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Morning shootaround — April 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry didn’t decide to miss Game 3 alone | Rockets’ front office gets vocal on social media | Why Wizards are hiring Brooks | Kings interview Mitchell

No. 1: Warriors decided collectively to rest Curry for Game 3 — Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry has been itching to get back in the Golden State Warriors’ lineup ever since he tweaked his right ankle in Game 1 of the team’s first-round series. He hadn’t done so leading up to last night’s Game 3 in Houston and while he likely hoped to play then, he ultimately sat out on Thursday, too. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the decision to sit Curry was not made in a vacuum but rather in consultation with several Warriors officials:

Stephen Curry did not play Thursday night in Game 3, but only after prolonged conversation and contemplation among Warriors officials.

This time, Curry made his case to play. His much-scrutinized right ankle felt better than it did Monday night, when he cut short his pregame warm-up routine and essentially decided on his own he would not play in Game 2.

This time, Curry wanted to give it a shot. He went through Thursday morning’s shootaround, and afterward he spent several minutes talking to team trainers and team doctor Bill Maloney on the court at Toyota Center.

Head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers joined a subsequent discussion, and a consensus emerged to give Curry at least two more days to recover.

Kerr said the ankle improved from Wednesday to Thursday. The decision was made by Kerr, Myers, Maloney and the training staff, with input from Curry.

“We made a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “Everyone had a voice, including Steph. The fact he hasn’t done much live work in practice, it’s hard to know what he can do in game situations.”

The decision means Curry will have seven full days between games. He injured the ankle Saturday in Game 1; now he hopes to return Sunday for Game 4.

Asked about his outlook for Curry on Sunday, Myers said, “I’m hopeful. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to do a little more (the next two days) than he’s done.”

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Report: Brooks Administration begins in Washington

The Wizards succeeded in their goal to entice an important basketball figure from Oklahoma City to sign up, and now it’ll be a matter of months to see if they can double their pleasure.

It’s not that the hiring of former Thunder coach Scott Brooks to a reported five-year deal (Yahoo! Sports is first to report the deal) is precursor to signing free-agent-bound Kevin Durant, but the Wizards can dream, can’t they? In a perfect world, Durant will return home — he’s from the Maryland suburbs — and re-join a coach that he respected, and the stench of the just-completed Wizards’ season will be replaced instantly by a sweet aroma.

Washington really had nothing to lose here. The Wizards have plotted a way to get Durant for years. Last summer they refused to offer an extension to Bradley Beal in order to keep space under the salary cap. And they also chose against adding additional salary as well. Finally, they fired coach Randy Wittman, who didn’t have the pulse of the locker room anymore, at least according to reports.

Even if Durant stays in Oklahoma City or signs elsewhere, the Wizards evidently feel Brooks will be an upgrade over Wittman or at least a change of pace. While Wittman was fiery and emotional, Brooks is more laid-back and is particularly accommodating of stars, which is good news for John Wall. Besides, the most attractive candidate on the market, Tom Thibodeau, signed with Minnesota and the Wizards found themselves in competition for Brooks with two or three others with coaching vacancies, with the Rockets (Brooks once played for Houston) leading the pack.

You could make the case that Brooks didn’t deserve to lose his job in OKC. He coached the Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals, and for the next three years the Thunder dealt with untimely injuries to the meat of their rotation: Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, all missing significant time at some point over the next three playoffs. Plus, Brooks had the endorsement of those three players, the only three who truly mattered.

Instead, OKC went with Billy Donovan, hoping his offense would be more imaginative (the jury’s out on that) and would quickly curry favor with Durant and give the former MVP one more reason to stay with OKC beyond this season.

The competition for Durant will be Golden State; the defending champions would be his best choice from an instant gratification standpoint; and OKC, where he could sign a one-year deal and then do this dance all over again next summer, when he’d be in line for even more money under the rising cap.

Or he can return home and play in the East, where the path to the NBA Finals isn’t littered with broken glass.

The Wizards reached the second round of the playoffs last year but greatly underachieved this year and fell into the lottery. They haven’t won a championship since the Fat Lady sang in 1977-78 when they were the Bullets and 10 years before Durant was born.

Blogtable: Most attractive coaching vacancy in NBA is …?

