Posts Tagged ‘Jrue Holiday’

Overtime: 24-second thoughts


VIDEO: All-Access: 2015 NBA Finals

What?  No Game 7?

Well, some of us still have some final thoughts on The Finals:

24 — Even in fantasyland, you’ve got to start things off with the National Anthem. How about ultimate fantasy from Bay Area — the Grateful Dead, circa April 1993.

23 — The Catch. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Decision. The Kneecap. Every major league city has its own share of heartbreak. Cleveland’s just seems larger than Lake Erie.  This one doesn’t belong on that list of hurt.  The Cavs battled proudly.

22 — The Warriors danced harmoniously and gorgeously from October to June with a roster that stayed virtually intact, and in some corners they are asked to apologize for this? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”

And durability is a talent.

21 — Irony is that the only significant injury suffered by the Warriors all season, David Lee’s strained left hamstring in the final game of preseason, opened the door for Draymond Green and the championship lineup.

20 — Before Golden State gets pigeonholed into history as banner carriers for jump shots, don’t forget the Warriors had the No. 1 defense in the NBA all season. And were No. 1 in assists.

19 — The best reason ever why coach Steve Kerr didn’t rub the nose of 3-point-shooting critic Charles Barkley in the Warriors’ championship: “I mean, guy picked up every bar tab I ever was part of when I was at TNT. So he can say whatever he wants.”

18 — Is there just the smallest part of Kerr that would be tempted to drop the mic and walk off after one flawless season? How’s that for Zen, Phil Jackson?

17 — Will say it again: For a team that has players with size and strength in low post — LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers don’t finish strong at the hoop nearly enough. That especially goes for LeBron. Stop going off the glass and make them foul you and pay the physical price.

16 — Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, Sea Monkeys, Mood Rings, Cabbage Patch Kids, Matthew Dellavedova.

15 — Somebody will have to explain that Beats headphone TV ad that makes the relationship between Draymond Green and the media look so contentious. For one, nobody has ever asked Green why he acts so arrogant, because he doesn’t. For another, he’s the long-after-the-podium guy who loves to stand in front of his locker way past the final horn and chat. With anybody. It’s like Michele Roberts wrote the script.

14 — The nit-pickers say Stephen Curry still has something to prove since each round of the playoffs featured an opponent with an injured point guard — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley, Kyrie Irving. They don’t mention that he was also on the first team in history to beat every other member of the All-NBA First Team — LeBron, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Marc Gasol — on the way to the title.

13Is LeBron (2-4) on his way to becoming the 21st century version of Jerry West, who lost eight times in The Finals? One could do far worse than being on the same page of history as The Logo.

12 — “We ran out of talent.” James catches flak for this from some corners? A third quarter lineup by the Cavs in Game 6: J.R. Smith, Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Thompson, James Jones. If the NBA playoffs were the NCAA Tournament, they’d be a No. 16 seed playing Kentucky.

11 — If you thought the team that LeBron single-handedly dragged to The Finals and then was swept by the Spurs in 2007 was in deeper water over its head than these Cavs once Irving went down, face it, you’ll never be satisfied with anything he does.

10 — To think it all could have unraveled for the Warriors right at the beginning if Andre Iguodala, who started the first 758 games of his 10-year NBA career, didn’t buy into the program and Kerr’s plan to come off the bench. Unhappy? Yes. Unwilling? No. That’s the definition of a pro’s pro. And don’t forget no grousing from Andrew Bogut when he was benched in The Finals.

9 — So what happens if David Blatt gets that timeout in Chicago?

8 Iggy as Finals MVP? Yes, because it was his move into the starting lineup for Game 4 that began to turn the series around and made what Curry did possible.  And he was the one who made James work so hard and wore him out.

7 — LeBron as MVP? From this corner, to become the historic second player from a losing team to get the honor, James had to pull his bunch into a Game 7.

6 — If you want to follow one more member of the Twitterverse next season, for raw emotion and lots of fun, make it Draymond’s mama:

5 — “I’m the best player the world.” OK, it wasn’t modest. But truth is a defense. And LeBron was clearly just trying to instill confidence in a worn-down, flat-out spent band of merry men that he could somehow get them through Game 6.

