Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

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No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

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No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

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No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

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No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Morning Shootaround — April 20



VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ | Clips falter late | Pierce embraces villain role | Nowitzki savors playoff berth | Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity

No. 1: Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ – The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggle on Saturday night as they lost Game 1, and their home-court advantage, to the Atlanta Hawks 101-93. The demise of the Pacers can be directly linked to their diminished defense, which used to be the heart of their squad. The anchor of this defense, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, said after yesterday’s loss that he’s the “main culprit” for the team’s defensive failures. Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star has more from Hibbert:

Roy Hibbert was the player — more than any other on this roster — that Pacers coach Frank Vogel rooted his team’s smash-mouth identity around when he took command four seasons ago, dispatching a run-and-gun offense in favor of the inside-out game in which Hibbert could thrive. The Pacers would rule the paint, and Hibbert’s 7-2 frame would serve as their backbone.

It worked wonders for 3 1/2 seasons, and Hibbert’s ascent mirrored that of the team’s. While the Pacers became a championship contender, their All-Star center rose to a runaway pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

That, of course, feels like ages ago. Now, Hibbert is mired in his worst slump in years, one that’s pulled the Pacers into a 1-0 hole to an Atlanta Hawks squad quick to capitalize on the ever-disappearing big man Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Yes, the “What’s up with Roy Hibbert debate?” rages on.

The player Pacers fans grew to know over the past few seasons was, again, noticeably absent.

“I’m gonna keep working at it,” Hibbert said dourly after the game, his head down, his words sparse. “I’m gonna come in and keep doing what I do in practice, work on my hook and get in position down low. Hopefully when I’m called upon I can do it consistently.”

Do it consistently is everything he hasn’t done over the past two months. And he’s been even worse in the past two weeks: Since being benched versus Atlanta on April6, Hibbert has gone 7-of-37 (18.9percent) from the field for all of 17 points in five games.

Not the sort of play you want from a player raking in $14.2million this season.

“We’re an inside-out team,” Lance Stephenson said. “When Roy’s going, we’re great. We got to get everybody in the post going.”

“We just have to get certain guys under control as a team,” Hibbert said. “I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust.”

Indiana, meanwhile, was never able to garner consistent offensive production from Hibbert or David West, the tandem the Pacers can typically rely on to do the dirty work down low. What was supposed to be a significant Indiana advantage turned out, for one night at least, to be a draw.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint and the post,” said [David] West, who finished with eight points and battled foul trouble most of the night.

Hibbert’s offensive performance was all the more bizarre. After sinking a hook shot in the lane 43 seconds into the contest, Hibbert was nonexistent on that end of the floor for nearly three quarters.

***


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

No. 2: Clips falter late – The Los Angeles Clippers led the Golden State Warriors 103-102 with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. But they struggled in the closing minutes with turnovers by Darren Collison and Chris Paul proving to be too much to overcome as the Warriors won 109-105 to steal home-court advantage in the series. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more on the Clippers late-game struggle:

The moment was right in front of the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, there to be seized by two teams that have much disdain for each other.

When the time came to grab hold of that moment, when Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series hung in the balance, the Clippers failed.

“I don’t want to say it was the pressure of the playoffs. It was just the way the game went,” said J.J. Redick, who had 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, four for five from three-point range. “. . . We want to beat these guys. They want to beat us. And sometimes that leads to mental errors.”

On Saturday it also led to Blake Griffin playing only 19 minutes 14 seconds because of foul trouble.

Griffin eventually fouled out with 48.3 seconds left, less a minute after he’d tied the score at 105-105 on two free throws with 1:31 left.

He tried to give the Clippers the lead, but missed a layup and a follow tip-in try. Then Griffin fouled David Lee while trying to get another offensive rebound, his sixth, sending him to the bench with 16 points and three rebounds.

The Clippers didn’t score again.

“I kept putting myself in a hole and a bad situation fouling,” Griffin said. “I can’t say whether that affected other guys or not. It affected our team, obviously. Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job.”

With or without Griffin, the Clippers botched opportunity after opportunity.

Chris Paul finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But he had six turnovers, and missed two key free throws late in the game.

“I’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Paul said.

“We made too many mistakes to win the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you do that, you lose the game.”

The Clippers now have lost Game 1 of a playoff series six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

They lost the series each of previous five times that has happened.

“I told them going in, you would love to win all your home games,” Rivers said. “But if you don’t, you don’t. And you’ve got to win one on the road, maybe two on the road, to win the series. I’ve said that to them all year. You have to be prepared for all that. We have to win a game on the road now.”

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VIDEO: Postgame: Pierce and Williams

No. 3: Pierce embraces villain role – The Toronto Sun mocked the age of the Brooklyn Nets on the cover of their Saturday newspaper, saying Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are older than dinosaurs. This jab proved meaningless as Pierce led the Nets to a 94-87 victory over the Raptors, taking home-court away from their division rival. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News has more on Pierce’s willingness to play the role of villain:

Paul Pierce enjoys being the villain. He wears that hat well in opposing arenas, like a badge of dishonor.

So as he was leaving Air Canada Centre — after one of those clutch performances that justified GM Billy King making the trade last July — he motioned to the crowd to keep the boos flowing, taunting angry fans by throwing his headband into the seats, only to have it hurled back in his direction.

By the third time, though, the headband didn’t return.

“Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir.

This is why the Nets acquired Pierce — for clutch final moments in crazy, pivotal games, and for the attitude it requires to come out on top.

Dubbed a “Dinosaur” on the front page of the local Toronto paper because of his age, the 36-year-old Pierce buried the Raptors in Game 1 of the opening round, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of a wild 94-87 victory that started with a profane insult from Toronto’s GM and ended with a broken shot clock.

