Posts Tagged ‘J.R. Smith’

Game 4: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: Andre Iguodala put on a show for the Warriors in Game 4

24Steve Kerr blinks first. Andre Iguodala in starting lineup for Andrew Bogut.

23 — Time for the Warriors to get inspiration from national anthem singer Usher? Here I Stand.

22LeBron James with the no-look, over-the-head pass for Mozgov dunk is pure Magic.

21 — They can’t find those escaped convicts from N.Y. prison, but bloodhounds seem to have located Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in first quarter for a change.

20 — Nine minutes, 1-for-4 shooting, 0-for-2 on treys. “Oh yeah, just remembered I’m Matthew Dellavedova, not Jerry West.”

19 — Kerr got everything he wanted out of his lineup change. Better pace, spread the floor, moving the ball, Iguodala everywhere. Your serve, David Blatt.

18 — After telling his team in huddle, “They’re only using seven players, they’ll wear down,” where does Kerr go with his own rotation? Do Bogut and Festus Ezeli get to take off their warmups?

17 — Got to give credit to Iguodala for making the sacrifice to come off the bench all year and to David Lee for being virtually buried, but staying ready to perform in The Finals.

16 — Dear Cavs: As much as they’ve struggled at times in the series, it’s never really a good idea to leave the Splash Brothers open.

15 — Warriors have 12 assists on first 16 baskets. Oh, so that’s the team that won 67 games this season.

14 — Think about it: LeBron just six shots in first 17 minutes. Hardly a plan for success.

13 —LeBron bleeds after collision with TV camera. Would you blame any of the other players on the court for licking their chops and wishing they could get a few pints of that stuff?

12 — World back spinning properly on its axis. Small-ball Warriors moving, scoring, rebounding, in control.

11 — Matthew Dellavedova back-to-back 3s out of the locker room. Did he return to his old routine and get a triple-shot of espresso at halftime?

10 — You can talk about the Warriors shooters cooling off early in third quarter. But pace, pace, pace. The Cavs go back to grinding and get back in the game.

9 — Sure, he’s got an unflappable, unflinching air about him, but Stephen Curry looks a bit disengaged from all of the emotion of what’s at stake in what has become a three-point game.

8 — OK, who had the prop bet in Vegas where Timofey Mozgov (21 points) plays a virtual draw with the combined Splash Brothers (22) in the first three quarters?

7 — How much does it say that on a night when LeBron appears a little out of sorts, fatigued, he’s closing in on another triple-double with 20 points, nine rebounds, seven assists going into fourth quarter?

6 — How is it that J.R. Smith can arrive at the arena riding a hoverboard, but his game usually needs training wheels?

5 — Was David Blatt getting paid by the word for that long-winded answer to Doris Burke or just trying to talk his team back into the game? Where is grunting Smiley Popovich when we need him?

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3 — Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? To be stuck inside of Mobile with with the Memphis blues again.  Now the Cavs got a taste of Golden State playing with desperation. Just as they responded in conference semifinals down 2-1 to Grizzlies, the Warriors started off adversity and responded on the road.

2 — Best thing for the Cavs after a 103-82 thumping? The calendar. Two days off. It looked like a plow horse against American Pharoah.

1 — Gettin’ Iggy Wit It.  Move of the series so far by Kerr — Iguodala gets first start of the season and comes through with 22 points, four treys, eight rebounds and defense on LeBron.  If Warriors win series, he could the MVP.

Game 3: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova was all over the floor in Game 3

24
— Four quarters just isn’t enough in these Finals. Two games and two times we’ve gone to the fifth. If it happens again tonight, we just might need another fifth to survive.

23 — Nice job, but just asking: How many of the Warriors and Cavs have Rascal Flatts pumping through their headphones?

22Jeff Van Gundy on Stephen Curry: “It’s not like he’s in a slump.” Well, it’s not one bad night. In his last four playoff games, Curry has shot 29-for-82.

21Iman Shumpert to the locker room with shoulder injury. This “next man up” stuff for the Cavaliers only works as long as you have a next man.

20 — Two words: Tristan Thompson. And six points and seven rebounds. On a night when Cavs need to be big, nobody has played bigger in the first quarter.

19 — Happy Festus-vus! Off the Warriors’ bench comes Festus Ezeli for the Feats of Strength when Golden State needs it. He’s got a lot of problems with you people.

