Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Morning Shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 21

Aldridge re-injures hand in loss to Grizz | Pacers on the brink? | Steve Nash’s retirement felt hardest in Phoenix | Grizz move Green to bench

No. 1: Portland’s nightmare road trip — When it rains, it pours. After surviving an early-season injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to survive and become title contenders. But then Wesley Matthews went down for the season with a torn Achilles, and though they vowed to carry on without Matthews, the Blazers have had what they call a “nightmare” road trip. Now, with Nicolas Batum and Aldridge battling injuries, as Joe Freeman writes in The Oregonian, the Blazers may have reached their toughest point of the season:

A five-game trip that started with so much promise went from bad to worse on Saturday night as the Blazers not only lost 97-86 to the Memphis Grizzlies, but also lost two more key players to injuries.

If you’re counting, the Blazers have four players — three starters and their top backup big man — dealing with varying levels of injuries. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also happen to be in the middle of a four-game losing streak, the longest of the season. That impressive victory over the Toronto Raptors was only seven days ago, but it feels like seven months.

How might one describe that five-game trip?

“A nightmare,” Aldridge said.

And his health is reason No. 1 for that harsh reality. Aldridge injured his left hand — the same body part that already features a torn thumb ligament — with 4:37 left in the first quarter against the Grizzlies, when Tony Allen smacked it as he lunged for a steal.

On the play, Aldridge collected a pass from Damian Lillard just above the left elbow and drove toward the hoop. Zach Randolph charged from the middle and Allen blitzed from the left, reaching at Aldridge with his left hand to dislodge the ball, smacking Aldridge’s hand in the process. The four-time All-Star instantly winced and cupped his left hand with his right, a sight that no doubt sent a shiver across Rip City considering he has played with a bum left thumb since Jan. 24.

He played the rest of the  quarter and gave it a go in the second for six minutes, but did not play after halftime, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The good news? The results of in-game X-rays were negative. The bad news? After the game, Aldridge’s hand was swollen, in pain and he said he could not bend it.

“It didn’t exactly go the way we planned,” center Robin Lopez said of the Blazers’ five-game trip.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Blazers (44-24) actually held their own in the second half against the second-best team in the Western Conference. Less than 24 hours after an embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic, the shorthanded Blazers trimmed an 18-point Memphis lead down to seven in the fourth quarter, causing 17,898 at the FedExForum squirm in their seats down the stretch. With Dorell Wright raining threes, snatching steals and completing smooth coast-to-coast layups, Lopez scoring inside and rebounding and Damian Lillard doing it all, the Blazers made things interesting.

But the Grizzlies (49-21) were too deep and talented to wilt completely, and in the end, Mike Conley (21 points, nine assists) was too good, Green (23 points, nine rebounds) was too smooth, Tony Allen (10 points, 11 rebounds, six steals) was too menacing and their long-range attack (11 for 18 from three-point range) was surprisingly too effective.

Lillard finished with 27 points and seven assists, CJ McCollum added 13 points and six rebounds and Wright had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. But it was all for naught. And as the Blazers walked away from that postgame scene in the locker room, they chose not to dwell on the injuries or the losing streak.

Instead, they chose to look forward. They’ve no doubt reached their toughest moment of the season. But they insist they have plenty of fight left.

“We’ve got our backs up against the wall right now,” Lillard said, before adding, “I’m not concerned. We’ve just got to play better. If we play better, just keep doing what we’re doing, keep believing in each other, I think we’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses the team’s loss in Memphis

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Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? | Pacers’ George treading lightly | Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardware | NBA season in ‘twilight time?’

No. 1: Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? — It is considered bad form for a restaurant server or anyone else in the service industry, frankly, to flat-out ask for a tip. But it was OK in OKC for Russell Westbrook Friday night, his suggestion to the scorekeepers paying off in nice, round statistical fashion for yet another triple-double. No one here at Hang Time HQ is accusing Westbrook of lowering himself to Ricky Davis levels, and there often have been different interpretations applied to assists and rebounds (remember all the home-cooking accusations about Jazz great John Stockton‘s dimes in Salt Lake City games?). But Royce Young reported on Westbrook’s big numbers against Minnesota, then concluded that they were bonafide. Or at least justified:

The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That’s when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder’s official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.

“Tip?” he said, nodding his head. “Tip?”

A quick conference at the scorer’s table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).

The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.

So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?

“Uhh, no,” Westbrook said.

The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.

Because while an extra “10” in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that’s another feather in his cap. And we can’t act as if individual accolades don’t matter. It’s all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.

Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he’s doing for the Thunder, along with how he’s giving the ball away. It’s not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that’s barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It’s forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.

“I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said, unprompted. “It’s so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I’ll go back to the drawing board and take care of it.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ George treading lightly — Maybe Paul George had a late-night phone conversation with Derrick Rose. Maybe his anticipated return from the serious leg fractures suffered last August was a diversion all along, meant to take Indiana fans’ focus off its team’s struggles for most of this 2014-15 season. Or, most likely, George has seen the Pacers’ recent tear and move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the proverbial ain’t-broke object no longer in need of his fix. The Pacers’ All-Star wing player sounded a little conflicted Friday about making a comeback for what’s left of this season, less due to his own physical condition than to the team’s encouraging play of late. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reported on George’s quandary after the player’s weekly media chinwag:

“I’m on the fence,” he told reporters following Friday’s light workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They’ve come together. To shake up the chemistry and add another body, I don’t want to be that guy who destroys what these guys have going. And then there’s part of me who thinks I can definitely help turn these tough games into games we have fully under control.

“It’s difficult. It’s a difficult point right now…but we take it day to day.”

George still spoke optimistically of the physical improvement he’s made since breaking his leg on Aug. 1. He experiences some soreness “but I push through those days.” He’s worn an elastic sleeve on his right leg the past two days in practice because his leg feels better when he does, but he has no significant pain in the formerly broken leg.

George had thrown out a mid-March return as his goal during interviews over All-Star Weekend last month, but isn’t guessing at dates now. Coach Frank Vogel earlier in the week had nixed the possibility of him playing on Saturday, but nobody is saying yes or no to future dates. The Pacers’ first game next week is Monday at home against Toronto. They follow with road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, and then have a home game against Brooklyn on Saturday.

“Is there a chance you’ll play next week?” he was asked.

“I have no idea,” he said.

If and when he does return, George will come off the bench and play spot minutes. He likely would continue to play as a reserve, potentially strengthening a unit that’s already one of the best in the NBA.

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No. 3: Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardwareRudy Gobert, Utah’s blossoming 7-foot-2 French import, didn’t generate a lot of excitement when he first appeared on the NBA scene. As ProBasketballTalk.com’s Dan Feldman tells it, Gobert – despite remarkable size and wingspan, definite NBA attributes – was nursing a sore knee that hurt his performance in workouts. But whatever perceived lack of athleticism caused him to plummet to the bottom of the first round in the 2013 Draft, Gobert has more than made up for with his play lately. In fact, Feldman makes a case that the Jazz reserve big man could be a legit contender for multiple awards this spring:

Gobert is averaging 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In 11 starts since Utah traded Enes Kanter, Gobert’s averages have jumped to 10.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Jazz are 9-2 in that span, including wins over the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Spurs, Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets

If the 2013 draft were re-done – with consideration to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee and everyone else – Gobert makes a compelling case to go No. 1 overall.

Now, in his breakout season, Gobert is a legitimate contender for three awards – Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.

He might not win any, and two would be tough. Three would be unprecedented.

Just six players have won two of the major player awards – Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player – in the same season:

Darrell Armstrong, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999
Hakeem Olajuwon, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994
Michael Jordan, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1988
Alvin Robertson, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1986
Wes Unseld, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1969
Wilt Chamberlain, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1960

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No. 4: NBA season in ‘twilight time?’ — Certainly there’s churning and jostling for playoff position taking place within the East and West conferences. But on a macro level, we know who most of the playoff teams are likely to be, same as we know who most of the lottery teams are this spring. That’s why longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler suggests in the L.A. Daily News that the 82-game schedule is too long, leading to this stretch of March and April where the NCAA game grabs basketball’s spotlight and even swipes Charles Barkley:

Most good teams are resting stars, easing injured players back in — this makes two weeks in a row that the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is expected back — and otherwise lying in the weeds.

All that remains is securing the final playoff slots.

Three teams are vying for the last West slot: New Orleans (just got Anthony Davis back) Oklahoma City (soon to get Kevin Durant back) and Phoenix (unfortunately not getting anyone back).

Then there’s the East dogfight for No. 7 and 8 among the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Celtics and Nets. Two will get in even if they’re on pace to win 39-37-36-35-33, respectively.

That makes 13 teams assured of playoff slots with eight more aspiring to, even if five are in the farcical East race.

Lining the bottom of the cage are the seven marking time until the lottery (Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Magic, Kings, Nuggets).