4 — Plenty of people and reasons to feel good about in the glow of the Warriors’ championship. Few more than Shaun Livingston, eight years removed from the horrible knee injury that had at least one person at the hospital tell him that he might need his leg amputated.

3 — Two biggest roadblocks to a Warriors repeat: chip-on-his-shoulder Kevin Durant and scarily-fast improving Anthony Davis.

2 — Does Kevin Love stay in Cleveland? Only if winning matters to him.

1 — Same two, same time, next year. Everybody healthy.

Game 1: 24-second thoughts

24 — Just one more reminder of how long the droughts are for both teams: When the Warriors won their last championship (1975), the No. 1 song on the Billboard chart at this time of year was Before the Next Teardrop Falls by Freddy Fender. The last time any Cleveland team won a title (1964), The Beatles led the way with Love Me Do.

23 — Tough act to follow. After a full week of preparation and rest, can the Cavs and Warriors match the stirring performance of 10-year-old Nayah Damasen on the Game 1 national anthem?

22 — Uh-oh. How much is Steve Kerr worrying when the jump shot by LeBron James that’s been shaky all through the playoffs goes down smooth on the first two attempts?

21 — Two words: Tristan Thompson. Two more: Big problem.

20 — Kyrie Irving isn’t 100 percent? Don’t tell that to Draymond Green after that steal, crossover, shield-the-ball and strong finish at the other end. And that was after his block on Steph Curry earlier.

19 — Are they planning the parade route yet in Cleveland? Perfect first quarter and a 29-19 Cavs lead. Warriors not only shooting badly (6-for-21), but have taken a lot of bad shots. Looking like a team with not a minute of Finals experience.

18 — How far back do you have to go to find a midseason pickup who fits better than Timofey Mozgov on a Finals team? I’m thinking Rasheed Wallace to the 2004 Pistons.

17 — Welcome back, Marreese Speights. While he was out for the last eight games with a calf injury, coach Steve Kerr said the one thing that didn’t concern him was his shooting touch. So Mo Buckets comes off the bench and buries his first two shots.

16 — That Golden State bench that’s been so vital and potent all season long is keeping Warriors in the game with an 18-6 advantage midway through the second quarter. Buys them time to get Curry heated up.

15 — Just address Steph Curry’s Christmas cards this year to “Left Corner.” It might as well be his home. Now he’s up to 13-for-14 there in the playoffs. Honest. Shooting the basketball really isn’t as easy as Curry makes it look.

14 — Usage rate for LeBron in first half was high and you wonder if it will take a toll over a long series. Hmmmm, have the maintenance folks at Oracle Arena thought about unplugging the air conditioner?

13 — Yes, the Warriors are making LeBron work for everything he gets. And he’s working them over.

12 — Plan A: LeBron bully-ball. Plan B: Tristan Thompson offensive rebound. Plan C: See Plan A

11 — Sometimes you just don’t play by the book. That foul taken by Draymond Green at the end of the first half just because the Warriors had one to give looks pretty costly — not to mention foolish — now that he’s on the bench with four.

10 — Mike Breen: “Dellavedova trying to get the Cavs into the offense.” Passes to LeBron. “There’s the offense.”

9 — The little things that can win championships? Those two hustling out-of-bounds saves by Harrison Barnes that led to a Leandro Barbosa 3 out of the corner.

8 — Somebody needs to tell the five Cavs on the court for start of the fourth quarter that LeBron is over there sitting on the bench. It’s time to be moving the ball around, not looking for isolation plays.

7 — LeBron’s 37 ties his Finals high with more than six minutes left. As James himself said when somebody asked if he thought he was an underdog in this series: “Me? An underdog? Never.”

6 — 758 consecutive starts to begin career, now off the bench all season and Andre Iguodala’s sacrifice continues as he gives up his body to try to defend James. At both ends, perhaps Iggy’s best game as a Warrior.

5 — Can we give Kyrie Irving his own MVP — Most Valuable Possum? All this talk about being less than full strength and then he makes that tremendous block on Curry drive.

4 — Iguodala’s done everything but sink his teeth into one of LeBron’s shoulders. Great contest on LeBron jumper for the win.

3 — Small ball Warriors with Green playing center in OT have not given Cavs anything at the rim and take control.

2 — Just when we’re all gearing for a humdinger Finals with hope of it going the seven-game distance with a lot more of these classics, there goes Kyrie Irving limping to the locker room. In four rounds of playoffs, the Warriors have faced four teams with point guard injuries — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Pat Beverley and Irving.