18 — Toss a coin. Tonight we get the “good” J.R. Smith. 3-for-3 start.

17 — How much Warriors’ frustration is showing? Curry has to restrain Draymond Green from going after a referee.

16 — More Tristan Thompson.

15 — How much more of the burden can LeBron James carry? Now he’s got to overcome his own teammate (Thompson) knocking the ball out of the basket.

14 — The series has been a reminder of just how much Andre Iguodala gave up of himself to come off the bench for the Dubs. Iggy has been sensational at both ends of the floor.

13 — Cavs’ defense is a dirty, gritty, grinding, relentless, suffocating thing of beauty. Warriors 15-for-44 (.341) and 3-for-18 (.188) at the half.

12 — If LeBron were 30 of 88 shooting in the last 4 1/2 playoff games as Curry is, just how much grief would he be taking?

11 — Warriors’ 37 points in first half is as much as Klay Thompson scored by himself in third quarter Jan. 24 vs. Kings.

10 — A spot-up 3 and then a gorgeous runner. Dellavedova-Curry is moving into Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson territory.

9 — MVP sighting midway through third quarter. Stephen Curry gets his first bucket since the opening Warriors score of the night.

8 — Controlling the pace, making the plays, hitting the fadeaway, blocking shots — LeBron has the game, the Warriors, The Finals in the palm of his hand.

7 — Curry caught with ball in his hands on layup as horn sounds to end third quarter. That sums up his night so far.

6 — Iguodala 3 from corner cuts the 17-point lead down to nine just 2:02 into fourth quarter. Laissez les bon temps rouler. Remember, Warriors came from 20 points in fourth (Game 3) at New Orleans way back in the first round of the playoffs.

5 — Doesn’t that guy on his way to 17-point fourth quarter look a lot like Stephen Curry? We should just hit fast forward and go to overtime.

4 — LeBron limps off court to the bench. One more injury and the Cavs should be able to clinch the championship by Thursday.

3 — The little Aussie isn’t the only one selling out with his hustle. After missed baseline jumper, the superstar LeBron (40-12-8) — sprints back to make the key deflection on Curry. He’s got 123 points in 142 minutes, most ever in first three games of Finals.

2Danny Crawford blew his whistle and then decided it was a good time to show the world his Rick Perry impersonation. “Ooops!”

1 — So what do you think the devil is going to do with that soul Delly sold him?

Cavs’ James confident in durability, skeptical of Finals scheduling


VIDEO: James speaks with media after shootaround

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Had David Blatt known the first two games of the 2015 Finals would go into overtime, the Cleveland Cavaliers coach said Tuesday, he might have found more opportunities to give LeBron James a little rest.

But no Finals before this one ever required overtime for both Game 1 and Game 2. That’s how James is up to 96 minutes played out of the 106 in the series so far.

“That wasn’t necessarily in the plan,” Blatt said after his team’s shootaround session at their practice facility. “But he is strong. He has prepared himself the whole season for this time of the year. There are very few guys who can do what he did throughout the course of the year with the understanding of where he needs to be at the key moment of the season. And he’s ready to go.”


VIDEO: Blatt addresses the media on Tuesday

James talked a little about the physical preparation that he heeds in advance of games and the hurry-up of that routine now that the days between games, for each of the next two, have dwindled to just one.

“There’s not much recovery time,” James said. “I’m getting my body as close as it can to 100 percent. I still have a lot of time through today to stay on the treatment regimen I’ve been on. Try to get some rest as well. … You’ve got to cram everything in there. Hopefully the body reacts accordingly to it.”

Among the other Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson has logged 87 minutes, J.R. Smith 73 and Iman Shumpert 71. Golden State, though generally considered the deeper team, has four players at or above 80: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 85 each; Draymond Green 82 and Harrison Barnes 80.

When someone wondered if James might feel the energy of a crowd at Quicken Loans Arena hosting only its third Finals game ever (two in 2007), the Cavs star said: “I mean, I’m fine. I can use the energy from the home crowd, I can use the energy from the away crowd. But for me, my focus is so laser-sharp that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need something to get me to where I need to go.”

James and his teammates apparently do feel a little slighted by the schedule, which has tightened up during this period in Cleveland after an almost leisurely pace to Games 1 and 2. There was a whole week after the conference championship round before The Finals began and then two more days before Game 2.

The Thursday-Sunday-Tuesday rotation is largely set according to network TV needs, regardless of the markets involved, but James made it sound more discretionary. And not favoring Cleveland.

