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Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

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No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

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No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

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No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning shootaround — April 8


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr may want to rest players | Rockets’ playoff hopes take hit | Bulls’ swoon affecting Gasol’s decision | Why Hinkie left Sixers

No. 1: Warriors win No. 70 … is rest next? — The Golden State Warriors etched their names in the NBA history books again last night, becoming just the second team to win 70 games. A 112-101 win against the San Antonio Spurs gave them that as well as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and the No. 1 seed in the league. If they run the table, they can surpass the 72 wins the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls amassed, but will they still push for that accolade? Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com has more:

With the Golden State Warriors having wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, coach Steve Kerr said he is leaning toward resting his players but that the team will meet to discuss the issue.

“We are going to talk about it tomorrow,” Kerr said Thursday night after the Warriors’ 112-101 win over the San Antonio Spurs, their 70th victory of the season. “We’ve been putting it off for as long as we were able to, which was until we got the 1-seed. Now that we have that, I’m inclined to give some guys some rest if they need it, but I’ve sort of made a pact with the guys that if they are not banged up and they are not tired and if they want to go for this record or whatever then — so we got to talk.”

The Warriors have three games remaining and must win them all to surpass the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the NBA record for wins in a season with 72. Clinching the No. 1 seed was Kerr’s primary goal.

Asked about his concerns, Kerr said, “I’m a little uneasy about it. It’s not that I’m worried about injury. You can get injured in practice. It’s not so much that I want to rest guys to avoid injury, but we do have a back-to-back here. It will be our third game in four nights.”

All-Star forward Draymond Green said he thinks most of his teammates are aiming for the wins record over rest.

“Think about the year we’ve had: started 24-0, haven’t lost two in a row all year, have had several streaks of seven-plus wins in a row, yet we’re still sitting here needing three in a row,” Green said. “That tells you how hard this is to do.

“So to get this far and kind of just tank it and say, ‘Aw, never mind.’ … Let’s face it, we probably will never get to this point again. That’s why it’s only been done one time. I think most guys in the locker room are all-in, and we’ll figure that out this weekend.”

All-Star guard Klay Thompson was direct about what his decision will be, telling ESPN, “I’m not going to rest.”

“I’m only 26. When I’m 36, I’ll be looking to rest more,” he later told the assembled media.

Forward Harrison Barnes echoed that sentiment, saying, “I’m 23, so I’ve got no problem playing the rest of these games, and we’ll go from there.”

Reigning MVP Stephen Curry said the Warriors aren’t finished yet.

“We wanted to take care of tonight and clinch home court for the playoffs, was a goal of ours,” Curry said. “With three games left and 73 still there, it’s obviously a lot to play for.”


VIDEO: Golden State’s players talk after Thursday’s win

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors go ‘Splash Bros.’ on Heat | James feeling ’10 times’ better than in ’14-15 | Bickerstaff: ‘Not worried’ about playoff race | Hollins sounds off on Nets’ front office

No. 1: Warriors go to ‘Splash Brothers’ well to upend Heat — When the Golden State Warriors drafted Klay Thompson in the first round of the 2012 Draft, pairing him with Stephen Curry led to the dawn of the ‘Splash Brothers’ era just a season later. That duo powered Golden State into the postseason and a first-round series victory. Yet the Warriors have grown much from those days — and have a championship to prove it — but last night in Miami in a nip-and-tuck game with the Heat, they went back to those ‘Splash Bros.’ days, writes Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:

The Splash Brothers dynamic no longer defines the Golden State Warriors, but every now and then, it revisits to save the Warriors. That was more or less what happened in a fairly artless 118-112 Golden State victory over a Miami Heat team that outplayed its visitor for much of the game.

As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward: “That’s Steph and Klay. That’s what they do. When they both do it on the same night, that’s when we’re really tough to beat. And it shows you how good Miami was that we needed every point to win the game.”