“Truth-asaurus Rex 1, Raptors 0,” Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game.

“(I’ve seen Pierce do that) countless times, man,” Garnett said. “I knew when he hit that three, I knew he was in a rhythm. And then the ball just found him and he was just classic ‘Truth.’ Epic.”

The 37-year-old Garnett was also called a “Dinosaur” on the Toronto Sun cover but had no hard feelings.

“It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball.”

.***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Spurs

No. 4: Nowitzki savors playoff berth – The Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game since they defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals to win their only NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki. After missing the playoffs last season, the 35-year-old Nowitzki realizes the importance of this playoff run as another one is not always guaranteed. The Associated Press reports on how Nowitzki plans to carry the load for the Mavericks in their opening round series against the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs:

The 7-foot Nowitzki — relatively new father and old hand in the postseason after missing it last year for the first time since 2000 — is just happy to be back in what he calls the big dance, a phrase he stole himself.

“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio against the Spurs, the defending Western Conference champions, who finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”

Nowitzki, 35, started his 16th season not really knowing where his likely Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off his first knee operation, a setback that had a lot to do with the end of Dallas’s 12-year playoff streak.

He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native Germany longer than usual during the off-season.

Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.

Sure enough, his scoring average rose for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked much as they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.

“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load, not only in scoring, but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”

The Mavericks’ president for basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, openly wondered whether Nowitzki had to do anything else for Dallas, then remembered whom he was talking about.

“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the [Roger] Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”

In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas’s football-leaning sports history. And Nowitzki’s contract will end when his 13th trip to the playoffs does, so the team’s owner, Mark Cuban, has to decide how much life is left in those legs.

One thing seems certain: Nowitzki will not play anywhere else.

“There’s a lot of guys who’ve been able to score,” Cuban said. “But it’s that mental toughness, competitive aspect, the type of person he is and the example that he sets, not just for basketball fans in North Texas and around the world, but for every future Maverick that walks into the clubhouse.”

Nowitzki has a new scoring sidekick in Monta Ellis. His 14th straight season of leading the Mavericks in scoring could be his last. Carlisle will always be trying to limit his minutes, and there’s no telling when the production will drop.

But it’s not very likely to be during the next couple of weeks, even if the Mavericks are swept in the first round.

“If I didn’t like to compete still, I might as well go home,” Nowitzki said. “That’s why I’m still playing, because I love to be out there trying to help my team win games.”

Nowitzki will certainly have a sense of familiarity in the playoff opener. It will be the sixth time he has seen Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has been there for all of them.

“He’s been everything,” Popovich said of Nowitzki. “He’s needed to rebound more, and he did. He’s had a myriad of shots that every year we see new things whether it’s his fadeaway or his drives or his spins, pump fakes.

“He worked himself into a position offensively where he’s impossible to guard. But he’s still pretty much the same thing.”

Even though nobody was sure where Nowitzki was headed when the season started.

***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Rockets

No. 5: Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity – Wesley Matthews path to the NBA, and the playoffs, has not been an easy one. But despite the struggle and doubters, Matthews has prevailed to become the starting shooting guard for the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Bruce Ely of The Oregonian reports on the Matthews’ story:

Wesley Matthews this week scanned a pack of reporters in Portland and named them, one by one.

“Wrote me off,” the Trail Blazers guard says. “Wrote me off … Wrote me off … wrote me off before I even got here.”

At various times, they said he was just a shooter. Not good enough to start. Overpaid.

“I know what’s out there. Shoot, Jesus had haters,” Matthews says. “I know I’m going to have doubters if Jesus can’t be loved all the way.”

To him, the perceived slights are like food, nourishing his hunger to be better, to prove he belongs, and on Sunday, there figures to be a feast before him when the Blazers open their best-of-seven playoff series in Houston.

The pregame buildup of doubts and slights might as well be a replay of his life. The “abandonment,” as he calls it, by his father. The conspiracy he and his mother swear existed to strip him of Wisconsin’s top high school basketball honor because he chose Marquette over Wisconsin. And that unnerving Christmas Eve phone call to his half-sister that was picked up by a sobbing aunt, who said 20-year old Tesa had died in her sleep.

Each time, Matthews has triumphed. He and his father are now “solid” and either talk or text daily. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball honor by having a historic state tournament performance. And he discovered Tesa had a newborn, and he has since developed a relationship with his niece.

“You are never going to be able to write me off. No matter how bad you may want to, no matter how much you think it will be better for me to be somewhere else, or doing something else, you are never going to write me off,” Matthews says. “Because here’s the thing about me:

“I’m going to find a way.”

He set career highs by averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and making 201 three-pointers, the second most in franchise history, and he did it with a steely stare and an I-told-you-so defiance. His persona is best captured in his Twitter staple, a message followed by the hashtag “worstbehavior.” Sometimes, he just tweets #worstbehavior.

“It’s almost like a no-mercy type thing,’’ Matthews explains. “Relentless. Going to give you everything I have, every single time. Love it or hate it, I’m giving you everything I got.’’

His mindset comes from years of practice, and years of mentoring from his mother, Pam Moore, who at Wisconsin became one of the most decorated track athletes in Big Ten history. She was a mix between a drill sergeant and principal, hounding Wesley about his practice habits and schoolwork.

There were simple rules: No C’s on report cards, no slacking in practice (she would watch from the stands in basketball and the car in soccer), and absolutely no losing. Period.

“My mom,’’ Matthews says flatly, “is tough as hell. And her mom is tough as hell.’’

Moore summed it up this way:

“We didn’t allow quit, we didn’t allow defeat,’’ Moore says. “It wasn’t acceptable. No one should beat you, and if they did, you would have to deal with me. I would be the one who determines if a kid is physically stronger or faster than you.’’