“I don’t need any extra motivation or no extra lift,” James said. “I looked at the schedule. They have more time in their home than we have. They gave us every other day back home. They gave those guys two-and-a-half days of rest when they go back home. But that’s the schedule, and it is what it is.”

Right & Wrong: Cavs even series in Game 2


VIDEO: Catch the top 5 plays from Game 2 of The Finals

HANG TIME BIG CITY – Just when you thought they were out, they pull you back in.

The Cleveland Cavaliers almost won Game 1 of the NBA Finals, losing in overtime, and then entered Game 2 without two-thirds of their Big Three, going up against the NBA’s best team on their home floor, where Golden State was nearly unbeatable this season.

Enter LeBron James. The King went for 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in over 50 minutes of playing time, as the Cleveland Cavaliers won this one in overtime, 95-93, to even the NBA Finals at one win apiece as the series moves to Cleveland.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 2.

Right: At this point, there’s not much left to say about LeBron James, but one of the most remarkable things you can say is this: LeBron consistently elevates the level of play of his teammates, no matter who those teammates are. In Game 1, James posted a 44/8/6 line that felt impeccable. But tonight in Game 2, with LeBron basically playing point guard all night on offense and free safety on defense, and consistently making pinpoint passes out of double-teams to find open teammates, his triple-double was probably more impressive. Game 2 felt more like a coronation than anything else.

Wrong: Stephen Curry was voted the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player during the regular season, flicking in a seemingly endless array of jumpers from all around the perimeter. But tonight that well ran bone dry. Curry did make a big 3-pointer with 2:45 remaining in regulation to cut Cleveland’s lead to six, but Curry finished 5-for-23 from the field, including 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. With the Warriors needing a bucket at the end of overtime, Curry went one-on-one against Matthew Dellavedova and shot an air ball, then turned the ball over instead of getting a final shot. It was Curry’s worst shooting performance of the year. “I’ve seen it with everybody,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr. “I’ve seen it with Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan. It doesn’t matter who you are. Nobody is immune from a tough night. So Steph has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs. Doesn’t mean he’s going to light it up every single night. So you chalk it up to a bad night and see what you can do to try to free him up and maybe get him some open looks.”


VIDEO: Why was Stephen Curry so limited offensively in Game 2?

Right: Speaking of Dellavedova, he had big shoes to fill, but he stepped into Kyrie Irving‘s and more than held his own against the Splash Brothers. Yes, he was just 3-for-10 from the field, but the Cavs were +15 in 42 minutes with Dellavedova on the court. And his contributions weren’t always about points and passes — with 11 seconds left in overtime and the Cavs down one, Dellavedova grabbed the rebound after a James Jones missed 3 and went to the free-throw line like Ollie in “Hoosiers”, and knocked down two free throws to give Cleveland the lead for good. Seconds later, he defended Curry one-on-one and got the stop. An Australian native, Dellavedova deserves to be big not just Down Under. “You know, he did what he has been doing every time that we’ve put him in that position,” said Cleveland coach David Blatt. “He’s a courageous kid that plays right. There was a lot of nonsense swirling around about his style of play. I think anyone that really looks at him objectively and fairly recognizes someone that just plays hard, heartfelt, and tough. Always there for his teammate. Teammates always there for his team. And he played big tonight, and we needed him to.”


VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova talks after his big play in Game 2

Wrong: J.R. Smith can be the gift and curse, often at the same time. You live with his mistakes, because when he’s going well, he can make shots nobody else can make. But in Game 2, Smith made a series of plays that allowed the Warriors to gain ground. With the Cavs up seven and 2:35 to play, Smith fouled Curry after a missed free throw, sending him to the line. A minute later, he fouled Harrison Barnes as he dunked, giving the Warriors a three-point play and cutting Cleveland’s lead to two. With 29 seconds left in overtime, Smith’s sixth foul sent Curry to the line and gave the Warriors a temporary lead. With the Cavaliers ravaged by injuries and only playing an eight-man rotation, the Cavs are looking for a lift from Smith.

Right: If Curry is the chef, perhaps Klay Thompson is the maître d? All season long the Splash Brothers have been an elite partnership for the Warriors, a dual-headed threat that stretches the floor and creates all kinds of headaches for the defense. Although Curry never got it going in Game 2, Thompson started red-hot, going 4-for-6 with nine points in the game’s first five minutes before having to sit with foul trouble. Thompson finished the night as Golden State’s leading scorer, with 34 points on 14-for-28 shooting.