In the middle of the Miami big three’s epoch, Warriors digital marketing coordinator Brian Witt coined a nickname to describe a suddenly frisky squad out West. The “Splash Brothers,” established the Warriors’ brand right as the team began its ascent. Catchily, succinctly, it conveyed the unusual idea of a backcourt that specialized in 3-pointers. It’s how the public came to understand Golden State as something of an entertaining gimmick, before it became clear this iteration of gimmickry would end teams’ seasons.

Quickly, the Warriors grew beyond their nickname, with Green emerging as a star, and other additions proving essential. The Warriors are no longer the “Splash Brothers,” but the organization’s belief in this backcourt was a part of its foundation. And maintaining that foundation was, at one point, heretical. In 2014, much of the Las Vegas summer league was abuzz over how stupid the Warriors were for balking at a possible Thompson for Kevin Love trade.

Jerry West, who serves on Golden State’s executive board, loved Thompson’s game, and believed in the vision of this 3-bombing backcourt. He cited Golden State’s meager 2013-2014 passing numbers as a reason Thompson might be unleashed in a new offense. Kerr, who took the coaching job that season, also preferred continuity, knowing that, at the very least, the defense would be elite.

After this particular victory where he scored 33 points, Thompson said of the dynamic, “We can both get hot. It was a tough game tonight and when you have scoring lulls and stuff like that. Steph has incredible takeover ability. I try to play at his level but obviously not as electrifying as him, but I think we can both get hot at the right time if need be.”

The Warriors certainly don’t win without the MVP. En route to 42 points, Curry sank two deep, contested 3s within the last 1:10 of play. The final flourish was enough to overshadow how he also drained a 40-foot first quarter buzzer beater with as free and easy a stroke as you’d see on a foul line jumper. Those 40-footers are part of the warm-up routine. It’s not crazy to expect more of them in the future.

For now, the present is what absorbs these Warriors, especially at a time when every news conference contains a question about “73 wins.” “Process” is the focus, “one day at a time,” is the clichéd phrase of choice. Whether Golden State reaches that benchmark or not, they’ve undeniably built something special, a vision to behold in the wake of Miami’s run as four-year title favorite. It all started with “Splash,” before building into something no one could fathom.


VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps the team’s win in Miami

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Blogtable: More likely to miss playoffs — Bulls or Rockets?

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: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOJazz outlast Rockets, push Houston to No. 9 in West