1 — If 44 points, eight rebounds, six assists by LeBron wasn’t enough, can the Cavs hope to have a chance if Kyrie can’t go in Game 2? The winner of Game 1 is 48-20 all-time to win series in NBA Finals history.

Brooks Firing Shakes Pelicans’ Williams

NEW ORLEANS — The news of Scott Brooks’ firing in Oklahoma City hit Monty Williams hard and maybe with very good reason.

The Pelicans coach had to at least wonder that if things turned out differently on the final night of the regular season, it might have been him getting shown the door.

Williams’ team beat the defending champion Spurs in Game 82 to clinch the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaker over Brooks’ Thunder.

So when word came down Wednesday that Brooks had been let go by OKC, Williams was visibly shaken, according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“I just heard, it’s really tough,” Williams said. “Scott is a really good coach. Anytime one of your colleagues goes down like that, you feel bad for he and his family. Just a tough situation, that’s all I want to say right now.”

The Pelicans and Thunder finished the season with matching records of 45-37, but New Orleans earned the playoff berth by virtue of a 3-1 win in the head-to-head season series that included a February road win at OKC in February when Anthony Davis hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

There rumors circulating throughout the final days of the season that Williams was under make-or-break pressure from team management to reach the playoffs in order to keep his job.

In five seasons coach the Pelicans, Williams is 173-221 (.439). He has one more season remaining on his current contract.

There is still no definitive word on the playing status of Pelicans guards Jrue Holiday for Game 3 against the Warriors on Thursday night. Holiday, who is coming back from a stress fracture in his lower right leg suffered in January, did not play in Game 2 at Oakland, but got in extra work following the team practice on Wednesday.

Guard Tyreke Evans, who suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in Game 1 of the series, gutted out a 16-points, 10-rebound, seven-assist effort in the Game 2 loss, has said he’ll continue playing through the pain.

Morning Shootaround — April 19


VIDEO: Recap Saturday’s four playoff games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors strong from start | Rose returns | Raptors lose game, homecourt | Rockets blast off

No. 1: Warriors strong from start They were the best team in the NBA all season long, and the Golden State Warriors came out Saturday in their first playoff game and delivered a warning to anyone who may have doubted that their regular season strength would translate to postseason success. And when facing arguable the NBA’s best backcourt, it probably doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ long-term chances that their own backcourt is banged up, writes Scott Howard-Cooper …

It’s not a body blow like losing Davis, the superstar, but a thinning depth chart is a huge deal, because New Orleans was facing an uphill battle against the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Hurting in the backcourt while facing the Warriors inevitably leads to a damage report not covered by most insurance policies. Neither went crazy in Game 1 and Curry, the MVP favorite, still had 34 points despite missing nine of 13 from behind the arc and Thompson still had 21 points while missing 11 of 17 field goals. It could, and will, got a lot worse for the Pelicans trying to contain the Golden State backcourt.

Now imagine New Orleans confronting the danger with Jrue Holiday limited to 21 minutes, after playing 25, 15 and 16 minutes the previous three games, and Tyreke Evans probably ailing Monday if he is able to play at all.

“I’m not sure about Tyreke just yet,” coach Monty Williams said. “He tried to come back. They’re going to get him an MRI (Saturday) evening and see where he is. But as far as being painted in the corner, we’ve dealt with this all year long with our team. So it’s not a big deal for us. Obviously we’d like to have Jrue and Tyreke healthy, but Norris (Cole) did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half. We’ll see where (Evans) is (Sunday) and we’ll make our adjustments from there.”

There is that — the Pelicans dealt with injury problems much of the season, with Davis sidelined four times in February alone and Holiday missing half of 2014-15 and Ryan Anderson missing 18 consecutive games just after the All-Star break because of a sprained right knee. And they survived. All those problems and they still clawed their way into the playoffs.

That was the same resiliency on display Saturday, when Golden State built a double-digit lead with the game barely eight minutes old, was up 18 at halftime, and ahead by 25 with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans was done. Except then New Orleans wasn’t, thanks to a 31-18 charge through most of the final period that closed the deficit to 102-97 with 20 seconds left as Davis piled up 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth. The comeback ended there.