Wrong: With 3:14 left in regulation, the Cleveland Cavaliers led the Golden State Warriors by 11 points, 83-72. They then proceeded to fall apart. Part of that was Golden State repeatedly fouling Tristan Thompson and sending him to the line, part of that was mental errors (see Smith above), and part of that was James either not making shots or not getting to the line. The Warriors, of course, came back, tied it and took it to overtime, where the Cavs were able to regain their footing. Still, you don’t get many chances like this against the Warriors, and with this series up for grabs and Cleveland taking home court advantage, the Cavs have to close out games if they want to close out this series.

Game 2: 24-second thoughts

24 — If you were already a longshot to win the series and now have lost one of your two main offensive weapons, isn’t it a good time, at least, for an underdog to be led by a guy named David (Blatt)? Better be a big slingshot.

23 — National anthem singer Carlos Santana was a guest of the Warriors. But long ago in 1969, his featured number at Woodstock was Soul Sacrifice, exactly what the LeBron James and Cavs need here.

22 — That’s one way to slow down Klay Thompson’s 4-for-6 shooting, nine-point start. Get a bad call on Iman Shumpert drive that sends Thompson to the bench with his second foul.

21 — So much for the Cavs rolling over without Kyrie Irving. Took the early punch from Warriors and fight their way back end of first quarter. Doesn’t hurt when Stephen Curry shoots 1-for-6. Credit the pest Matthew Dellavedova.

20 — Despite two early fouls on Klay Thompson and Festus Ezeli, indication is you’ll have to withstand a bruising tonight. They’re letting them mix it up and play.

19 — How much longer can Blatt keep Delly on Klay here in second quarter? The mouse is having the whole house land on his head. Cavs have to get out of that matchup.

18 — About that getting everybody else involved plan by LeBron? His teammates are 5-for-20.

17 — Off night in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Cavs might as well be wearing skates and carrying sticks for the way they’re mucking this game up in the corners. These are not comfortable Warriors.

16

15 — LeBron 20-6-6 at the half. Just as important, Cavs run two quarters off the clock and give themselves a chance. Now if somebody would just put a body on Klay.

14 — Cavs shoot 6-for-8 off passes from LeBron in second quarter. They did not take a shot off a LeBron pass in the first quarter.

13 — Maybe if Draymond Green would take off those headphones, somebody could tell him that he might want to turn the volume up on his game that so far has been forgettable in The Finals.

12 — OK, so the MVP finally got rid of the pest Delly. All it took was your average double-crossover, behind-the-back dribble only-by-Curry drive for a layup.

11 — You have to ask whether the Warriors are just missing all these open 3s — 4-for-22 middle thirrd quarter — or they’ve been rattled by the Cavs?

10 —Sums up the Golden State night. Marreese Speights blows the breakaway dunk to end third quarter. The Cavs have everybody but Klay Thompson looking over their shoulder and the 12-minute game they wanted. First time all season Warriors didn’t hit 65 after three quarters.

9 — If Cavs win this game, little point guard from Cleveland is going to get the Bucky Dent treatment forever in Bay Area: Matthew %$#!!*&# Dellavedova!

8 — Can Warriors stand up to the night long pounding by Cavs? Down five with 8½ minutes left, Steve Kerr goes back to the small lineup to pull it out. But Golden State looks beat up.

7J.R. stands for Just Remember, I’m J.R. Smith and dumb plays like that foul on Curry are what make me me. And then I do it again by fouling Harrison Barnes. And just for good measure, one more time on Curry in OT.

6 — Cleveland sports history: The Pass. The Fumble. The Shot. Next up: The Collapse? Cavs lead by 11 with 3:12 left and now LeBron’s miss sends it to OT.

5 — Tony Brothers, your guide dog could have made that call on Andre Iguodala’s hack of LeBron while helping you across the street.

4 — Green reaches and holds down LeBron by the shoulder on jump ball. Has there ever been an NBA superstar who didn’t get two consecutive huge calls in such a situation?

3 — LeBron 39 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists in 50 minutes and he’s so emotional seems on the verge of tears while talking to Doris Burke. Can we stop now with the nitpicking and cheap shots at James? He was all-in for the biggest win in Cavs history.

2 — Steph Curry (5-for-23), you’re on the clock.