> More likely to miss the playoffs this season: The 29-26 Bulls or the 28-29 Rockets?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Houston. Just don’t like the vibe from that squad, which can Kumbaya all it wants — there are issues in that locker room that have nothing to do with Xs and Os. And, I’m not sure Detroit or Washington can put together a run for long enough to surpass the Bulls, while I see Utah being more than capable of finishing the season with a flourish — especially with Shelvin Mack looking like he’s going to solidify the Jazz at the point for the stretch drive.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comForced to pick between disappointments, I’m going with the team that is committed to its current coaching staff. Fred Hoiberg and his bosses understand the embarrassment they’ll face if they miss the playoffs, having dumped Tom Thibodeau and his sixth-best winning percentage of all time (.647) among coaches who’ve worked at least 300 games. Management turned Thibodeau into a lame duck last season and suffered consequences that still linger. But there are signs Chicago is starting to click, if it can hang in long enough for Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic to return from injuries. Houston clearly gained little from its impulsive firing of Kevin McHale and is likely to dump interim J.B. Bickerstaff before next season too. The Rockets’ dysfunction runs deeper and, unless they have a bunch of games left against Phoenix, they’ll be done at 82.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call it a cop-out, but I’m saying neither. But if you make me pick, I’d say the Bulls are more likely to miss out. The Rockets have to beat out only one of either the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, both of whom are playing close to their limit. And they might even have a shot at the struggling Mavs coming down the stretch. Over in the East, this seems to be a lost season for the Wizards and the Magic are again headed toward disappointment. That keeps the door open for the Bulls. But I think Stan Van Gundy is doing everything he can to drive the Detroit Pistons into the playoffs. The question mark that puts the Bulls in danger is when Jimmy Butler returns to the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Rockets. Chicago expects to get Jimmy Butler back, maybe within a few weeks, and Nikola Mirotic as well. No one who can play at an MVP level when healthy is walking through that door in Houston. I’m not crossing the Rockets off the list because that’s not exactly an overwhelming group of playoff hopefuls around the cutline in the West. But the Bulls’ roster could get significantly better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This is something of a coin flip, but my gut says the Bulls are more likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, I realize Jimmy Butler will return at some point, but Chicago is being chased by Detroit and Washington for the final spot at the moment, and both teams — while flawed — are capable of finishing strong. Meanwhile, the Rockets are dealing with only the Jazz. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago and Houston sit this one out.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Rockets. First of all, they’re out of the playoffs right now, while the Bulls have a three-game cushion in the loss column. Secondly, the Rockets’ record is a little inflated (they have the point differential of a 25-32 team), because they’ve been good in close games (though the Bulls’ record is similarly inflated). And finally, they have a tough schedule relative to the teams they’re fighting with, playing 17 of their final 25 games against teams that are currently at or above .500.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both teams are stuck in their current predicaments due to their own mistakes as well as some unfortunate injury issues. That said, I can see the Bulls sinking in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff quicksand. The Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks are all capable of walking down a Bulls team that will limp to the finish of this regular season with key players (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, etc.) dealing with injuries. The dysfunctional Rockets have a huge challenge ahead of them, but they at least will have their best player to lean on down the stretch.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs much as I prefer the roster and chemistry of the Bulls, they must deal with a lot more competition in the East than the Rockets are facing in the West, where there are essentially nine teams competing for eight playoff spots. James Harden should be able to drive Houston into the postseason, whereas the Bulls are going to have to fend off the Pistons and Wizards in addition to the higher-ranked teams in their tightly-bunched conference.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Bulls have been through a lot this season, but I think they’re more likely to qualify for the playoffs. The Rockets have been through a coaching change, a few trades, and even a trade that was rescinded. I don’t know this for certain, but it sure seems like there isn’t a lot of confidence right now in that Rockets locker room. I think the Bulls make it.

It’s open season on coaches in NBA


VIDEO: Derek Fisher got ejected for arguing a call earlier this season. The Knicks fired him today.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Technically, the New York Knicks “relieved” Derek Fisher of his duties as coach today, which is a fancy way of saying they fired Phil Jackson‘s hand-picked choice to lead the franchise.

Kurt Rambis has been elevated to the top job in Fisher’s place, leaving yet another franchise with an interim (or replacement) in place of the coach they started with this season. It’s the latest in a somewhat shocking run of coaching decisions around the league.

And it just goes to show that no matter if you’re winning or losing, when it’s open season on coaches in the NBA, anybody could be on the firing line — just ask George Karl, who is reportedly on the hot seat in Sacramento.

Kevin McHale was the first to go this season, lasting just 11 games in Houston before being shoved out and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Lionel Hollins got the boot in Brooklyn after a dreadful start and was replaced by Tony Brown. David Blatt, fresh off of a trip to The Finals and his team sitting at 30-11 and first place in the Eastern Conference, was next. Tyronn Lue was tabbed as his successor and is 6-3 since making that 18-inch move over to the big chair. And just last week Jeff Hornacek was tossed out in Phoenix and replaced by Earl Watson.

And now comes the news that Fisher, a Phil Jackson disciple but a coaching novice, is out after a season and a half and just 136 games (with a woeful 40-96 record).

With the Knicks mired in a 1-9 slide, including five straight losses, and seemingly no relief in sight, Jackson apparently decided that enough was enough. We’ll find out what the final straw was late today when Jackson addresses the media after practice.

But it’s clear that in New York and everywhere else, if ownership and the front office believe that there is a disconnect (real or simply perceived) between the talent on the roster and the coach responsible for getting the most out of that talent, the coach is expendable.

