Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

Morning shootaround — May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks | Warriors’ focus on Lillard pays off | Raptors clean slate with Game 7 win | Is it time for fearless Thunder to fear Leonard?

No. 1: Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks — A long layoff works in different ways for different teams. The San Antonio Spurs used their extended time off before their Western Conference semifinal opener against Oklahoma City to perfection (and blew out the Thunder). Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue hopes his team can do the same. That’s why he’s so anxious to get started against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (7 p.m. ET, TNT), as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t played a game since completing the sweep against the Detroit Pistons one week ago. The East’s top team has been waiting patiently, first for the opponent, and then for the opening game of the next round.

“Very anxious,” head coach Tyronn Lue said following Sunday morning’s practice. “A lot of messin’ around, not messin’ around, but you could tell we’ve been off for eight days and guys ready to start playing and getting ready and getting focused for the game. It’s time and we’re ready to play.”

The wait is almost over, with the Cavaliers set to begin their second-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

“This is a long layoff,” veteran Richard Jefferson said. “You look at San Antonio after a long layoff and they came out and played well so you have to use this rest, but at the same point in time you have to try to stay sharp mentally and physically you have to stay sharp — not just eat, hang out and chill. You have to stay locked in this whole time.”

Lue admitted that he didn’t start formulating his plan for the Hawks until the series ended on Thursday night when Atlanta topped Boston in Game 6. Instead, the Cavs focused on themselves, looking at what they had to do to get better.

“Game 1 is a new series and it doesn’t matter what you shot, how well you played, what adjustments you made in the first series,” Jefferson said. “The second series is different against a better team.”

During off days, the Cavs did conditioning work and players stayed in the gym late, getting extra shots. To stay loose following practice, they played other sports — throwing the football around or grabbing mitts to toss the baseball back and forth.

But this time of year, there’s always the question of rest vs. rust, especially after the rhythm Cleveland found against Detroit in Round One.

“Obviously, you can’t get cute and overthink it,” Lue said. “We have our principles, we know what we want to do going into a game and then if things don’t work and you have to adjust. But we know what we want to do right now and we’re ready.”

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Spurs braced for history and Thunder

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich after Sunday’s practice.

SAN ANTONIO — If they needed a reminder, the Spurs could always dig deep into the NBA annals to the 1985 Finals where Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were thumped 148-114 at Boston Garden in the series opener by the Celtics. It became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

It was memorable, indeed. Mostly for the way the Lakers came back to win the next game and went on to claim the crown, the first time they ever beat Boston in the playoffs.

For a dive not nearly as deep into history, the Spurs could look back just a year ago to a 100-73 thumping they laid on the Clippers for a 2-1 series lead. Then the Clippers came right back to win Game 4 in San Antonio and went on to eliminate the Spurs in the first round.

In other words, it’s one game.

One big, ugly, hurtful bruise of a 124-92 haymaker that the Spurs delivered to the jaws of the Thunder Saturday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. But the veteran club isn’t expecting OKC to roll over again.

The Spurs shot 60.7 percent in the opener, hit 9 of 15 shots from 3-point range, scoring 73 points by halftime and building a lead that reached a ridiculous 43 points. LaMarcus Aldridge went 18-for-23 for his 38 points and Kawhi Leonard was a two-way monster.

“I think that after a game like that you are worried,” said Manu Ginobili. “I mean, the tendency is to be satisfied so you get to worry about the next one because it’s a natural tendency. Hopefully, we don’t fall for that.

“We understand it’s an exception. It doesn’t happen that often, having a shooting night like that (and) their having as bad night as they did. So my feeling now is just being worried because we know it is not being the same and we start the game a little relaxed.”

The Spurs smothered the Thunder from start and it snowballed out of control early. OKC was most definitely unprepared for what hit them and outperformed and out-executed by the Spurs and a good deal of that has to fall on rookie coach Billy Donovan, getting his first real baptism by fire against Gregg Popovich.

But if the long, six-month grind of the regular season teaches you anything, it’s that there is always another game coming up and always a chance to forget the past.

“We have been on that side of it,” said Tony Parker. “It’s easy to get motivated, because it’s just one game.  They have nothing to lose and can steal a game and do their job.”