Moore says she was the mom in the stands coaching and yelling.

“Everybody knew my mouth,’’ Moore says with a chuckle.

And even today, in Madison, the competitive itch hasn’t left her. On the road, she says she can’t stand to follow, which has led to “my share” of speeding tickets.

“I don’t like driving behind people. I need to be ahead of people,’’ she says. “I still have a problem with that. I’m just a competitor.’’

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Matthews often asks to defend the toughest player, from Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry. And perhaps it’s no surprise he itches for the chance to have his number called for a chance at a last-second shot. He has been trained to win, and the only way you win is by going hard.

“My foot is rarely off the gas, and if it is, it’s always hovering over it,’’ Matthews says.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blake Griffin accidentally (?) dosed a Warriors’ fan with water after he fouled out. … Durant’s arms are long. … Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert … twice. … Robert Covington was named D-League Rookie of the Year after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. … The new buyers of the Milwaukee Bucks gave a lengthy interview in which they state their hope to follow the Spurs/Thunder model and have construction for a new arena begin within 12 months.

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Paul Pierce’s jumper with 51.5 seconds left against the Raptors silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd and secured the Nets’ victory. Pierce was mic’d up during the play, and had some interesting things to say after his clutch shot. 


VIDEO: Mic’d Up: Paul Pierce

Pacers’ funk deepens in Game 1 loss

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Pacers: Game 1

They got beat on it. They got booed on it. And at this point, they probably don’t even feel worthy of it.

That home court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that mattered so much to the Indiana Pacers that they staked their season on it – maybe even strained their season going after it – is gone. Gone, like those sad, bewildered fans leaving early Saturday into the Indianapolis night, their body language trudging up the stairs looking as defeated as the team on the floor.

So gone, that when the players and coaches show up tomorrow or the day after in search of answers in practice, they might find the locks have been changed.

The Pacers’ goal since the first day of training camp: Capture the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference so that, should they face the NBA’s two-time defending champions in a Game 7 with a trip to The Finals on the line, they would have it in their building, on their floor, in their comfort zone (35-6 there this season). Yet after their 101-93 loss to Atlanta, just about everything about that previous sentence – the quest and its context – is wrong.

This was Game 1. Of the first round. Against an opponent that won only 38 times in the regular season. And now the undermanned Hawks have seen to it that no one – not them, not any other postseason foe the Pacers may never actually see – has to win another game this spring at the BLFH. Three Atlanta victories at Philips Arena in the next five games and Indiana won’t make it to a Game 7, never mind the Game 7.

“It’s frustrating,” Pacers forward Paul George said in the interview room afterward. “But it’s one game. It’s a long series. That’s how we’ve got to a look at it. Take it game by game. Just got to prepare for the next one.”

Sorry, there is no “just” about this. And if the Pacers are as calm and focused on a few basketball Xs & Os as George and coach Frank Vogel made it seem in their postgame pressers, they’re going to find themselves in a most uncomfortable zone, their offseasons begun prematurely, wondering for an extra five or six weeks what went so wrong.

This has gone on too long, too unchecked to be fixed in a film session or in a walk-through. Whether the Pacers’ deepening funk started around the All-Star break (they’re an ordinary 16-15 since, counting Saturday) or a little later (12-14 since March 1), their denial of how bad it was getting – and the absence of any appropriately desperate measures to fix it – has left them no wiggle room whatsoever.

Years from now, NBA coaches could be using these 2014 Pacers to illustrate the age-old point that you can’t just flick a switch when the playoffs start: Either you go in with momentum or you go home sooner than expected.

Several key Pacers reportedly huddled up in the locker room after this one, but that’s stale at this point, too much been-there, done-that. What they needed – now, sure, but probably a month ago – was something far more drastic.

Here’s how Rick Fox, a member of the Lakers’ three-peat teams from 2000-2002, put it on NBA TV: “A little panic would look good on this team. I’m done listening to them try to convince us everything’s OK. That it’s just one game. They’ve been saying it’s one game for the last 30 games.

“There needs to be some panic here. That would create some urgency. Then they could actually accept what they’ve been doing. So they can wash it down and start to move toward something they once were. … They’re playing as if nothing is really seriously wrong.”

There were some seams showing after this latest, most glaring embarrassment. Roy Hibbert, Indiana’s 7-foot-2 rim protector who had his own shots blocked twice by 6-foot-7 Kyle Korver, sounded a little petulant when wondering if maybe he is the problem against Atlanta’s “stretch 5″ offense, with center Pero Antic pulled out to 3-point range and the floor spread for shifty point guard Jeff Teague.

Curiously, George talked about a stretch in the third quarter when he left the floor for quickie treatment on a bruised thigh. Indiana had closed to 60-58 when he subbed out, and by the time George came back from the trainers room, it was 71-58, headed eventually to 20-point ugliness.

“I checked out,” George said, when asked about the Hawks’ 30-16 edge in that quarter. “I don’t know what happened.”

So much for looking “into their souls,” as analyst Hubie Brown said from his courtside post in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder were flexing a more lively homecourt advantage over Memphis.

As disappointed as Indiana fans are with the Pacers, as much grief as that team is getting from critics both locally and nationally, the ones who really ought to be ticked at them are the Hawks. As well as Atlanta played – solid work on the boards, far more hustle for loose balls, more aggression overall – this game wound up being defined by Indiana’s failures, not their success.

And then George patronized them a little when he said, “They played as good as they can play.”

The question of the moment is, how would George know that about any team? Certainly not from looking around his own dressing room.