1 — It’s Delly’s World and we’re all just living in it.

Right & Wrong: Warriors come out and play in Game 1


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It was a game that had more rights than wrongs, at least until overtime. But after Cleveland and Golden State ended regulation tied at 98, in the bonus time, everything went wrong for Cleveland, who were outscored 10-2 as Golden State cruised to a Game 1 victory. LeBron James showed why he’s still the king, but the best player eventually fell at the hands of the best team, 108-100.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 1.

Right: Playing in Oakland before one of the loudest crowds in the league, Cleveland got off to perhaps the best possible start, jumping ahead to a 29-15 lead. Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get a bucket, beginning 3-for-15 from the floor, as the Cavs harassed them defensively. That kind of performance from the Cavs over 48 minutes (or 53) is likely untenable, but they’ll need more stretches like that in order to compete with Golden State’s breathtaking offensive runs.

Wrong: We don’t know the extent of the injury, obviously, but if Cleveland is without Kyrie Irving for any extended period of time going forward, it could be a death knell for the Cavaliers’ chances in these Finals. Irving, who missed extensive time in the Eastern Conference finals dealing with left knee tendinitis, logged 43 minutes in Game 1 of The Finals, and posted 23 points, six assists and seven rebounds. His biggest play may have been on the defensive end, when Irving made a chase-down block against Stephen Curry with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, preserving the tie. With 2 minutes remaining in overtime, Irving re-injured his left leg and left the court in obvious pain.

Right: Golden State’s depth was huge during their 67-win regular season. And after a slow start in Game 1 of The Finals, the Warriors got a jump-start from their bench. Marreese Speights returned from injury to score six quick points, and Andre Iguodala picked up the task of defending LeBron James. Of course, James was terrific, finishing with 44 points, eight boards and six assists, but he made just 1 of his last 6 shots, with Iguodala hounding him on every possession.

Wrong: Cleveland used a short bench, only playing J.R. Smith, James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova. That can work in the postseason, when teams have a few days off between games. But tonight those three combined for nine points, all from Smith, who shot 3-for-13. Jones, a great 3-point shooter, played 17 minutes and only attempted one shot. If the Cavs are going to make a run at the Warriors, their only production can’t come from just James and Irving.

Right: Golden State coach Steve Kerr may be in his first campaign as a head coach, but he made multiple moves that worked out in his favor. And perhaps no decision was bigger (figuratively) than going small in overtime. After Cleveland turned to a “big” lineup with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov playing together, Kerr countered by going small, using Draymond Green at center with Harrison Barnes and Iguodala as forwards. It gave the Warriors a jump-start, and helped their offense click into place in the overtime session.

Wrong: Cleveland has had an advantage on the boards throughout the postseason, with Thompson, Mozgov and James controlling the paint. And while those three continued their work — particularly Thompson, who finished with 15 rebounds — the Warriors put in work on the boards and finished with 56 rebounds, the same as Cleveland. Golden State used a team approach, as ten members of the Warriors each had at least three rebounds.

Cavs and Warriors: How they were built


VIDEO: Road to the Finals: Growing pains in Cleveland

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors reached The Finals in very different ways.

After making major changes last summer, the Cavs struggled out of the gate and made more changes in early January. Dion Waiters was sent to Oklahoma City. Timofey Mozgov was acquired from Denver, while Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith were brought in from New York.

In comparison, the Warriors have been rather stable. Like the Cavs, they made a coaching change a year ago. But while only 39 percent of the Cavs’ regular-season minutes were played by guys who were on the roster last season, that number was 82 percent for Golden State. And the Warriors were the best team in the league from start to finish, making only a minor change to their roster (swapping Nemanja Nedovic for James Michael McAdoo).

Still, if you look at the Warriors’ roster construction, it’s as much a mix of players acquired via the Draft, free agency, and trades as the Cavs’ roster is.

20150531_gsw_roster 20150531_cle_roster

Note: Andre Iguodala and David Lee were acquired via sign-and-trade deals, which are counted here as trades.

But the Warriors’ mix isn’t so even when you consider who’s getting minutes in the postseason. Steve Kerr is leaning heavily on the guys the Warriors drafted over the years.

20150531_gsw_minutes 20150531_cle_minutes

Only two of the six guys the Warriors acquired via free agency – Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston – are in their playoff rotation. And those guys rank seventh and eighth in minutes played. Their top four guys in minutes – Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes – all came via the Draft.

