win a game (Game 2) in which DeRozan shot 5-for-18 and didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and his nine trips to the line somewhat made up for his 7-for-19 performance in Game 3. But, while other other top-2 seeds are taking care of business, the Raptors are even with a team that won 11 fewer games and ranked 23rd offensively in the regular season.

Is DeRozan just a regular season star? He’s got at least two more games to prove otherwise. Game 5 is Tuesday (6 p.m. ET, TNT).

“You go through your ups and downs,” DeRozan said. “But it’s all about how you figure it out in a process to get out of that. If we do what we’re supposed to do, all of this will be erased.”

“We’re going to ride or die with DeMar and Kyle,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They haven’t shot the ball great, but again it’s still basketball. So we’re going to go with them. They’re our star players. They’re All-Stars for a reason.”

Morning shootaround — April 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors await word on Curry | Scott fulfills role in L.A. | DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ | Jackson: Penalize refs for blown calls

No. 1: Warriors await word on Curry’s MRI — After a regular season that set a new mark in NBA history (73 wins) and seemed to set a trail for another championship run, the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes may hinge on the news they receive later today. Star guard Stephen Curry took a spill in yesterday’s Game 4 win against the Houston Rockets and was diagnosed with a sprained right knee. He left the game and did not return and now, as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group writes, the Warriors wait with baited breath about what happens next:

A sprained right knee is the initial diagnosis for Curry after the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead by beating Houston 121-94 on Sunday. Warriors players, coaches and management fear worse news might come. Not solely because of what it would mean for the Warriors’ chances at another title. But also because they can’t stand that Curry has to go through this.

He had been fighting to return to action from a sprained right ankle. He wanted desperately to get back on the court with his guys after missing Games 2 and 3. His ankle looked fine Sunday as he changed directions suddenly to split defenders and drove inside the lane without hesitation.

He was clearly rusty. He shot 2 for 9, missing six of his seven 3-point attempts. He had five turnovers. But it seemed he was over the injury.

But just before the half, running back on defense, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court and lost his feet from under him, his legs awkwardly splitting as if he was just learning how to ice skate. He immediately grabbed his right knee then got up and limped hurriedly to the locker room.

We can guess what happened in that locker room. Curry fought to play. He demanded a chance to at least try. He probably knew his day was over. Maybe his series. Maybe his season. But his heart wouldn’t accept his brain’s understanding.

When Curry was told he couldn’t play before the start of the third quarter, he doubled over in tears in front of the Warriors bench. The frustration and disappointment was too much to bear. Coach Steve Kerr rubbed the back of his star player while Draymond Green barked instructions to his friend.

Every bone in Curry’s body wanted to play but his ligaments overruled them. His ailing right knee wasn’t going to allow him to play. His crushed spirit wouldn’t wait for the privacy of the locker room.

“Get out of here,” Green told Curry. “Don’t let them see you like this. Don’t let them see you cry. We will hold you down. We got this. We will win this for you.”

Last year, in Game 4 at Houston, Curry was flipped midair and landed on his head. He ended up returning to that game. He tried his best to do the same in Game 4 on Sunday.

He tried to gut out his sprained ankle in Game 1, talking team management and the athletic trainers into re-taping him and letting him play. But he could barely move on the court and Kerr sat him down.

And now — after all the rehab and pleading and praying — he was back in the same spot with a new injury. Hoping his sheer will was the ointment his knee needed. Pining for his competitive drive to put his ailing knee in its place.

Curry was the last Warrior to emerge from the locker room and immediately took a seat on the bench. He had a brace on his right knee and a depressed look on his face. He sat on the bench and stared before heading into the warmup fray and get a few shots up.

Before long, he was coming back to the bench, where Warriors head performance therapist Chelsea Lane gave him the bad news. Going back in was not an option.

But before Curry could head to the locker room and get treatment on his knee, he had to get some treatment on his heart. Because in that moment, he couldn’t take it.