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: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOThe Washington Wizards fired Randy Wittman on April 14

> You’re a head coach looking for a job in the NBA. Which vacancy is more attractive: Minnesota, Sacramento or Washington?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: This is a serious question? Only one of those teams has the combo platter of Karl-Anthony Towns, aged 20, and Andrew Wiggins, aged 21, along with side dishes Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Nemanja Bjelica. That’s in Mary Richards’s town, Minneapolis. You do notice that just about everyone who’s ever picked up a clipboard is angling for the Wolves’ gig, don’t you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Minnesota is the winner here by a considerable margin, on par with how easily Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns won (or will win) their Kia Rookie of the Year awards last season and this. Those two, along with Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and the lottery pick they add this June are gems in various stages of being cut. Flip Saunders in 2014-15 and Sam Mitchell this season handled some of the dirty work, while the next head coach will end the Timberwolves’ playoff drought at 12 or 13 seasons (they last qualified in 2004). That will end my claim as the only Minneapolis beat writer to cover that franchise in the postseason, but it’s a streak I’ll be happy to see end.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDo well really have to ask this question? It’s Minnesota by a mile. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine to start. There’s a reason why the Timberwolves got the choosy veterans Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy to sit down with them first. It’s a solid foundation that could become a contender for a decade.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI know which is the least attractive: Sacramento. That leaves us with Minnesota and Washington. Tough call. Based on current rosters, the Wizards have a better chance to win now, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal. But the young Timberwolves have a higher ceiling projecting to the future, and probably much higher. The Wolves also have a big chip the Wiz will not be offering for a top candidate: the chance to also run basketball operations. That won’t be offered to everyone, but for someone like Tom Thibodeau it could be the ultimate selling point between Minnesota and somewhere else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThis is like saying who should be MVP, Steph Curry or the field? Minnesota by far is the more attractive opening because of a combination of young talent, a lottery pick on the way and lots of salary cap space. The only hazard is Minneapolis’ winter. The Wizards are next because if nothing else, they have John Wall. Then there’s Sacramento, and the best you can say about the Kings’ job is that it’s one of 30, at least you’re in the NBA.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Minnesota, for sure. Karl-Anthony Towns, a perennial MVP candidate in time if he has the right supporting cast, is reasons Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for his ability to make an impact on offense, defense and in the locker room. Andrew Wiggins has a world of talent, Zach LaVine was much improved after moving to shooting guard in the second half of the season, and Ricky Rubio is a point guard you can trust to run your offense and stay in front of his man on defense. Sacramento is obviously last on the list. Your reputation might take a hit for just accepting that job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Minnesota has the highest ceiling, when you factor in the quality of the young talent already in place, the assets (Draft and otherwise) available and the non-existent expectations that are in place right now. A program-builder could come in there and mold talents like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine into the pillars of a playoff team for years to come. Sacramento and Washington have All-Stars in place, but the outlook for the immediate future isn’t nearly as promising.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Reports: Wizards fire Wittman

NBA.com staff reports

The Washington Wizards missed the playoffs this season, a letdown after last season’s 46-36 campaign that saw the Wizards reach the Eastern Conference semifinals. That work Washington put in — and its results since part of the way through 2011-12 — was done under the watch of coach Randy Wittman.

But after last night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, Wittman was let go as coach. The Associated Press, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo all reported the news shortly after last night’s game, which is when Wittman found out he was fired.

Here’s the AP on the move:

With a seemingly half-hearted showing against a bunch of backups, the Hawks lost 109-98 to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night and wound up seeded No. 4.

After the game, Wizards coach Randy Wittman was told he would not return next season, according to a person familiar with the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the move has not been announced by the team.

After the game, Wittman offered a defense of the job he’s done.

“I love this job. I’m going to come to work until they tell me I can’t. I’m proud of what we’ve done here. I took over 4 1/2 years ago, and this was a sideshow,” Wittman said. “And we slowly changed the culture of this team. And we had a slip-up this year.”

About an hour later, Wittman was overheard saying his goodbyes to a team employee.

Here’s Stein’s report on ESPN.com about why the Wizards parted ways with Wittman and who might be next to take the job:

NBA coaching sources tell ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scotty Brooks is widely regarded as the Wizards’ preferred choice to replace Wittman, at least partly to assist with Washington’s long-held plan to chase D.C. native Kevin Durant in free agency.

Next season was to be the final year of Wittman’s three-year contract, which paid him more than $3 million per season but was not fully guaranteed.