Analytics Art: Playoff team comparison

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

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

NBA playoff team wins

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

Numbers preview: Pacers-Hawks

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague talks about the Hawks clinching a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Atlanta Hawks are the only playoff team that finished below .500. The Indiana Pacers basically led the Eastern Conference from start to finish. So there shouldn’t be much intrigue in this 1-8 series.

But the Pacers been rather mediocre over the last two months, struggling on both ends of the floor against good teams. And the Hawks have played Indiana rather well. In fact, no Eastern Conference team has scored more efficiently against the league’s No. 1 defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Hawks-Pacers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Indiana Pacers (56-26)

Pace: 94.9 (20)
OffRtg: 101.5 (22)
DefRtg: 96.7 (1)
NetRtg: +4.8 (7)

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

Pacers notes:

Atlanta Hawks (38-44)

Pace: 96.9 (13)
OffRtg: 103.4 (15)
DefRtg: 104.1 (14)
NetRtg: -0.7 (18)

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

Hawks notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 at each location)
Pace: 94.1
IND OffRtg: 97.3 (29th vs. ATL)
ATL OffRtg: 104.6 (4th vs. IND)

Matchup notes:

Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Vogel’s gamble pays off | Casey unhappy with Raptors’ defense | Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in Draft | Cavs look ahead to next season

No. 1: Vogel’s gamble plays off for Pacers — The NBA world was abuzz yesterday afternoon after word came that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was benching his entire starting five of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert to give them some rest against the Bucks. Milwaukee gave Indiana quite a fight, but thanks to a late shot from little-used reserve Chris Copeland, the Pacers took home the win. That, coupled with Miami’s loss in Memphis last night, gave Indiana the No. 1 spot in the East again and may have proven Vogel’s move to be worthwhile. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indiana and has more on the game:

This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”


VIDEO: Pacers score a close win in Milwaukee

***

No. 2: Casey fretting over Raptors’ defense — No team has been more of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season than the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The team is just one win away from both clinching the franchise’s second-ever division crown and also tying the record for wins in a season. Despite all the good feelings of the season, though, coach Dwane Casey is a bit concerned about Toronto’s defense as it barrels toward the playoffs. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

They are a game away from matching two historic moments in franchise history; a win away from a division title, a victory away from equalling the win total of the best Raptors team ever — and the anticipation is building all around them.

But having watched his team scuffle through another bad defensive night against a vastly inferior opponent, coach Dwane Casey is more worried than celebratory.

“My whole goal now is to get better defensively going into the next couple of weeks because if we don’t, it’s going to be a short ride,” Casey said after the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-114 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Toronto’s second straight stinky defensive performance.

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said.

“It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.”


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey discusses the team’s win over the Sixers

***

No. 3: Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in the Draft — As a former longtime assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers first-year coach Brett Brown knows how drafting a go-to superstar can shape a franchise. He saw what Tim Duncan has done for the Spurs over the years and now that he’s leading his own crew, Brown knows that Philly needs a star in the 2014 Draft if it hopes to keep its rebuild project moving along quickly and smoothly. He talked with Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier-Times about that, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and more:

“I think it’s important,” Brown said during a 10-minute interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I think it’s really important.

“Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael (Carter-Williams) or what you can project Nerlens (Noel) out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

The Sixers, who are likely to finish with the second-worst record, would have a 19.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick and a 55.8 percent chance to choose in the top three. They also own five second-round selections.

One potential top-three pick, talented Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, who said he might come back to school after an early NCAA tournament exit, has arranged housing for his sophomore year, according to a Duke source. While that doesn’t mean he’ll stay, it shows he’s seriously considering remaining a Blue Devil for another season.

Brown is eager to see rookie center Noel, who sat out the year as he recovered from a torn ACL, play one of the Sixers’ two summer leagues. Noel and Carter-Williams won an AAU national title as members of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC).

The Sixers acquired Noel with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft from the Holiday deal and Carter-Williams went No. 11.

“They have had such a great history together in their Boston AAU days,” said Brown, a Maine native. “I can see how they have a bond, a connection, a relationship. Those things are priceless.

“I think it’s ‘hoop karma.’ To get two young players that are used to playing with each other at such a young age as our first-round draft picks last year and my own experiences in Boston — maybe something’s aligned where we can pull off something special together.”

Brown is adamant that Carter-Williams, who leads all first-year players in scoring (16.7 points), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.9), should become the Sixers’ first NBA Rookie of the Year since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

“Absolutely zero (doubt in my mind),” Brown said. “And forget my opinion — look at his game and look at the stats. You can easily say — some people will — it’s because he played on a poor team or he played with the fastest (offensive) pace in the league or he got 34 minutes a night to do his thing. Those are true facts.

“But when you go a layer deeper and you say look at his game. Look at what he actually does. Project him out.”

***

No. 4: Cavs try to look forward to next season — The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to make a big splash in the offseason, signing center Andrew Bynum, guard Jarrett Jack and swingman Earl Clark months after drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. The thinking was adding those pieces to a core that included All-Star Kyrie Irving and budding frontcourt player Tristan Thompson would equal a playoff berth. The exact opposite happened as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate, dealt with Bynum drama mid-season, fired its GM and, in short, failed to live up to every expectation. The Cavs’ playoff hopes officially ended last night and as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes, being home for the playoffs stings a little more this time for the Cavs:

It seemed almost poetic in this season of uncertainty that one of the Cavs’ finest performances would be tarnished by their ultimate demise.The offensive efficiency was brilliant Wednesday, the ball movement was electric and the outcome was emphatic. Only none of it matters anymore, since the Cavs’ 122-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons was washed away 36 minutes later by the Atlanta Hawks’ victory over the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs from postseason contention with exactly one week left in the season.

“It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable.”