Now all the Pelicans need is to play like that for more than 11 or 12 minutes, while possibly playing short-handed.

***

No. 2: Rose returns The Chicago Bulls have learned how to survive and advance the last few years even while missing key members of their team — the injury bug has unfortunately been a constant companion for Chicago. So it was a nice change of pace Saturday when the Bulls got a strong performance from Derrick Rose, their point guard who has battled back from so many injury outages the last few seasons. As Steve Aschburner writes, Rose may have gotten knocked down, but he got up again and helped the Bulls get a Game 1 win over Milwaukee …

When Derrick Rose tried to split a pair of Milwaukee defenders in the open court Saturday and seemed almost to eject out the other side — taking contact and landing like a dervish with his legs and knees at improbable angles — an entire fan base held its collective breath.

It was that way, too, for most in the grizzled media who have chronicled Rose’s sad cycle of injury, rehabilitation and re-injury dating back to April 28, 2012. That one was a playoff opener, too — Game 1 of the first round, leaving Saturday just 10 days shy of a gloomy three-year anniversary — when the Chicago Bulls’ point guard first tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Rose’s explosiveness and torque, so vital to his game, set them all on an alternate path from which they’ve yet to stray.

“Man, I’m like y’all,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “When he get hit, I be like, ‘Awww, man…’ I was like, ‘Lord, please, not again.’ When he bounces up, I’m happy. But we’ve been through so many, like, scares, you never want to see anybody go through that kind of pain.

“So whenever he gets a little hit, a little bump, of course you’re gonna cringe. But I’m just happy he was able to get up and keep attacking.”

Gibson is one of the neglected victims of the Rose ordeal. As with center Joakim Noah, wing Jimmy Butler, coach Tom Thibodeau and a few others, they are collateral damage, colleagues and peers who had their own plans and hopes and dreams deferred or maybe derailed by Rose’s knee surgeries.

People focus most frequently on the micro or the macro.

It is either what Rose’s chronic injuries and extended layoffs have meant to him and his MVP-certified career, or how they blunted Chicago’s championship ambitions through most of Miami’s Big Three era and perhaps beyond.

Falling in between, though, are teammates who have had to soldier on, facing and failing against the Heat or, last year, the Wizards. Gibson, Noah and the rest knew how undermanned they were in those postseasons, yet there was nothing to be gained from saying so.

So they did their best, took their lumps and wondered along with the rest of us whether Rose (and his doctors) ever were going to put it all together again.

***

No. 3: Raptors lose game, homecourt The Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans have combined to give the Raptors one of the most prominent home court advantages in the NBA. But it wasn’t much help yesterday in their Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, when the Raptors couldn’t get a bucket in overtime and lost not only the game, but also their home court advantage in the series. But it wasn’t all about missing shots, writes John Schuhmann, as for the Raptors it was also a function of getting beat on the boards by the Wizards …

You could say that both teams played great defense. But as anyone who thought DeAndre Jordan deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration will tell you, the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure a rebound. The Raptors didn’t do that enough, and that’s why they’re in a 0-1 hole after the Wizards’ 93-86, overtime victory.

Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 1, turning them into 20 second-chance points. The Raptors allowed only 73 points on 96 initial possessions, but the second chances made the difference.

The Raptors used a 21-8 run to send the game to overtime. But on the first possession of the extra period, Otto Porter tipped a John Wall miss out to Bradley Beal. The second chance resulted in a Paul Pierce three that gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Later in the overtime, Nene grabbed offensive boards on three straight possessions. Only one of them produced points for the Wizards, but the all kept the Raptors from building on the offensive momentum from the fourth quarter.

“They got three straight offensive rebounds that broke our back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That took our will, our mojo that we had going in [to overtime].”

The Wizards averaged 28 seconds per possession on their first six possessions of the extra period, helping them build a seven-point lead and sending Raptors’ raucous crowd to the exits.

Jonas Valanciunas‘ solution for the rebounding problem was simple.

“Be tougher than them,” he said. “Show that we can battle.”