That leaves the Jazz and Detroit, another team of comers that started late. The Pistons’ problem didn’t turn out to be paying Josh Smith $30 million to leave, but waiting until they were 5-23.

That’s all there is — with five weeks until the playoffs. In other words, thank heavens for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I’d say the NBA season is a little on the long side.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Hassan Whiteside felt bad enough to phone up Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to offer an apology. And after what Olynyk said to Whiteside, the Heat center felt even worse. … The Raptors broke through for their second victory in three weeks and old-school Charles Oakley was there to witness it – and sneer at today’s lack of physicality the way Oak does. … The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Blake Griffin, whom they hope to get back as soon as Sunday vs. Houston. They’ve also gone 42-24 without Spencer Hawes, essentially. … It’s impossible to separate Eric Gordon‘s recent swell shooting from the New Orleans guard’s recent swell health. …

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Reports: Brian Shaw out in Denver

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Denver Nuggets fired head coach Brian Shaw earlier Tuesday, according to several reports. As of today, the Nuggets were 20-39, good for 13th in the Western Conference.

After a long career as an NBA player, including winning three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaw spent several years as an assistant coach, first with the Lakers, and later the Indiana Pacers. While with the Pacers, Shaw was credited for helping them develop into one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.

Last year’s Nuggets team suffered multiple injuries, including to players such as Danilo Galinari and JaVale McGee. This season the Nuggets have struggled throughout, and Shaw was open about his difficulty connecting with the Nuggets players, including an attempt at rapping a scouting report to them. The Nuggets began trading away players for assets a few weeks ago, including Timofey Mozgov and Aaron Afflalo.
Earlier this week, the Nuggets reportedly broke a huddle with a reference to the end of the season approaching.

In two seasons as Denver’s coach, Shaw was a combined 56-85.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

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George practices with Pacers for first time

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Paul George is one step closer to playing for the Pacers this season.

George took part in his first full practice Thursday afternoon, less than seven months after he suffered a nasty broken leg in the USA Basketball Showcase last August. He’s still at least a couple of weeks from playing in game, but this was a big step in his comeback.

The Pacers stand at 23-34, tied in the win column with the eighth-place Nets, who have a tough schedule upcoming. The Pacers play eight of their next nine games at home, an opportunity to both move up in the standings and get George some more practice time.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich gets win No. 1,000 | Anthony aggravates knee injury | Jordan making noise for Clippers

No. 1: Popovich rolls into the NBA history books — If you missed it last night (or this morning), the San Antonio Spurs topped the Indiana Pacers. That, in and of itself, isn’t much news. But that win gave Spurs coach Gregg Popovich his 1,000th as San Antonio’s coach and made him just the ninth coach in NBA history to reach that many career victories. Our Fran Blinebury chronicles how Popovich’s way has morphed into the “Spurs Way”, which has made San Antonio a model NBA franchise:

We all know what it’s about,” he told reporters last week, “and when it happens I’ll say something about it. Obviously, you have to be around a while to do that. It’s not going to happen if you’re not in that situation. You’ve got to have an organization that’s allowed you to be there a long time and shown a lot of patience in letting you grow, that kind of thing. Obviously you have to have players that go and win games, because I haven’t scored many points or gotten many rebounds that I remember because I wasn’t in the league.

“It’s a combination of all those things to get any kind of a goal like that realized. So it will give me some pause and make me think about it. Like, ‘What the hell am I still doing this for?’ probably.”

Perhaps because, in the process, he’s become a world-wide seeker of talent, full-on proponent of breaking down international barriers, gospel-spreader of the global game, larger-than-life character for the gruff demeanor and, oh by the way, a five-time NBA champion.

After the Spurs took apart the star-fueled Heat to win the 2014 NBA title with a combination of ball movement, shooting and voracious defense that was part clinic and part work of art, the funnel cloud of activity that is Manu Ginobili said, “We play this way because it is how Pop wants us to play.”

It is the how that has been most impressive since he took over as coach in December 1996 and steadily turned one of the league’s smallest markets into what is generally regarded as the model franchise.

It is often noted that Popovich’s historic stack of wins would not be quite so tall without Duncan providing the stoic, resolute backbone for the Spurs since 1997, most often by Popovich himself.

There was, of course, that first decade of Duncan’s career when he was able to overpower and overwhelm opponents with his package of fundamentally sound skills.

But would Duncan be making preparing for his 15th NBA All-Star Game appearance and gearing up as the cornerstone of another playoff contending team as his 39th birthday nears if Popovich hadn’t so carefully managed and rationed his minutes?