“That type of basketball, the stuff we saw out there tonight, that’s the way we want to play most of the time,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve played that way quite a bit. We’ve taken our lumps at times, but our guys have gotten better and it shows.”

Only it all came too late to save their postseason lives.

The Cavs will be haunted this summer by their 4-12 November that included losses to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. They lost twice to the Boston Celtics and were embarrassed at home by the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers.

Those are the types of losses that ultimately will deny the Cavs their first trip to the postseason in four years.

“One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” Brown said. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes on. You wish you had some of those games back so we could experience playing past April.”

The Cavs were mathematically eliminated from the postseason before March concluded last season, and while a huge assist for their extension this season is the woeful Eastern Conference, the fact remains the Cavs played meaningful games in April and remained in the hunt until exactly one week remained.

That is progress from a team that won only 24 games last season …

“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Brown said. “We have to keep understanding that every time we step out we have to grow and get better. … There will be times we’re going to take some steps backwards, but hopefully we don’t take too many steps backward these last few weeks of the season.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about the win and missing out on the playoffs

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls are reportedly close to signing former reserves Mike James and Lou Amundson to deals … Pau Gasol confirms it is unlikely he’ll play again for the Lakers this season … NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees ads on jerseys as both a “viable” source of revenue and an “inevitable” thing … The Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks about his ex-high school teammate Derrick Gordon, the UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay … Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman knew that Bulls center Joakim Noah was primed for a big game last night … Aaron Brooks has enjoyed his time in Denver and wouldn’t mind re-signing with the team

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson is one of the better finishers around the rim in the NBA, but Ronny Turiaf of the Wolves was having none of that last night … 


VIDEO: Ronny Turiaf gets up to deny Taj Gibson’s dunk … and his follow-up attempts

 

 

Panic button pays off for Pacers

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Copeland’s last-gasp shot lifts Pacers over Bucks

MILWAUKEE – By the end of the night, the players and coaches of the Indiana Pacers could look you in the eye, smile ever so slightly and shrug, “What?”

As if it was the most natural thing in the world to play an NBA game that still mattered – the top seed in the Eastern Conference bracket still TBD – with all five starters healthy but banished to the bench.

But nobody was fooling anybody. This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.

After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

If you asked Vogel in February or March about his starters’ workload, the answer was the same: None of the Pacers was averaging more than a tick beyond 30 minutes a game. They were healthy, young and they could handle it.

Until, that is, they couldn’t. It took five losses in their six most recent games, eight in their last 11, a 20-18 record since Jan. 20 and a 23-point first half against Atlanta on Sunday to push Vogel to the unusual and non-guaranteed homeopathic remedy of enforcing a day off.

That loss at home to the Hawks had been “disturbing,” Vogel said 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday against the bottom-feeding Bucks. What he was doing was a “dramatic move,” primarily to give the starters a breather but also to rattle the backups’ cage a little.

It could have backfired massively, losing to the team with the league’s worst record, “sacrificing” a winnable game while ceding even more ground to the Miami Heat in the East. But it did not.

By the end of the night, after Chris Copeland‘s drive to the rim with 1.2 seconds left won it, 104-102, after everyone in the Indiana dressing room exhaled and after the Memphis Grizzlies put down Miami 107-102, the Pacers could pinch themselves over this:

1. Indiana, 54-25, .684
2. Miami, 53-25, .679

They were headed to south Florida next, a 2-1 lead in the series already, with a chance Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) to pretty much seal the deal. After so much gnashing of teeth over their tumble – in the standings, yes, but also in confidence, trust and other team qualities – the Pacers were able to act like they knew this outcome was coming all along.


VIDEO: The Pacers discuss their thrilling win in Milwaukee

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

The Pacers’ All-Subs put up good numbers against a Milwaukee team down to eight players itself through injuries and the start of Larry Sanders‘ five-game suspension (drug-policy violation). Luis Scola scored a season-high 24 points with nine rebounds, flourishing like he seldom has off Indiana’s bench this season. Same thing with Evan Turner, the trade-deadline acquisition who had to be feeling Philadelphia after logging more than 41 minutes, jacking 18 shots and finishing with 23 points, nine assists and seven boards.

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

It just could be that the Pacers are more ground down because their key guys haven’t had significant injuries.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen any guys ailing,” Copeland said, “but I know they needed a rest, because it’s a grueling season. A lot of ‘em are playing through a lot of things. You look at David West, he’s playing with Rocky’s glove, y’know? That shows the type of guys we’ve got. Nobody’s complaining about playing with injuries, but trust me – all five who sat out have something going on.”

Hibbert, in a robin’s egg blue sport coat and tan slacks, was officially listed as inactive because someone had to be. The other four watched in game gear but budged only to root, clap and mill around on the fringe of timeout huddles.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”

Nothing’s guaranteed now, either, except a big dose of irony: The Pacers’ staked out that No. 1 seed as a goal back in training camp so they wouldn’t have to win a big game in Miami come springtime. Now, in order to actually claim it, they have to win a big game in Miami come springtime.