“To see a guy like that, Steph go down,” Marreese Speights said. “He never gets emotional. He always keeps his composure. To see him like that, we felt his heart.”

***

No. 2:  Ultimately, Scott filed his role in Lakerland — As was first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by our David Aldridge and the team itself, Byron Scott is out as Los Angeles Lakers coach. While that move is likely met with some celebration by a large portion of Lakers fans, Scott’s time in Los Angeles was — in a unique sense — successful in that he did what he was asked to do for this era of the franchise. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has been around the team long enough to know exactly what the Scott era in L.A. was all about:

But the minute Kobe Bryant walked out of Staples Center for the last time, Scott’s services were no longer needed, his job essentially ceased to exist, he became an instant antique.

The Lakers really had no choice but to fire him, which they did on Sunday in a move that should come with a thank-you note.

They needed someone to guide the team through the turbulent end of the Bryant era, and Scott did exactly that.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.

Scott was hired to say goodbye to Bryant, and to rudely greet the future, and . . . to win? Seriously? Winning realistically was never part of the deal, and Lakers management even admitted as much earlier this season. It was decided that the team was going to cling to Bryant’s fading glow for as long as it lasted, celebrate that glow, bask in that glow, and everything else was shadows.

What did the Lakers expect? If they wanted only to win, two years ago they would have hired someone from outside the Lakers family who would not have flinched at benching Bryant for long stretches while he was statistically the worst player in the NBA. They would have hired someone who would have devised the entire offense around the three kids and played them big minutes and let them run the show without any concern for monitoring growing pains.

That’s not what they wanted. The old-school Scott was what they wanted. A buddy to Bryant and an unwavering tough guy with everyone else was what they wanted, and that’s what they got.

Now they’ve fired him for it, and, strangely, it all makes sense.

For the first time in years, the Lakers finally have the salary cap space to get dramatically better. For the first time in exactly 20 years, they can remodel the team with an entirely different culture.

This new world needs a new leader, and it couldn’t be Byron Scott.

He did his job, he lost his job. No apologies, no blame, era ended.

***

No. 3: Raptors’ DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ — During the regular season, Toronto Raptors All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both ranked in the top 15 in scoring. Through four games of these playoffs, neither player can claim such an honor as Lowry is 26th in scoring and DeRozan is 40th. The Indiana’s defensive length and gameplan has made life rough for Toronto’s stars and changes are likely in order for how they will attack the Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday night (6 ET, TNT). CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has more on the state of the Raptors:

Lowry was fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in the regular season, and he is 5-for-27 in the series. DeRozan was second in the NBA in free throws made, and he’s gone 11-for-15 in the series, failing to get to the line at all in the Raptors’ two losses.

“We just stink right now,” DeRozan said Sunday.

Lowry said that he simply has “got to shoot the shots better.” He has said similar things all series. If only it was that easy.

“Every time I’m coming off there are two or three guys there,” DeRozan said. “They are doing a great job of sitting in and bringing help consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that Indiana deserves credit, but Lowry and DeRozan have just not been at their best. When it comes to DeRozan, Casey said that a change in approach might be necessary.

“He may have to be a facilitator,” Casey said. “He’s our leading scorer, he’s gotta take the shots that are there, but in other situations, where they’re taking him out, he understand that [he has to] move the ball.”

Without calling out DeRozan specifically, Casey said that was not what happened in Saturday’s embarrassing 100-83 loss. He wants the Raptors to be more patient and purposeful.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people,” Casey said. “Everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side.”

DeRozan’s difficulties are particularly alarming. At his best, it looks like he can get 20 points in his sleep. Against Indiana, his typical smooth glides to the basket have largely been replaced by awkward, forced jumpers. The most obvious sign of his development is how comfortable he has become handling the ball, surveying the defense and making smart plays. The most obvious sign of his need for improvement is how he’s handled playoff pressure.