It’s a lesson most often learned painfully, usually by a team made up of younger players. But these Spurs know that just because the jumpers and layups didn’t fall for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook one night it doesn’t mean they won’t on another.

“I think our maturity will set in,” said David West. “Obviously, they’re a great team with great players, guys who can make plays and win games…We got off to that great start that really propelled us throughout the game but, obviously, it means nothing. Game 2 is Game 2. It has nothing to do with game 1.”

“Pop uses the words ‘appropriate fear’ quite often,” said Danny Green. “That’s what you have to have. We’ll go into this next game, we’ll see things we can fix, things we need to adjust. We shot the ball well. They didn’t shoot it as well as they’re going to shoot it. We have to assume we’re not going to shoot it as well for the rest of the playoffs. We hope we do. But it’s very rare where everybody is making shots like we were last night. You have to assume it’s going to be harder for us.”

It can hardly get much easier. But even knowing all the pitfalls and the history doesn’t mean that a trapdoor won’t swing open beneath your feet. Because of, well, human nature. The Spurs are now 43-1 on the season in the AT&T Center. But all it would take is one reversal by OKC to puncture that air of invincibility on the Spurs’ home floor.

“We all talk about it. We know,” Ginobili said. “But the head is sometimes very hard to control. If it was that easy then you wouldn’t see it that often. And in every sport and athlete it happens many times. Hopefully, we don’t fall for it and we understand and we convince each other that the risks of winning like this.”

“So, yeah, we do (worry). It’s natural. Of course, during the games you love games like that because it’s not the amount of tension. But sometimes you prefer to win a close game knowing the tension is going to be similar the next game. Here, it’s going to be a completely different story and hope we don’t let down.”

History says this thing hasn’t even started.

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Oklahoma City Thunder had much trouble in the first round of the playoffs. They each made quick work of injury-depleted opponents, registering point differentials of 22.0 and 18.2 points per per game, respectively.

Things are going to get a lot more interesting in the conference semifinals, where the Spurs and Thunder will have their third meeting in the last five postseasons. The previous two meetings were in the conference finals, with the Thunder advancing in 2012 and the Spurs advancing in 2014.

This season, we’ve been anticipating a Warriors-Spurs matchup in the conference finals. And the Thunder may be a bigger obstacle than Stephen Curry‘s knee injury for that dream meeting of teams that won 73 and 67 games in the regular season.

The Spurs have home-court advantage and have won six of the last seven meetings in San Antonio. But the Thunder have won 11 of the last 13 in Oklahoma City and, going back to the 2012 conference finals, 14 of the last 21 games that Kevin Durant has played against the Spurs.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard was just a rookie in that 2012 series and has since evolved into the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s best two-way player. His matchup with Durant will be the feature of this series, but there will be a lot more that will help determine the outcome.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Spurs-Thunder, 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

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

First round: Beat Memphis in four games.
Pace: 91.4 (13)
OffRtg: 111.9 (3)
DefRtg: 89.3 (2)
NetRtg: +22.6 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160428_sas_offense

20160428_sas_defense

Spurs playoff notes:

20160428_sas_shooting

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Pace: 94.8 (7)
OffRtg: 117.7 (1)
DefRtg: 99.3 (6)
NetRtg: +18.4 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160428_okc_offense

20160428_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160428_okc_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (home team won all four games).
Oct. 28 – Thunder 112, Spurs 106
Mar. 12 – Spurs 93, Thunder 85
Mar. 26 – Thunder 111, Spurs 92
Apr. 12 – Spurs 102, Thunder 98 (OT)

Pace: 96.1
SAS OffRtg: 99.7 (22nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 102.9 (6th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Two-on-five works well for OKC


VIDEO: Thunder handle Mavs 131-102 in Game 3

DALLAS — There is never a downside to having a pair of top-five players as teammates, especially if they respect and genuinely like each other and seldom, if ever, conflict on the floor. This is certainly the case with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City would be a dusty NBA outpost without them.

There is a nit-pick, though. When the Thunder are involved in tight finishes, you often wonder why they bother calling a timeout, because there’s no sense drawing up a play. Everyone knows what’s coming. OKC will spread the floor and allow either Durant or Westbrook to go one-on-one.