Wittman took the team to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons since taking over for the late Flip Saunders in January 2012, but the team’s 41-41 finish this season was far below what prognisticators expected for the team this season.

Last season, the Wizards went 46-36 and were seeded fifth in the East for the playoffs. They knocked off the Toronto Raptors in the first round, then bowed out in six games against Atlanta after Wall broke bones in his left hand and wrist in Game 1.

After having success using Paul Pierce as a stretch-4 during those playoffs, the Wizards tried to install a full-fledged pace-and-space system this season, although they did it without Pierce, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent.

The strategy never fully worked. Washington’s defensive play, the foundation of the success Wittman did have with the team, took a major step back this season, and injuries up and down the roster didn’t help matters.

And here’s Castillo’s report on the outlook in D.C. as well:

The team is expected to call a Thursday afternoon press conference to formally announce the move.

Grunfeld, who retooled the roster last offseason with this summer’s salary cap space in mind, is under contract for at least next season. He is expected to return for his 14th campaign in his position. If he does, he’ll oversee his fifth coach during his tenure and, barring an extension, will likely not have his contract aligned with the new coach. Potential candidates to replace Wittman include Scott Brooks and Jeff Hornacek.

Over the next three seasons, Wittman successfully shepherded the team by getting players to consistently commit on the defensive end. Improvement followed. The Wizards jumped from 20-46 to 29-63 to 44-38 to 46-36, snapping a five-year postseason drought along the way.

The organization envisioned taking the next step this season, with stated goals of a top-four seed and its first 50-win season since 1979. The franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth in 37 years was also among the aspirations, a goal that seemed in sight last season until star John Wall fractured his hand during the Eastern Conference semifinals, which the Wizards lost in six games to the Hawks.

Wittman, a defensive-minded coach, installed an uptempo playing style that focused on spacing the floor, shooting more three pointers, and scoring in transition after the team’s success with a similar look during the playoffs last season– all while the front office prioritized salary cap space for this offseason. The defensive identity cultivated in previous seasons vanished until the all-star break before the Wizards turned it around and ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency  in 31 games after the respite.

Overall, Washington’s defense allowed 3.8 more points per 100 possessions than last season and went from second in opponents’ field-goal percentage to 24th entering Wednesday’s finale. Meanwhile, the Wizards’ offensive efficiency climbed just 1.2 points.

“It’s a decision that I made,” Wittman said of the philosophical shift. “That was my choice.”

Players said defense was not prioritized in training camp like in the past with the move to the pace-and-space offense, but the reasons for the woes extended far beyond that. The conditioning necessary for the system was a problem across the roster, including for Wall, who reported to camp heavier than usual and had a dismal November. Early injuries complicated cohesiveness. But, most prominently, effort, discipline, and accountability – the three tenets of Wittman’s tenure that masked the team’s previous offensive shortcomings — were inconsistent.

Morning shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready for shot at No. 73 | Kobe’s finale is here | Report: Wittman likely done in Washington | Rockets not sweating final gamePistons’ Jackson: ‘I want to go and fight Goliath’

No. 1: Warriors ready for their shot at 73 A mere 48 minutes (and a victory, of course) is all that stands between the Golden State Warriors and a place all their own in NBA history. A win tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (10:30 ET, ESPN) gives the Warriors a 73-win season, surpassing the 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The players on the team understand the weight of the moment ahead and while they somewhat wish they had wrapped this goal up sooner, they are nonetheless excited about tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

“We have an opportunity to do something that no one has done,” Stephen Curry said. “So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we’ve accomplished something as a group that’s never been done before, that’s remarkable.

“We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job.”

Finishing the job means beating Memphis on Wednesday for what would be the Warriors’ 73rd win of the season, a mark not accomplished in NBA history and a standard that might not again be touched.

No team had won 70 games before the Bulls won 72 in 1995-96, and no team had threatened their record in the two decades since then — until this season.

“It would have been cool to take care of the games we were supposed to take care of and have it already out of the way, but the way this thing has played out, to be at home and have one shot it, it’s pretty amazing,” power forward Draymond Green said.

“It’s there for us now, so we’re going to try to get it, but the end-all, be-all for me is the championship ring,” center Andrew Bogut said. “That record, I don’t think it’s going to get broken again, but you never know. Five or 10 years down the track, that record could be broken.