The Cavs’ minutes pie leans more toward trade than free agency because Shumpert, Mozgov and Smith all rank in the top six in minutes, while Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Kendrick Perkins aren’t in the rotation.

The contrast between the two teams is even bigger when we look at playoff production, as measured by the efficiency statistic.

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

20150531_gsw_production 20150531_cle_production

The Warriors are getting 2/3 of their production from guys they drafted, headlined by those four starters noted above. The Cavs, meanwhile are only getting about 1/4 of their production from guys they drafted (and didn’t lose to Miami for four years). Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson account for basically all of that. LeBron James was acquired (the second time) via free agency, and he accounts for about 1/4 of the Cavs’ production himself.

This is a copycat league at times, but there’s no definitive way to build your roster. For the Warriors, it’s been about the Draft. For the Cavs, it’s been about the best player in the world looking to come home, as well as some clever moves made in January.

20150531_gsw_roster_list 20150531_cle_roster_list

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: The Starters preview The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each made history in reaching The Finals.

Since the NBA starting counting turnovers in 1977, no team had made The Finals after leading the league in pace — like the Warriors did — or after ranking as low as 20th in defensive efficiency — like the Cavs did — in the regular season. That’s 37 years of trends that have been bucked, in two different ways.

These are special teams. Statistically, the Warriors are the best team we’ve seen since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, outscoring their opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Cavs, meanwhile, have fought through a myriad of changes (via trades and injuries) to get here, improving defensively along the way.

And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.

This is also a matchup of the MVP and the world’s best player, the two guys who lead the league in postseason usage rate. Stephen Curry and LeBron James won’t be guarding each other and have very unique games, but some of their playoff advanced stats are very similar.

20150529_curry_james

Curry has been the more efficient scorer, while James has provided more for his team on defense and on the glass. Curry has the deeper supporting cast, but James has been here before.

When this series is done, he’ll either be 3-3 or 2-4 in The Finals, and either the Cavs will have their first championship or the Warriors will have their first one in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

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No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

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No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

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No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Morning shootaround — May 8


VIDEO: What can we expect in Game 3 of Cavs-Bulls?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Impact of losing Wall | McHale to Clippers: ‘Quit hacking us’ | Blatt glad to have Smith back in mix

No. 1: How losing Wall would affect Wizards — The Washington Wizards got some potentially awful news yesterday when the team announced star point guard John Wall has “five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.” That news not only hurts Wall and Wizards fans, but if he misses the rest of the playoffs, the news may be a fatal blow to Washington’s hopes of a long postseason run. Our John Schuhmann digs into exactly how much Wall matters to the Wizards’ playoff efforts:

Wall has been one of the best player’s of the postseason thus far, averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 assists. With the Wizards playing small more than they did in the regular season, Wall has taken advantage of the extra space and sliced up the Toronto and Atlanta defenses. Though they scored less than a point per possession on Tuesday, the Wizards have been the most improved offensive team from the regular season to the playoffs by a wide margin.

In five playoff games, Wall has created 30.8 points per game via assists, 12 more than any other player in the postseason. His teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent off his passes.

Having earned a split in Atlanta, a healthy Wizards team would have a good shot at getting to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But assuming Wall is out, they’re in trouble.

In the regular season, Washington was 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the floor than with him off. In the playoffs, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes with Wall on the floor and just 96.0 in 102 minutes with him off the floor.

Ramon Sessions is a decent back-up and helped narrow that on-off gap after arriving in a deadline-day trade. But he doesn’t have the quickness, size or decision-making skills that Wall does. And he’s not nearly as good a defender either.

The Wizards will likely have to make due without their most important player, asking more of Bradley Bealoffensively. They couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, but they were within five points of the Hawks with less than six minutes to go in Game 2. And they’re not about to say that their season is over.

“All of us have to step up a little bit more,” Wizards coach Randy Wittmansaid after practice Thursday. “John’s, no question, a big part of our team. But that doesn’t limit what this team can continue to do.”

“By no means do we feel like this series is over or our goals change,” Paul Pierceadded. “We’re going to continue to go out there, reach for our goals, and continue to fight each and every night. We did a good job at cutting this series to 1-1, to get home-court advantage. So it’s up to everybody to rally around one another, use some motivation, and try to win these games, especially for John.”


VIDEO: Digging into the affect John Wall has on the Wizards’ offense

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