The five coaching changes prior to All-Star Weekend is the most since the eight coaching changes prior to the break during the 2008-09 season.

The term “crazy season” is usually reserved for the rumors and drama surrounding this month’s trade deadline. It seems a more appropriate title for all of the coaching changes going on this season.

Blatt’s contemporaries, notably Rick Carlisle in Dallas and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, expressed their outrage when he was fired and Cavaliers GM David Griffin did his best to explain why a coach with a sterling record was out of his league, and ultimately out of a job, trying to coach a star-studded roster.

Carlisle and Van Gundy should know better than anyone how this works, since they were both fired from previous jobs in the league where they were wildly successful.

There is no real rhyme or reason to these things. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s the things we can’t see from the outside and sometimes it’s just clash of personalities or philosophies that lead to a coaching divorce.

Fisher had no coaching experience prior to being selected to coach the Knicks. And he wasn’t even Jackson’s first choice, that would have been Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who in hindsight obviously made the right choice.

The most important choice for Jackson going forward is getting it right this time. He’ll have his pick of out-of-work coaches, like Tom Thibodeau, or he can wait on an up and coming assistant like Luke Walton. Whatever his choice, it has to be someone that can get the most out of the Carmelo AnthonyKristaps Porzingis combination and perhaps more importantly, someone with the toughness and resolve to survive the “crazy season” expectations that all of these franchises are caught up in.

Data curated by PointAfter

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31




VIDEO: The Fast Break: Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs take down Spurs | Rockets rip refs | Barnes bails out champs | McCollum carves niche
No. 1: Lue, Cavs take another step forward — It’s been barely a week and only five games, but Tyronn Lue has the Cavaliers playing with more zip and zest, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. The team is now 4-1 since Lue took over as head coach for David Blatt and was humming on all cylinders in taking apart the contending Spurs on Saturday night:

“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on it,” Lue said. “I just want to make sure our style of basketball is what we want to play. I know it’s a big game because it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s only one game for us. If we take care of our business and do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t have to beat this team until June.”
Skeptics will say this was a classic case of an underpromise and overdeliver by Lue. If you set expectations low, you can control the threshold for what is deemed a success.

However, after watching the Cavs completely handle the Spurs 117-103 while playing a get-it-and-go brand of basketball that Lue introduced the team to when he took over a week ago, it’s easy to see the merit in Lue’s point.

If the Cavaliers can beat a great team such as the Spurs, albeit without Tim Duncan, just a week into playing this way and can look like the best version of themselves while doing so, how good can they look in four or five months, when the games really matter?

There was a lot to like about this game, starting with the offensive balance among LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who all topped the 20-point plateau for the second consecutive game.

“I think our team responded well, playing fast, getting easy shots, Kyrie and LeBron attacking early, and then Kevin in the low post and making jump shots, so I thought tonight was a picture-perfect way of how we want to play,” Lue said. “The guys came out and executed it.”

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Howard ejected again; Rockets rip refs


VIDEO: Wall, Wizards send Rockets to third straight loss

After missing half of last season due to injuries, Dwight Howard seems back to being a part-time player.

The Rockets center was ejected for the second time in two nights as the Rockets lost back-to-back games, this time to the the Wizards 123-122 at the Toyota Center on Saturday. Howard was also not around for the finish Friday night in Oklahoma City. He is now tied for the league lead in technical fouls with 11 on the second after picking up four in the space of just over 24 hours.

Following the game, Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff tore into the way this game was officiated and for what he says is a consistent pattern.

“It’s not fair the way referees officiate Dwight,” Bickerstaff said. “You go back and look at the clip; they initiate contact with him. They grab him. They hold him. Dwight gets punished more than anybody in the league. The referees have to be held accountable. They want to keep the game clean, the referees have to do their job. They can’t over and over again have the same situation.