“The records in 2015 and 2016 that say ‘champions’ won’t be. That’ll never change.”

The Warriors have juggled their attention between setting a seemingly immortal regular-season record and defending their championship all season. They finally decided that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Even during Tuesday’s practice, one that head coach Steve Kerr missed for a doctor’s appointment, the record was not mentioned. Instead, the Warriors watched video and drilled fundamentals.

“Our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship until this game is over,” lead assistant coach Luke Walton said.

Green has been more outspoken than anyone about his desire to chase the record.

On Monday, he decided to reward three high schoolers with the chance to witness history by giving each of them a pair of tickets to the game. He’s not worried about his gesture looking like a prediction of victory or becoming bulletin-board material.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point. The whole world is talking about it now,” Green said. “… It’s everywhere. There’s nowhere to hide from it now. …

“I’m definitely not predicting a loss.”

As for the Grizzlies, they have no intention of rolling over and taking a loss. ESPN.com has more here:

“They’re chasing history,” Memphis forward Matt Barnes said after the Grizzlies’ 110-84 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. “We have a chance to interrupt history. Playing in Golden State, I know how alive that crowd is going to be, and I’m going to be very excited to be part of that game.”

Coach David Joerger said he expects the Grizzlies to rise to the occasion against the Warriors.

“It’s for history, baby,” Joerger said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

The injury-riddled Grizzlies have fought for their playoff hopes for the past two months but are in free fall, having lost nine of their past 10 games and three in a row. With Tuesday’s defeat, they dropped into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Yeah, the emotional tank is a little bit empty right now,” Joerger said.

“You also know that sitting out there 24 hours you’ve got a chance to be the answer on every Trivial Pursuit card for the next 75 years. We’ll see what we’re going to do with that tomorrow.”

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Morning Shootaround — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards eliminated from playoffs | For Warriors, motivation not a problem | Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? | The Brooklyn Swamp Dragons?

No. 1: Wizards eliminated from playoffs After giving the Atlanta Hawks all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, the Washington Wizards were a popular choice to contend in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, with last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards were eliminated from postseason contention and clinched a finish below .500. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, playing without an injured John Wall didn’t do anything to help matters

Elimination games were not uncharted territory for the Wizards. They just didn’t expect to play any in the regular season without their best player. But a season that began with a top-four seed and the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1979 atop the list of objectives was sabotaged by baffling inconsistency and a bevy of perplexing losses. Consequently, the Wizards have spent much of the second half of the season outside the playoff picture, scoreboard-peeking while they squandered opportunities.

With three games remaining, the Wizards, winners of 44 and 46 games the past two seasons, are 38-41 and cannot finish the campaign above .500.

“We had some tough losses,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who was acquired Feb. 18. “It’s tough with the talent and the expectations they had even before I got here. It’s definitely a tough way to end the season. But we have to finish these last games strong and start looking forward.”

The Pistons improved to 43-37 after finishing 32-50 last season and rose to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the victory. Reggie Jackson led the charge Friday, shooting 14 of 20 from the field and adding nine assists. Tobias Harris, a trade-deadline acquisition, contributed 17 points, while all-star Andre Drummond was held to eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

Morris, playing against his twin brother, Marcus, for the third time since joining the Wizards, recorded 29 points, his most in a Wizards uniform. Bradley Beal, who assumed some primary ballhandling duties with Wall out, contributed 25 points and had six turnovers. Ramon Sessions, John Wall’s replacement in the starting lineup, finished with 12 points and six assists.

Wall underwent an MRI exam on his right knee after sitting out Wednesday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets — the first game he had missed this season — and the results revealed no tear or sprain. After the Wizards had their team photo taken at Verizon Center on Thursday morning, he went to a doctor and the knee was drained. That remedied the swelling, but the pain remained after treatment all day Thursday and Friday morning before the team rode the bus to Auburn Hills for shoot-around.

“It took all the fluid out, but it’s just still sore and numb to move,” Wall said after shoot-around Friday morning. “It’s just sore. It’s still sore.”

Wall also said he still doesn’t know how he hurt the knee. He woke up with it swollen Wednesday morning. He recalled his day Tuesday, mystified: practice, shooting workouts, usual maintenance treatment, shower, media availability, home.

“Nothing was wrong,” Wall said.