From the time the Spurs won their fourth championship in 2007 until No. 5 swept in last season, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all were showing the effects of time. Yet Popovich milked the most from their abilities by sticking to his philosophical guns, even if it meant fines from the commissioner’s office or disdain from TV executives when he sat out his stars. He set an NBA record by not having a single player average 30 minutes per game last season, in the process developing a deep, productive bench and then turned them all loose, along with the young tsunami that is Kawhi Leonard to swamp Miami’s Big Three. His way has now become a league standard.


VIDEO: Brent Barry reflects on how Gregg Popovich affected his career and life

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Pacers’ George aims to practice March 1


VIDEO: George discusses his potential return this season

Larry Bird cracked open the door Tuesday on injured All-Star Paul George returning to action for the Indiana Pacers this season, but 48 hours later, George didn’t exactly barge through it.

George sounded more tentative than irrationally exuberant about the prospect of playing late in this 2014-15 season and (if the Pacers qualify) the playoffs when he spoke with media in Indianapolis Thursday. That might reflect a sense of mortality George could be feeling after the gruesome leg fractures he suffered Aug. 1 in a Team USA scrimmage or he could be parroting much of the medical and Pacers’ front-office advice he’s been hearing over the past six months.

Or maybe he’s been on the phone during his hiatus with Derrick Rose.

From what George said, he and the Pacers are hopeful he can start practicing full speed with his teammates by March 1, the target date for his open tibia-fibula fractures to be healed. Beyond that, how his body reacts and Indiana’s position in the standings likely will determine his return to games. The Indianapolis Star reported on George’s measured approach:

George said he’s uncertain if he will be able to play this season, but he wants to.

“Ideally, that’s a great time where I want to be back. Obviously I’m a long shot away from it,” George said. “I’ve got so many steps to get to that point but looking forward that’s (March) when I want to be back.”

George said he has participated in 3-on-3 half-court drills, but hasn’t played in a full scrimmage, and has not taken part in contact drills.

“I don’t want to come back too soon and be out there and have a chance to re-injure … I want it to be fully right,” he said.

At 18-32, Indiana is 12th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games behind No. 8 Miami for the East’s final playoff berth. Bird and others in the organization have had their eyes on the postseason throughout, even after George’s injury and Lance Stephenson‘s departure in free agency. The Pacers were considered a championship contender the past two season and have made four consecutive playoff appearances, after a four-year drought. Prior to 2006-07, the team had qualified in 16 of 17 seasons.

Whether a return even for just one round is feasible might swing on George’s return. But Bird and Pacers ownership might tip their hands before that, with the NBA trade deadline set for Feb. 19. For instance, if Indiana were to move veteran forward David West, who has attracted interest from contenders, or another rotation player, it might signal a shift in the franchise’s focus to 2015-16.

Larry Bird gives update on Paul George, Pacers


VIDEO: Bird Meets Media

HANG TIME BIG CITY — At the All-Star break one season ago, the Indiana Pacers were the toast of the Association. They had begun the season with an 18-2 run, and sprinted to the top of the Eastern Conference, earning Pacers coach Frank Vogel a gig coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

From there, however, you could argue it’s mostly been downhill. Following the All-Star break, the Pacers lost focus and direction, and stumbled to a 16-14 second half. It speaks to how amazing they were before the break that they still finished the regular season 56-26. An injured Atlanta Hawks team pushed the Pacers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but they then rallied to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the Heat.

Instead of the summer being a time to recharge and refresh, it turned into worst fears realized when All-Star guard Paul George fractured his leg in a Team USA scrimmage. That injury immediately lowered expectations this season, as the Pacers were no longer at the top looking down, but rather somewhere closer to the bottom looking up.

The Pacers have soldiered on without George, and using a balanced attack are currently 17-32, which in the Eastern Conference leaves them just 5 games out of a postseason berth. Understandably, the Pacers haven’t put a time frame on George’s return, although a recent video showed George on the floor and dunking during a practice session.

On Tuesday, Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird talked to the media and gave an update on all things Pacers.

Regarding George’s return, while acknowledging he doesn’t know when George will return, Bird left the door open on George seeing action again this season: “I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We’re not going to hold him back if he’s able to go out there and play.”


VIDEO: Bird on George

Vogel seemed a bit less confident about the chances of seeing George again this season when talking with the media …

Bird also noted former All-Star center Roy Hibbert, “hasn’t been as consistent as I thought he would [be] when the year started, especially with Paul out.”


VIDEO: Bird on Hibbert