Blogtable: Finding a new playoff gear

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson talks about Charlotte’s hopes for a long playoff run

Which playoff-bound teams (give me two or three) will play up to another level in the grind of the playoffs? Who will have trouble playing as well as they are now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I start with the second question (ever notice how most respondents do?): Phoenix and Washington could suffer most from the just-happy-to-be-there approach, the Suns overachieving their way in (if they get in) and Washington desperate to qualify but with no real postseason experience. Atlanta figures to be a quick out but then, the Hawks haven’t played all that well anyway. Shifting into a better gear? Charlotte’s defense is suited to the playoffs and, if the Bobcats face the sideways Pacers, that could get interesting. Chicago always is a team to avoid, but that’s just the way the Bulls grind all the time, not due to any next level. I’d add Golden State, because their coach will feel urgency and the Warriors’ offense can get so dangerously hot.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Clippers will rise. The Pacers, Raptors, Nets, Blazers will drop. Why? It’s pretty self-explanatory. The first five teams look like legit contenders while the latter four are not ready for the grind of the playoffs for one reason or another. In particular, the Pacers look like they’re ready to crater.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com:Oklahoma City has fought through Russell Westbrook‘s situation and injuries to two starters in the final quarter of the season, plus acclimating Caron Butler, so put the Thunder at the top of the list for teams that will play up. It seems weird to put Miami in this category, but the Heat have been coasting. They know what’s at stake starting April 19. Also give me Brooklyn’s vets. On the other side, I expect Dallas, if it gets in, will have trouble reaching another level. And, Toronto, with relatively little playoff experience, could be in for an early disappointment — especially with potential first-round foe Washington expecting Nene‘s return.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Heat will play up to another level. They can read a calendar as well as anyone. All that talk about the fatigue from carrying the trophy overhead for so many years? Ignore it. This will be the playoff Heat. Maybe someone beats Miami, but the Heat aren’t handing anything over. And the Thunder will play up to another level. Westbrook will be playing big minutes and won’t have to worry about back-to-backs, Kendrick Perkins should have his minutes up and Thabo Sefolosha will have been back about a week and a half and in a good rhythm.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll always look at defense to answer a question like this. The Warriors have gone through some controversy and have seemingly been treading water around the No. 6 seed for a while, but they’ve been the best defensive team in the Western Conference, with top-flight defenders on the perimeter (Andre Iguodala) and the interior (Andrew Bogut). That’s a formula for playoff success. For the same reasons, Chicago and Charlotte will be tough outs. Oklahoma City has had some defensive issues of late and could be in trouble if they match up with Phoenix, because no team has been more efficient against the Thunder this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Brooklyn Nets look like one of those teams you don’t want to tussle with in the playoffs. The same goes for the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have endured their fair share of troubles at some point this season and yet all three seem to have another gear they can get to in the postseason. I love what the Toronto Raptors are doing right now but I wonder if they’re ready for what coach Dwane Casey knows awaits them in the playoffs. They have put together a fantastic season that should be highlighted by an Atlantic Division crown. What comes after that, however, is the problem. A potential first-round matchup against either Washington or Charlotte could be a rough ride.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Waaaay back in October I was high on the Clippers and the Nets. And while Rick Fox and Sekou Smith may have made fun of me on the Hang Time Podcast for going all in on those teams, I’ve always felt that these were teams that would improve as the season went along, and I think they both have done exactly that. In the postseason, Chris Paul has always turned things up a notch, and now he has the players around him to be as dangerous as he’s ever been. And we’ve all seen how Brooklyn can handle Miami, so I think they’re in as good a place as they could be.

Morning Shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers to rest starters down stretch | Nowitzki now a top 10 all-time scorer | Nash’s hits milestone, but will he play again? | Kupchack won’t consult Kobe on D’Antoni | Noel says knee is ’100 percent’ healthy

No. 1: Pacers to rest starters down stretch — In Sunday’s eventual blowout loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel decided to bench/rest All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the second half to give him rest. Could more of the same be in store for Indiana’s other starters as the season winds down? It seems so, writes Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star, who reports that Vogel is more interested in the Pacers playing well than he is in their chase with the Miami Heat for the East’s No. 1 seed:

In an unusual turn of events, Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave his starting unit their second consecutive day off Tuesday, and said after practice he will continue resting some of them during the team’s final four regular season games.

“I think rest and healing up is part of the solution,” Vogel said. “It’s not the whole solution, but it’s part of it.”

The only Pacers’ starter at practice was recently-benched Roy Hibbert, who watched in street clothes from the sideline. He did not speak to the media following practice.

Vogel, long a proponent of the team’s stated goal – to earn the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and gain home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs – sounded more like a coach focused on healing his roster in the final week of the regular season than finishing with a better record than the Miami Heat.

He was asked if his team has ceded the No. 1 seed to Miami, which leads the Pacers by a full game heading into Indiana’s date in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“No,” Vogel said. “We’re two games back right now. Obviously it was a goal, it is a goal of ours, but at this point, playing well is our top priority. Part of that is being fresh going into the playoffs.

“We feel good if we have the No. 2 seed, and we still feel we can attain the goals we have.”

Vogel added that he will rest some of his starters over the regular season’s final stretch, and did not commit to starting Hibbert (or any of them) on Wednesday.

More than one starter – including Paul George and David West – came to him recently and asked for some additional rest down the stretch.

“A couple of them said they think that would help,” Vogel said. “They said it in a very positive way. (Our) group came in very encouraged after the other night.”

***

No. 2: Nowitzki passes ‘Big O’ for No. 10 on all-time scoring list — Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has been toiling as a top-flight scorer in the NBA for the last 14 or so seasons. With each game — and each solid scoring performance — he’s climbed the all-time scoring charts and, last night, reached another milestone in his future Hall of Fame career. He’s now the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history after passing Oscar “Big O” Robertson last night with a free-throw line extended jump shot. Our Jeff Caplan details Dirk’s magical moment:

Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-21) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki runs wild against the Jazz in Salt Lake City

***

No. 3: Nash has milestone moment, but is career nearing end? — With a nice little dish to streaking teammate Jodie Meeks off a Houston Rockets turnover last night, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time assists list. That dime further bolstered Nash’s already rock-solid Hall of Fame career and provided a bright spot in what has been a disappointing rebuild of a season in Lakerland. However, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin points out: could this game be not only Nash’s last one this season, but of his career?