***

No. 4: Rockets blast off Down in Texas, arch-rivals Dallas and Houston met for Game 1 in their first round series, and a key member of the rivalry wasn’t able to make it through without feeling some physical pain. The Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets in the offseason, and their prize free agent had a knee injury in the second quarter that kept him from ever really establishing a rhythm in Houston’s Game 1 victory over Dallas, writes Fran Blinebury

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lob City has been fun in Los Angeles, but the Clippers still have title aspirations … Toronto GM Masai Ujiri dropped another curse word to get the Raptors fans fired up … The Blazers have battled injuries all season, and now Arron Afflalo may be unable to go Sunday … Ty Lawson posted video of Brian Shaw‘s pregame scouting rap that he tried earlier this season …

Numbers preview: Warriors-Pelicans


VIDEO: Series Preview: The Game Time crew previews the Pelicans vs. Warriors series.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors are one of the best regular-season teams we’ve seen in a long time. They recorded the fourth best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 38 years (since turnovers starting being counted in 1977) and were just the third team in that time to rank in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But the Warriors are one of 11 playoff teams that didn’t win a series last year. And the hottest team in the league is the one that won four series a year ago. So, for as good as the Warriors have been, they’re not exactly a consensus pick to get to The Finals.

The New Orleans Pelicans weren’t exactly a consensus pick to make the playoffs when they were 3 1/2 games out of eighth place on March 26, with a tough schedule down the stretch. But they won eight of their last 11 games to edge out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West.

The Warriors have won just two playoff series in the last 24 years. The Pelicans have won just one series since the franchise moved to New Orleans 13 years ago.

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

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

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Pace: 100.7 (1)
OffRtg: 109.7 (2)
DefRtg: 98.2 (1)
NetRtg: +11.4 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. New Orleans: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors notes:

  • Outscored their opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter and by 14.9 in the third quarter. No other team had a NetRtg better than plus-12.7 in any quarter.
  • Set 40.4 ball screens per game, the fewest in the league, according to SportVU.
  • According to Synergy, Stephen Curry had an effective field goal percentage of 55.6 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the highest mark among 93 players who attempted 100 shots in those situations.
  • Went 47-0 after leading by 15 or more points. The only other teams that never lost after leading by 15-plus were non-playoff teams: Utah (22-0), Indiana (16-0) and Minnesota (6-0).
  • For the second straight season, Klay Thompson led the league in points per touch.
  • Curry and Thompson ranked first and second in 3-point attempts in the first six seconds of the shot clock, according to SportVU.

20150416_3pt_first_6

New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

Pace: 93.7 (27)
OffRtg: 105.4 (9)
DefRtg: 104.7 (22)
NetRtg: +0.7 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pelicans notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-1 (2-0 at Golden State).
Pace: 100.3
GSW OffRtg: 110.7 (8th vs. NOP)
NOP OffRtg: 97.9 (16th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? | Jerome Kersey, Blazers great, RIP | Kanter not signing Jazz tune on deadline | Ainge and Celtics will take your calls

No. 1: Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? — He spent the meat of his certain Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, often frustrated, always brilliant, and in the end was thrilled to leave. Now, well in his twilight, and perhaps staring at the end of the road, will Kevin Garnett‘s journey finish up where it started? On the eve of the trade deadline, there apparently is enough of a thaw, at least on the Wolves’ end, to make this happen. The Wolves have struggled since Garnett left, never making the playoffs or having a winning season. And of course, they’ll struggle even if they bring him back for a curtain call because they’re loaded with young players. But from a sentimental standpoint, this would be heartwarming. Garnett remains a sports icon in the Twin Cities and the applause for him in a Wolves uniform would be thunderous. But nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. He must approve any trade, and with precious little left in the tank, wouldn’t Garnett rather be someplace warm and with a chance to win a title, like, with old friend Doc Rivers in LA? Anyway, here’s Marc Stein of ESPN:

Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.

But the Wolves, sources say, are hopeful that the chance to play out what might be his final NBA season as a member of the team that drafted him out of high school in 1995 — and under longtime coach Flip Saunders — could lead Garnett to reconsider. Such a trade, of course, would also mean the hypercompetitive Garnett has to leave the Eastern Conference playoff race to join a team at the bottom of the West.

Saunders remains close with Garnett and is said to covet a reunion to bring back the most popular player in Wolves annals as a mentor to the many youngsters on the current roster, headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

And in Young, Minnesota possesses a player the Nets have coveted for some time. Brooklyn GM Billy King drafted Young in Philadelphia and would presumably welcome his addition now as the Nets try to fortify their roster in search a playoff berth in the East.