The Wizards did not succumb without some pugnacity Friday. The Pistons used a three-point barrage — they made nine of their first 11 attempts — to build a 19-point lead in the second quarter, which Washington shrunk to seven at halftime. Detroit again tried to put the Wizards away in the third quarter, widening the gulf back to 16 with 4 minutes 58 seconds remaining in the period on a three-point play by Marcus Morris.

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No. 2: For Warriors, motivation not a problem After winning a title last season, the Golden State Warriors managed to return this season and have put together what has a chance to be the greatest regular season in NBA history. As Andrew Bogut told Yahoo’s Michael Lee, the Warriors haven’t really had much trouble finding motivation this season

The most disrespected great team in NBA history never had the chance to get satisfied. The Golden State Warriors went from their Champagne showers in Cleveland to that championship parade along Lake Merritt, right into a cynical volcano that spewed molten Haterade over all they accomplished. At every turn, what the Warriors achieved got discredited and diminished: They got lucky. The league was watered down. If so-and-so had been healthy …

“Blah, blah, blah. We just kept having people put bulletin-board material out there for us,” Andrew Bogut told The Vertical. “What we heard in the offseason was we didn’t deserve to be champions – and it pissed guys off. Every other week, someone made a comment. We heard all the naysayers. I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing.”

Bogut repeated himself and cracked a smile because he knows it was a good thing. With Thursday’s 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors became the second NBA team in history win 70 games, and that’s largely because they never had to search for motivation during their title defense. Of course, the Warriors had the Spurs – also in the midst of their best season in franchise history – to push them so hard that 70 wins actually became a requirement to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But more than anything, the Warriors had the hate. Of the 10 previous teams to win at least 67 games, the Warriors are the first to record more victories the following season. Their regular-season dominance has been the result of defiance – the kind that might finally be satiated by reaching some rarefied air.

Golden State (70-9) still needs to win its last three games to jump over Jumpman and break the 72-win record set in 1995-96 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. But no matter the final win tally, the Warriors – at least, in their minds – have done enough to distinguish themselves as one of the best regular-season teams ever and prove that last season’s success didn’t come by accident.

“Should be enough. It’s only one [other] team who’s done it in NBA history, and it’s considered ‘the greatest team ever,’ ” an air-quoting Klay Thompson told The Vertical. “So I mean, we still got to take care of business in the playoffs. I think that will be the cap on everything. But this is a steppingstone for that.”

***

No. 3: Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? One day after likely free agent Pau Gasol mentioned the way the Bulls finished may affect his decision-making in free agency, turns out it may not matter, at least in Chicago. As K.C. Johnson writes in the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are likely going to find themselves having to make a choice between pursuing Joakim Noah or Gasol, in which case Noah might be their selection…

Though front-office meetings have yet to finalize the Bulls’ Plan A for this offseason, there is strong internal desire to re-sign Noah on a short-term deal. Noah long has been a favorite player and ambassador of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Executive vice president John Paxson drafted Noah, and their bond is genuine.

Plus, though injuries have diminished Noah since his All-NBA season in 2013-14, his defensive abilities and leadership qualities fill gaping voids.

It will take work, not to mention money, to win back Noah, who disliked the false story Fred Hoiberg spread at the start of the season that he volunteered to come off the bench. He then disliked playing just 20 minutes per game and not finishing them more.

But Hoiberg had started to play Noah more before his first shoulder injury in December. And Noah remains invested enough in the team to question Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for their silence at the April 3 team meeting, according to several people present.

The Bulls passed on an opportunity to try to finalize moving Gasol to the Kings at the February trade deadline. General manager Gar Forman, who won the internal debate to keep Gasol, called the All-Star center “part of our core.” Gasol said then the Bulls “for sure” are the leading candidates for his free agency services.

Gasol placed a qualifier on that claim, saying how the Bulls fared over the final 30 games would play a factor in his decision, which will come after he exercises his player option for free agency.

The Bulls are 12-15 since.

***

No. 4: Swamp Dragons? The Brooklyn Nets are established now in their new borough, after moving a few rivers east from their previous home in New Jersey. But while the Brooklyn part of their name is new, it turns out that a few years back, they almost passed on the Nets nickname. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in a lively oral history, once upon a time, the New Jersey Nets very nearly became the New Jersey Swamp Dragons

As the vote of the full Board of Governors neared, news of the proposed name change leaked — and drew a predictable backlash.