With his fifth assist of the night coming on a lead pass to Jodie Meeks for a fast-break dunk with 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, Nash moved past Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list, giving him 10,335 for his career.

Nash was subbed out of the game a minute later, and the 18-year veteran received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter acknowledged the achievement.

It could very well be the last time the former two-time MVP is on the court this season — or perhaps in his career.

Nash finished with three points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in the Lakers’ 145-130 loss to the Rockets and did not play in the second half after suffering what he described as a “bite” in his hamstring when he tried to “open up and sprint” early in the game.

“Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won’t play again [this season],” Nash said after the game. “But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I’d love to play again. But again, a big goal for me was to not go into the summer injured, and the fact that I had a setback today is kind of frustrating. But hopefully it’s something that I can work through quickly here, and if I work through quick enough, I’d love to play again. But it’s probably doubtful.”

Nash was playing in just his 15th game of the season after being sidelined for extensive periods because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million, but Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expressed doubt regarding Nash’s chances of returning for a 19th season.

“It’s too bad everything comes to an end, and he’s had a great career,” D’Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt “lucky” to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.

“It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight,” D’Antoni added.

D’Antoni would not definitively draw the curtain on Nash’s career, however.

“I don’t think anybody, they can’t tell that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll try, I’m sure. A lot of it’s mentally, whether he can do it mentally, because it’s going to take a lot, a lot of work and some luck and then the franchise and the management and Steve will sit down and they’ll make that determination.”

When asked whether Nash displayed any emotion in the locker room as if it were his last game, D’Antoni said, “I don’t think he’s there yet at all.”

After accomplishing the mark, Nash reflected on his journey through the sport of basketball.

“All of this is beyond my imagination and wildest dreams,” Nash said. “So to be able to share that end of the assist ladder with some players that I looked up to and emulated, and to be in their company, is phenomenal. I don’t play for the records. I play because I love to play, I love to play and be a part of a team. But I guess it’s something that maybe one day I’ll appreciate, all hours I spent, all the extra hours I spent trying to get better.”

Nash was almost unable to play long enough to set the record Tuesday.

“He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring’s on fire,” D’Antoni said. “And then I go, ‘Well, you want out?’ And he goes, ‘If I come out, I might never go back in.’ So, I go, ‘Well, OK, so it’s either the record or we’ll carry you off the floor.’ And that’s kind of the way it went.”


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses Steve Nash’s accomplishment last night

***

No. 4: Kupchak won’t consult with Kobe on D’Antoni’s future — The recent state of the Lakers in the Western Conference hierarchy has given their fans reason to question the front office at times. But those in power in Lakerland are apparently happy with the job that GM Mitch Kupchack has done over the years and agreed to a multi-year extension with him yesterday. As Kupchack and the rest of the Lakers’ brass attempt to lead L.A. out of this rare dark period, many decisions must be made. One of those revolves around what to do with coach Mike D’Antoni, who may or may not have star Kobe Bryant‘s full support. Kupchack, however, told USA Today‘s Sam Amick that Kobe’s view on D’Antoni won’t shape what the Lakers choose to do with the coach:

On the night that news of his multiyear extension was first reported by ESPN, Kupchak sat down for an extensive interview with USA TODAY Sports to discuss the storied franchise and its uncertain future.He may not be different, but he fully expects the current climate to change over time. Yet as he knows as much as anyone, it’s just a matter of how long it might take.

Q: Your fans are going through culture shock right now. They’ve had a good run, but this generation hasn’t seen a season like this.

A: Well, I don’t know how you define ‘generation.’ I guess you could say that, but 10 years ago we had a year like this. But we haven’t had a year like this in the last six or seven years, that’s for sure. But we’ve had a bunch of years like this since I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’81, and there were three or four years in the early ’90s, and then we had that year in ’04. But we haven’t had a year like this in eight or nine years, that’s true.

Q: So that being said, Mitch, what’s your outlook? Is it a situation where you have that experience from the past and you’ll apply it here and move forward with confidence that this too shall pass, or where is your head at?

A: I’m confident that over time, that we’re going to be able to assemble a team that’s competitive, fun to watch. The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it’s a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don’t change. Now the collective bargaining agreement changed considerably (after the 2011 lockout) the playing field. That’s just the way the owners wanted it, and as a manager all we’ve ever said is just give us the rules and we’ll play with the rules. But for example, when we signed Shaquille O’Neal (in 1996), Orlando made an offer and we topped it, and then Orlando topped it, and then we traded two players and got more cap room and then we topped it. They could have topped our offer and they chose not to.

So it could have kept going back and forth because there was no max salary, and there was no home-team advantage — 7½ percent (annual) raises versus four (percent), a five-year deal versus a four-year deal, those rules didn’t exist (the current CBA gives the incumbent team this edge). So the playing field is considerably different. But having said all that, our advantages remain the same. And considering where a lot of teams have ended up in this kind of position, we have a lot of flexibility going forward. We don’t have a lot of players that are good players but not great players who are on long-term deals. Those kinds of contracts can sometimes bury an organization for four or five years. Going forward it’s pretty clean, so it’s up to us to use that money wisely. We are going to have a good (draft) pick this year, so those are the advantages that we have. The short answer is that yes, I’m hoping to be very competitive in a year or two, but the key really is over time.

Q: So on my short list of things to get clarity on is the dynamic between management and Kobe. You guys give him the extension, and I think the question a lot of people have now is that — because of what he has done for the organization, because of what you think he can do in the next couple of years — you do the extension but maybe Kobe doesn’t still have the same voice that he had in the past and now it’s time for the bosses to be the bosses. He’s the one pressing the agenda, saying he’s not going to wait and be patient (during a rebuild).