The Los Angeles Clippers and coach Doc Rivers have been openly hoping Garnett would seek a buyout from the Nets before March 1 to become eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. But Garnett has left the impression he has little interest in a buyout.

“I haven’t thought too much of my own personal [situation],” Garnett recently told Nets beat writers. “When that road comes, I’ll cross it and I’ll deal with it. A lot of things with [my] family situation and things, it’s not just convenient to get up and move, to change things. It’s not as convenient as it once was when I was younger. I have a lot more responsibilities and things to take into account.”

In the same interview, Garnett insisted he was all-in with the 21-29 Nets, despite the fact that close friend Paul Pierce left Brooklyn over the summer to sign in free agency with the Washington Wizards.

‎In November, Garnett told Yahoo! Sports that he wants to buy the Timberwolves someday. But he has said little about how much longer he intends to play beyond this season, which is Garnett’s 20th as a pro.

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Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Thompson seeks early extension | Hollins expects KG to suit up for Nets | Pelicans’ stars finally get healthy | State of FIBA after the World Cup

No. 1: Report: Thompson wants max extension early — The NBA offseason didn’t get off to the greatest start for Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. He often found his name bandied about in trade talks as Golden State made a charge to land Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. But Love eventually settled in Cleveland via a trade with Minnesota and Thompson had an enjoyable (and productive) couple of weeks as a standout performer for Team USA as it rolled to the gold medal in the FIBA World Cup. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to sign him to a contract extension. Sam Amick of USA Today reports that Thompson’s agent is seeking that payday and Thompson, for his part, wants no part of leaving Golden State:

Thompson and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to agree on an extension that would ensure the “Splash Brothers,” as he and All-Star point guard Stephen Curry have been dubbed, are in the same pool for years to come. Failing to reach a deal would mean he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer, a scenario that Thompson and his agent, Bill Duffy, would prefer to avoid.

Yet Duffy is widely known to be demanding a maximum contract that the Warriors would prefer not to pay. His reasoning? He sees Thompson as the best shooting guard in the game.

“I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season),” Duffy told USA TODAY Sports. “But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.”

Truth be told, he may be right.

“I’ve been telling him (he’s the best two-way shooting guard) for a couple of years now,” said Mychal Thompson, who has the unique distinction of being on both sides of the argument as Klay’s father and an ex-Laker and longtime commentator for Bryant’s team. “Everybody knows that he can score, but I always told him I’m so proud of how he takes so much pride in defense as he does with scoring.”

Warriors owner Joe Lacob preferred not to discuss the extension situation but made it clear that Thompson is seen as a major priority for their program. As he pointed out, the organization has been making moves with Thompson in mind for quite some time now. In March 2012, they traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks not only to land center Andrew Bogut, but also to make room for Thompson during his rookie season.

“We love Klay,” Lacob said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future. I remember sitting courtside at Stanford Pac-12 games watching Klay at (Washington State) for three years. I thought he could be a prototype big shooting guard in the NBA and we targeted him in the draft and were ecstatic to be able to draft him at (No.) 11 in the first round.

“We traded an excellent guard freeing up a starting spot for him and, as is known, despite many requests from other teams over the last few years, we have continued to bet on his continued development. We are very proud that he is a Warrior and also of his major contribution on this year’s USA Basketball team. We are looking forward to a great year for Klay, the Splash Brothers and the Warriors.”

Being a part of trade rumors is part of the unofficial job description in the NBA, but this was different. Not only did the Warriors-T’wolves situation drag on for more than a month, but the early indications that Golden State had been willing to trade Thompson were followed, in the end, with a hard stance that they simply wouldn’t give him up. One national report indicated that Thompson was angry about it all, though he said that’s not the case.

“I wasn’t really pissed,” Thompson said. “I was more just worried about being traded, just because I’m so comfortable in the Bay. I think that’s natural for anybody (to not want to) just get up and move. I mean it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it’s a business, and I’m still playing ball for a living.

“I was more happy when they showed faith in me that they didn’t want to budge and trade me for a guy (in Love) who’s a multiple all-NBA guy and a proven All-Star. I thought that was really cool that the Warriors believed in my potential.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com takes a look at Klay Thompson and Steph Curry’s play on the FIBA stage (more…)