SPOELSTRA: Someone from [Gov.] Christine Whitman‘s office called me and said they didn’t like the Meadowlands being referred to as a a swamp. Well, that’s what it is. I don’t see any cows grazing there. (Through a spokesperson, Whitman said she didn’t recall the Swamp Dragons saga.)

COHEN: Of course, the Meadowlands is in a swamp. It was a colorful name, but I started to wonder if it might draw more ridicule than anything else. How would sponsors feel about sponsoring a team called the Swamp Dragons? We had to think about all of that. I don’t know if Chuck Daly [hired in 1993] would have come to coach the Swamp Dragons.

O’GRADY: We spent four or five months on this, and suddenly there was a pushback. We were getting hammered. Hammered. We played around with maybe just calling them Fire Dragons — to save the dragon, but veer away from the swamp.

SPOELSTRA: Fire Dragons didn’t come from us. We wanted Swamp Dragons. The funny thing is, that swamp caught fire every summer anyway. The water would literally burn because of all the chemicals in it. Talk about fire dragons.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kent Bazemore‘s #BazeGaze has become a thing in AtlantaSix promising NBA head coaching candidates worth keeping an eye on … Villanova’s Jay Wright says he doesn’t have any plans of jumping to the NBA … According to ESPN.com, the Phoenix Suns plan on launching a broad coaching search this offseasonBen Simmons will pass up playing in Rio to prepare for his NBA career … Justin Bieber visited the Houston Rockets

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors | Kobe takes final Celtics matchup seriously | Griffin just glad to be back in mix | Wizards’ playoff hopes fading fast

No. 1: Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors — As the Golden State Warriors have gotten closer and closer to a 73-win season — which would break the 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls — retired NBA players far and wide have chimed in on the looming accomplishment. Some of them have been not too supportive of the Warriors or their style of play, but few members of that ’95-96 Bulls team have had much to say about it … until now. Scottie Pippen, the second fiddle to Michael Jordan on that 72-win team, didn’t hold back when asked about the Warriors during an interview event in Houston. ESPN.com has more on what Pippen said:

The Golden State Warriors are closing in on the NBA record for most victories in a single season, set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

But Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen evidently doesn’t think Golden State would match up well with his record-setting Chicago squad. In a recent interview, he said the 1995-96 Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a hypothetical series between the teams.

“Bulls in four [games],” Pippen said during an interview at an AT&T event in Houston.

Pippen was then offered a chance to clarify his prediction and was asked whether he thought the Bulls would have an off-night against Golden State.

“I don’t think we’d take a night off,” he said.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a reserve point guard on that Bulls team. Asked about the comparison before Sunday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 136-111 win, Kerr said it didn’t bother him.

“First of all, it’s a really hard question to answer,” Kerr said. “Not just because you’re comparing eras, but literally it’s tough for me to answer, grammatically, because I don’t know who ‘we’ is and who ‘they’ are. I’ll just say if the two teams play each other, there’s no question we can beat us and they can beat them.”

Kerr said it was tough to compare the teams because of their differing eras.

“For example, if you actually put the teams in a hypothetical game, my guess is the Bulls would be called for a million hand-check fouls, and we would be called for a million illegal defenses when we overloaded the strong side,” Kerr said. “So the game would take, like, six hours because the refs would be calling stuff all game. It’s kind of hard to get past that. Now, they wouldn’t call traveling in either era.”

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

***

 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

***

No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

***

No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins, Kings at odds againCavs all business in L.A. | Gap between Thunder and elite growsRaptors want Lowry handling ball more at crunch time | Iggy-less Warriors face test

No. 1: Cousins, Kings at odds as season winds down — Tensions between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and the team and front office with the Sacramento Kings have been a constant topic of discussion during Cousins’ six-season tenure there. As has been the case with Cousins throughout his time in Sacramento, he continues to deliver solid numbers on a pure stats basis — and last night was no different as he had a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a home loss to the Utah Jazz. Afterward, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins didn’t hide his frustration with the team and his coach, George Karl, saying he was the one who suspended him last week:

There’s no hiding DeMarcus Cousins’ frustration.

The season that was supposed to be different from his first five, the season in which he had a real chance to make the playoffs, is unraveling just like the others.