“At some point in time if you want to protect the league’s players on a night in, night out basis, this crew is no exception. They allow people to hit him, they allow people to grab his neck. They allow people to grab his arms, hold his shoulders. He’s going to get hurt. The reason why he has the back problems, the knee problems, is because people jump on his back, people hold on his shoulders. These referees need to be held accountable for letting people attack Dwight and [be] dirty.

“They [Wizards] are not clean with the way they play. Cheap is one thing. Grabbing somebody’s arms. Grabbing somebody’s shoulders, that’s not clean basketball and it’s not just tonight. If the referees did their job in the first place, it would not have escalated to these situations. And we lose Dwight twice in a row now in crucial situations.”

Howard picked up his first technical with 6:16 left in the second quarter after he had been fouled from behind by Washington’s Jared Dudley as he tried to score. While Dudley was eventually hit with a flagrant foul following a video review, Howard reacted immediately by placing his hands on Dudley’s shoulders and neck area to demonstrate what had been done to him.

Howard’s second technical and ejection came with 8:08 left in the game, when he and Nene tangled under the basket.

“The rulings on Nene and Howard were Nene was initially issued his first technical for wrapping Howard in the upper torso area,” said lead official John Goble. “Howard was then issued a technical for pushing Nene. Nene was then issued a second technical for continuing to taunt Howard after that.”

Nene was also ejected from the game.

“Some of the stuff was uncalled for and it wasn’t basketball,” Howard said. “I can see it being physical. Wrestling in the paint, that’s one thing. But doing arm bars … this is basketball, not UFC. Stuff like that could cause players to get injured. I don’t want that. Just play basketball.

“I would never intentionally try to hurt anybody. So I wouldn’t want people to intentionally try to hurt me.

“Tonight I hurt my shoulder. It popped a couple of times from getting it yanked on in different ways and stuff like that. But I’m not gonna sit up here and complain about it. There’s nothing I can do but just continue to play.

“I wasn’t frustrated at what was going on. But I think some of that stuff that’s going on needs to be made aware of. Guys going around your shoulders and your neck. That’s supposed to be a certain call. It’s called for other people. But when it happens to me it’s like a regular foul. I won’t complain about it, but I don’t think it’s cool. Because a lot of injuries that I’ve had have come from getting fouled.

“I want to play in this league as long as possible. But getting injured because people are blatantly trying to hurt you is not cool.

“I don’t purposely go into games trying to find ways to get out of them. So that’s never in my thought process. I’m just upset tonight that I got kicked out for a reaction. But I don’t know how else to react when you’re getting put in multiple arm bars. Forgive me for being human.”

Bickerstaff said the Rockets have communicated their concerns with the league office.

“Tons,” he said. “Our owner [Leslie Alexander] and Daryl [Morey, the Rockets general manager] have done a great job of supporting Dwight and having communication with the league about he is refereed. It didn’t stop there tonight.”

“We don’t like to blame referees. Tonight, there were too many calls that were critical missed and they went the other way,” Bickerstaff said. “There was a phantom Pat Beverley foul. There were our plays getting to the rim. Tonight, the referees had a lot to do with the outcome and it shouldn’t be that way. Referees should be invisible. These weren’t.”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in robbery | Payne steps up for OKC | Pistons know playoffs are long ways away | Rockets keep on struggling

No. 1: Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in early morning robbery — According to the New York Daily News, New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg as he was leaving a strip club in Queens. According to the report, Early was riding in an Uber cab when his vehicle was boxed in by three other cars. He was then surrounded by four to six people who robbed him of his jewelry and other items before shooting him in the leg. Here’s more information from Thomas Tracy, Rocco Parascandola and Dan Good of the Daily News:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg in an early-morning attack after leaving a Queens strip club, police sources told the Daily News.

Early was surrounded by four to six people wearing ski masks and robbed of his items and jewelry — including a gold necklace and gold caps on his teeth, sources said.

The shooting happened after Early left CityScapes gentlemen’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth Queens.

Early was reportedly in an Uber cab, about a mile away from the club, when three cars boxed in the vehicle.

He was shot once in the knee, police sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

Employees with the gentlemen’s club declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News.