A: Not really.

Q: You don’t think so?

A: He had that one outburst, but I think he got caught up in all the sensation of the moment — is Phil going to stay or is he going to go? He wants the same thing we want, which is to win as much as possible as soon as possible. I meet with him. (It’s) not on a regular basis, but in the last two or three months we have met several times, and he gets it.

Q: Is that the norm or is that more than normal?

A: Well, it’s more than normal because he’s more available. He’s hurt. I see him in the locker room, we talk. So that’s all that was. That’s all it was.

Q: Will he factor in on the decision about Mike?

A: We will not consult with him. No, we won’t consult with him.

Q: Because when he was asked about Mike last week, the perception was that he didn’t go to bat for him publicly. That started the storyline of “Well, Mike’s not coming back because it doesn’t seem like Kobe wants him back.”

A: We won’t consult with him. Our decisions going forward — we’re not going to do knee-jerk stuff. We’ll let the season end, and take some time. We’ve got a lot of injuries and surgeries to sort through. That’s a lot to accomplish. We have the draft coming up?

Q: Do you have clarity on that (D’Antoni) decision yet?

A: No. No. In fact, I told Jimmy [Buss] let’s get to the end season, take some time off…then review the season. Look at our roster. I mean we have a plan. We’ve aligned our contracts in such a way where we’re at a position where we’re not financially stuck. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going to get our pick. Are we going to be sixth, are we going to be eighth, are we going to be two or three? We don’t know. We know who may be a free agent, but we don’t know for sure until June 30.

So we know a lot, and we’re set up to take advantage of the situations — whether it’s to make a trade, take back a player, get a good draft choice, pursue free agency. But once again, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. And as much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year, it may or may not happen, ok?

Q: So how’s Kobe going to handle that?

A: He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Q: But with all the talk about Phil here, those people don’t often talk about how you’re still here and what you’ve accomplished. Does that ever hit your ego, that idea that there’s not more talk about “In Mitch we trust”?

A: Well the people that I need to know trust me, and they made it clear that they do. I understand from the public’s point of view that Kupchak doesn’t hold a candle to Jackson. Once again, it’s a good story so that didn’t really bother me. But the people in the organization certainly — Jimmy, and I know Jeanie — trust me too. And for over 30 years, Dr. Buss showed incredible trust and loyalty to me. So to me, that’s what was important. That was it.

Q: Was there any internal discussion about Phil coming back, and where did you stand on that? How did that go?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I mean there was nothing formal. This went on for a year or two.

Q: But the most recent one.

A: Well I don’t know when the most recent one was. We discussed a year or two ago about how could we — and this was Jimmy and I and I know he may have discussed it with his family — and it was open for discussion. And it was kind of a standing understanding, but I think Jeanie said it best two weeks ago. At the end of the day, there was no position for a person of his stature.

Q: What does that mean? Can you translate that? Because what it sounds like to me is that Phil is a larger-than-life figure and if he’s coming he wants final say. Was that a factor?

A: Well I’m not sure that it got to that, but what we talked about was involvement and being a piece, a part of it. But based on where he ended up and what he got, it’s easy to see why he did what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Before you even get to the money, he got a wonderful — a challenging — but a wonderful opportunity. Logistically, he has got to work it out but, um, you know, it’s one of those things where I’m not sure if it’s what he was looking for but when it came on the table you can’t turn it around.

***

No. 5: Noel says his knee is ’100 percent’ healthy — The Sixers, last we reported in this space, seemed to be pretty convinced that rookie big man Nerlens Noel won’t be hitting the court until the Summer League. Noel, understandably, wants to play sooner than that. But in his first comments to the media in months, said he understands Philadelphia’s reasoning in taking it slow with him as he recovers from a torn ACL injury suffered in Februrary 2013. He also told the assembled media that his knee is ’100 percent’ and he’s jumping higher than before, too.

Calling his rookie season “a great learning experience,” Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel said Tuesday he still hopes to make his NBA debut in one of the team’s final five regular-season games but realizes the team’s cautious approach with him has been for the best.

“Obviously I do want to play,” Noel told reporters in Philadelphia. “I’m a 19-year-old who’s been sitting down on the sideline really wanting to get out there and show my abilities and to be able to play ball.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something we had to do.”

Noel was cleared for “limited on-court work” in January, but Philadelphia at the time said he still needed to meet “several benchmarks” in order to play for the team “to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

On Tuesday, Noel deemed his knee “100 percent,” saying he’s gained over 3 inches on his vertical leap since before the surgery and overall is “stronger and moving around well.” He’s also overhauled his shot with the help of 76ers coach Brett Brown.

“I am very encouraged,” Noel said. “Through the past year since I had my injury, I have pushed myself through thick and thin and I’ve had some struggles and I’ve just stayed with it.

“I definitely worked my butt off to get where I am at now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kansas star center, Joel Embiid, is expected to announce he’s entering the 2014 Draft … The Rockets still aren’t sure when Pat Beverley or Dwight Howard will return to the lineup … Is Evan Turner the “selfish dude” center Roy Hibbert was referring to a few weeks ago? … Shotblocking legend Dikembe Mutombo says that a legendary story about him in college is untrue … Last night might have been the final matchup between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Timberwolves coach Rick AdelmanRay McCallum is getting a ton of experience in his rookie season with the Kings

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Two future Hall of Famers — Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash — etch their names deeper in NBA lore, and, oh yeah, a game-preserving block by a rookie on the league’s reigning MVP. Not a bad night at all in the NBA …


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki scores to pass Oscar Robertson’s as the NBA’s 10th all-time leading scorer


VIDEO: Steve Nash records this assist to pass Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to reject LeBron James’ dunk on the game’s final play