(more…)

Oscar (Big O) Robertson receives Legends’ Lifetime Achievement Award


VIDEO: Robertson given Lifetime Achievement Award

TORONTO – Oscar Robertson is one of the greatest players in NBA history, a pioneer both on and off the basketball floor and walking shorthand for one of the game’s most esteemed stats: the triple-double.

Current stars way too young to have seen Robertson play during his 14-season career with Cincinnati and Milwaukee know his name and what it meant in terms of 10 or more points, rebounds and assists in the same game.

“He averaged a triple-double, right? The whole season?” Washington’s All-Star guard John Wall said, answering the question with a question. “That’s all I need to know. If you can do that in one season, that means you were a heckuva player.”

How “heckuva” was he? Robertson, 77, will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday at the National Basketball Retired Players Association classy “Legends” Brunch in a ceremony scheduled to feature Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and the Minnesota Timberwolves young big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

Robertson did average a triple-double in his famous 1961-62 season: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The 6-foot-5 guard from the University of Cincinnati had 41 games that season in which he reached double figures in all three categories – the NBA’s big triple-double threats in 2015-16, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, have done that 10 and eight times, respectively.

Even more impressive, Robertson averaged a cumulative triple-double over his first five seasons as a pro: 30.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg across 383 games. He remains the league’s all-time leader with 181 triple-doubles, racking up the 1960 Rookie of the Year award, the MVP in 1964, 12 All-Star berths and three All-Star MVP honors.

After missing the postseason five times and advancing only twice in his 10 years with the Royals, Robertson was traded to Milwaukee to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He and the Bucks won their only championship in his first year there but returned to the Finals again in 1974 before Robertson retired.

If the players who will be participating in Sunday’s All-Star Game weren’t around in time to witness Robertson’s exploits, the same isn’t true for one of their coaches. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich grew up in Merrilville, Ind., and was a teenager during Robertson’s dominance in Cincinnati. Neither the Pacers nor the Bulls existed yet as a rooting option, making it simple for Popovich to look over to the Royals.

“I’m an Indiana boy. He’s an Indiana guy, from Indianapolis obviously,” Popovich said Friday. “He and [Celtics Hall of Famer] John Havlicek were the two people I keyed in on the most when I was a young kid and watched games. They weren’t on as much as they are now, but whenever they were, those were the guys I wanted to watch.”

In high school, Robertson famously was the leader of Crispus Attucks High’s consecutive state championships, making it the first all-black school in the nation to win a state championship in any sport. At the University of Cincinnati, Robertson’s teams went 89-9; he was the national collegiate player of the year three times and the U.S. Basketball Writers’ player-of-the-year award is now named the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

Before he reached the NBA, he and Lakers legend Jerry West drove the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. And then came his marvelous, multi-faceted work with the Royals.

“I’m still incredulous at Oscar’s accomplishments,” Popovich said, “when you talk about how he scored, passed and rebounded night after night after night. It’s a combination that I don’t think anybody in the league has. Nobody. And he did it over and over again, to the point where it was almost ignored because he made it so common.”

Robertson, who lives in Cincinnati with his wife Yvonne, has said that if he knew triple-doubles were going to be such a big deal, he would have tried to get more of them.

It isn’t possible to fully appreciate Robertson’s impact, though, without noting his work on behalf of the NBA Players Association. He served as NBPA president from 1965 to 1974, becoming the first black president of any sports or entertainment labor union. In 1970, he put his name to a lawsuit to block the merger of the NBA with the old American Basketball Association, to end the option clause binding a player to an NBA team in perpetuity, to end the NBA Draft’s power to bind a player to one team and to end restrictions on free agency.

By April 1976 – 40 years ago this season – the league agreed to a class-action settlement that became casually known as the “Oscar Robertson rule,” eliminating the reserve clause (much like Curt Flood‘s MLB litigation) and moving the NBA toward free agency.

That side of Robertson’s career, he long believed, denied him some post-playing opportunities in coaching, in NBA front offices or in broadcasting because of the clout it shifted to players and the boost it provided to player salaries. It remains an underappreciated element to this day, at least publicly, even as his skills stay relegated to grainy black-and-white film clips.

“I think he probably was the best player to ever play the game,” said Wayne Embry, Robertson’s longtime friend, former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer. “And then the contribution he made with the Oscar Robertson lawsuit., that changed the complexion of the league in salaries and in creating free agency. So all the growth of this league is the result of guys like him getting things right.”


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