The New York Post‘s Larry Celona and Natalie Musumeci also reported on the news, too:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot just after he left a Queens strip club early Wednesday, police sources said.

Early, 24, was held up by six thugs wearing ski masks just after walked out of the CityScapes gentleman’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth with a woman and got into an Uber cab, sources said.

The cab drove a short distance to Maurice Avenue before three cars boxed in the vehicle at around 4:20 a.m., sources said.

That’s when the band of ski mask-wearing men ordered everyone out of the Uber car and robbed Early of some jewelry and an undisclosed amount of cash.

During the stick-up, Early was shot once in the right knee, sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 26th

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Curry makes fan, not foes, cry | Cavs kicked in keister | Melo anything but after Knicks meltdown | Phoenix phails vs. Philly

No. 1: Curry makes fan, not foes, cry — You can be impressed with Golden State’s Steph Curry all over again because he was named the Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year, joining LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only basketball players to win that award in its 85 years. Or you can admire him, instead, for the consideration he demonstrated for a single fan, at the end of a long road trip, on the Warriors’ only night of defeat so far this season. Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times was on hand to chronicle a memorable evening and special moment from earlier this month between Curry and a fan of his dating back to his Davidson days, and the tale lent itself to a Christmastime telling:

When the unbeaten Warriors rolled into Milwaukee on Dec. 12 for their only appearance against the Milwaukee Bucks, Barry Hankel wanted to give his wife a special present — tickets to the game and perhaps the opportunity to meet her favorite player.

Barry sought to bring some joy to his wife, who has been living a nightmare for almost two years. In March of 2014, while the Hankels were residing in Green Bay, Becky learned she had a myofibroblastic tumor, a rare cancer that occurs mainly in the soft tissue and internal body organs.

“The doctor who gave me the results was taken aback,’’ said Becky, a 2001 graduate of Union Grove High School whose maiden name is Thom. “He had never heard about it. It’s not very common.’’

The cancer settled in Becky’s lower left leg. She underwent radiation treatment followed by surgery in June of 2014 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

An infection arose and lingered, eventually creeping into a bone and necessitating another trip to the Mayo Clinic, where she underwent three more surgeries.

Becky’s problems didn’t stop there. Three months ago in Janesville, she broke her leg while waiting in her car for her two children — Lexie, 8, and Liam, 5 — to get out of school.

“And all of a sudden, I heard a pop,’’ Becky recalled. “I felt immediate pain.”

That meant yet another trip to the Mayo Clinic for her fifth operation. This time, doctors determined Becky needed to have her leg amputated below the knee.

The surgery was deemed successful and Becky said she is cancer free. While she is using a wheelchair, a prosthetic is on the way. Finally, there is light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel for the Hankels.

Considering the physical and mental hardships his wife had to endure and the strain his family has been under, Barry thought attending the Bucks-Warriors game would be therapeutic.

And it was. In the days leading up to the game, Becky excitedly went online and purchased Curry jerseys for the entire family.

The game was thrilling and memorable as well. Before a raucous capacity crowd of 18,717 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Bucks — Becky’s favorite team — snapped the Warriors’ winning streak. Curry, Becky’s favorite player, finished with 28 points.

Becky’s memorable night didn’t end there. Raymond Ridder, the Warriors vice president of communications, arranged for Becky and her family to have a private meeting with Curry, just outside the Warriors’ locker room.

“Becky was ecstatic,’’ Barry said. “She’s wanted to meet him forever. When he came out of the locker room, Becky got up out of her wheelchair and said to him, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ And he said, ‘Of course.’ ”

Becky agreed it was an unforgettable occasion, saying she’s still having difficulty comprehending that she got to meet Curry.

“I remember seeing people who would meet a celebrity, like their favorite singer or player, and they’d start to cry,’’ Becky said. “And I would say to myself, ‘Why would they do that?’ But when he came out of the locker room, this emotion came over and I said ‘Oh, my God’ and cried.”

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