Over the years, DeRozan has often talked about the game slowing down for him. He studies film obsessively and has seen every type of defense imaginable. Against Paul George and the Pacers, though, he seems a beat or two behind. The same is true for Lowry, who is usually relentless with the ball but has had trouble finding openings to attack.

“Me and DeMar, we talked,” Lowry said. “They’re playing defense on us and rushing us into things, making us speed up our shots, and the shots that we normally take with patience, we’re taking a little bit — if it takes us 0.9 seconds to usually shoot ’em, we’re shooting them in 0.4.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not upset at how I’m playing,” Lowry said. “But I’ve got to be positive. At the end of the day my teammates bank on me to be positive and lead these guys, and that’s what I’m going to do no matter how I’m shooting the ball.”

After three games, it appeared that the Raptors had solved Indiana. After four, an upset once again feels possible. If Toronto can just take care of the ball and take advantage of it depth, Lowry and DeRozan don’t have to be superstars to advance to the second round. They just have to be more like themselves.

“We are not the players who we are in this league for no reason,” DeRozan said. “We all go through some type of lows in our career at some point. You can’t complain when the playoffs come. You can’t do that. You got to be able to take it on the chin and understand we got to figure it out.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks after Toronto’s practice on Sunday

***

No. 4: Pistons’ Jackson wants ‘consequences’ for referees — The Pistons’ playoff run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, but Detroit didn’t go down easy. Trailing 100-98 with 10 seconds left, the Pistons stopped the Cavs and got the ball in the hands of guard Reggie Jackson. He tried to work past Cavs guard Kyrie Irving but could not and took a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim. Afterward, Jackson was upset about what he believes was a missed call and sounded off on NBA officiating, writes Aaron McCann of MLive.com:

This series ended the same way it began, with the Detroit Pistons complaining about officiating.

This time it was Reggie Jackson’s turn.

The Pistons point guard missed a potential game-winning 3-point basket at the buzzer of Detroit’s 100-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrapping a four-game sweep for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but felt like a foul should have been called on Kyrie Irving.

“We got a stop with no timeouts, Kyrie decided to pick up early and prevent me from taking a good shot,” Jackson said. “I tried to find a good look, and, uh …”

That’s when Jackson let it rip.

Upset over a no-call, one that perhaps could have been called on a bump from Irving before Jackson pulled up from 26 feet, he said NBA officials need a system in place to hold them responsible.

“Fines, suspensions, being fired,” Jackson said. “The same thing that happens to us. Make bad plays or questionable (calls), you’re not really being productive to the sport. They should have consequences, just like the players. That’s about (all) I’m going to say on that.”

The Pistons trailed by one at half, erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit and stayed within grasp most of the way in the fourth.

But it like their previous three cracks at the Cavs, they could never get over the hump. A Jackson runner in the lane with 8:33 remaining pulled Detroit within a point – the closest it would get to extending the series another game.

“It pisses you off,” Jackson said. “To hear it’s not your time, not your moment, It can go one of two ways. When you think you’ve played well enough, you can take it as inside-outside sources. You all can take that for whatever you want to take it as.

“Those sources, it kind of seems like it’s not made for you to necessarily win. You’ve got to find a way to run through the wall – get over the hump.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the NBA after Game 1 for criticizing officials, said he’ll let the league weigh in.

The NBA reviews the final two minutes of all games decided by five points or fewer. A report is expected Monday.

“Or you guys can comment on that,” Van Gundy said. “You guys saw the game as much as I did. You’ve all got DVRs – you can watch and comment on it. You want me to comment on it so I can spend another $25,000.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has ‘no hesitation’ in giving All-Star center Andre Drummond a max contract extension this summer … Meet the Golden State Warriors’ oldest fan, a 106-year-old woman named “Sweetie” … Great story on the man who watches the body language of the Indiana Pacers … The Memphis Grizzlies kept on grinding to the bitter end … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is becoming a surprising clutch performer … For the record, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren’t interested in any kind of on-court dramatics … ICYMI, the Sioux Falls Skyforce are up 1-0 in the NBA D-League Finals …

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)


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