It’s the type of simple and non-creative strategy that helped grease Scott Brooks‘ path out of town. The ex-OKC coach, freshly hired in Washington, showed no imagination with his playbook in the final two minutes and critics howled and cringed whenever OKC lost close playoff games to the elite teams in the West. The blame went to Brooks instead of key injuries to Westbrook and Durant.

But look here: Billy Donovan is doing the same thing, and in that sense, you can’t tell the difference between one coach and the other.

This strategy was moot in a pair of blowout victories over the Mavericks in their first-round series, but in Game 2, which OKC lost by a point, Donovan had Durant keep firing even though Durant eventually missed 26 shots. He did drill a critical 3-pointer in the final minute, but by then OKC was seconds away from being upset.

In one sense, how can any coach take the ball out of the hands of players who are averaging more than 20 points and bring great credentials? If anything, that would be grounds for a coach getting fired, or at least it seems. Besides, Durant and Westbrook probably wouldn’t stand for it and would keep the ball anyway.

“Kevin and Russell are such great one-on-one players that you’re not going to run motion offense,” Donovan said. “What you do is space the floor for them. When you create space, then it’s up to them to make good decisions. They just can’t jack-knife and shoot over two guys.”

Westbrook is so great at reaching the rim, and Durant brings superb shooting range, that Donovan (like Brooks before him) will play the odds. The downside is their teammates stand around and make little effort to be anything more than mannequins. Also, it feeds the notion that Durant and Westbrook don’t trust their teammates with the ball in those situations, and so great defensive teams will exploit that lack of trust and simply leave those teammates open while doubling on the All-Star duo.

Again, this is likely good enough to get OKC  beyond the first round and the understated Mavericks. But what about the next round against the Spurs, who can use Kawhi Leonard on single coverage on Durant? Or a smart defensive team like the Warriors? Doesn’t Donovan need to introduce a new wrinkle that in some way involves, for example, Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, the under-used Anthony Morrow or Dion Waiters?

It’s probably too late for that. Those players, neglected all season in these situations, probably aren’t comfortable with the ball and the burden that comes with it. And so, unlike the Spurs or Warriors, the Thunder’s offensive formula omits all but two players, although they are two very special players. OKC will go two-on-five and continue to believe that is a big advantage in its favor.


VIDEO: Durant scores 34 points in OKC’s Game 3 win

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive team picks?

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?



VIDEOKawhi Leonard receives his Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award

> Kawhi Leonard is the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Who should join him on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Pretty sure that’s who I voted for.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Since I voted for this honor among the NBA’s slate of annual awards, I’m just retyping my ballot here. Leonard, Green and Jordan, in order, were my first, second and third selections for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, too. Leonard is the best on-ball defender in the NBA, Green’s versatility and want-to is unsurpassed and Jordan alters whole game plans. (Just for the record, here’s my second team: Jae Crowder, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

There are several deserving candidates at center, among Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan and others. It’s easy to imagine votes firing out on every direction for center when the actual balloting is released. Bradley may have been the third-best defender this season regardless of position.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

They’re easily the gold standard right now. Leonard is young enough to pull a Jamal Crawford and be a multiple winner of a performance award.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The forward spots are easy. It’s tempting to put Green at center and replace Gobert with Paul George (watch this guy fight through screens in the Toronto series), Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala, but Green played about 2/3 of his minutes at the four. Gobert missed 21 games, but was the league’s best rim protector. It’s hard to keep Avery Bradley off the list, but Paul and Rubio are two point guards that make a big impact with their ball pressure and ability to stay in front of their man.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

And Hassan Whiteside would be the sixth man on this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The theme of this all-defensive team is its phenomenal versatility. All of these players can guard multiple situations. Bradley has taken over for Allen as the NBA’s top backcourt defender.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Well, first of all, my Defensive Player of the Year ballot had Kawhi, Green and Jordan in that order. Because while I appreciate Draymond’s versatility, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player as aggressive and ravenous as Leonard is when playing on-ball defense. That was my front line. In the back court, I went with Paul, who plays at such a consistently high level play after play, game after game, and I went with Allen, because I didn’t want him getting mad at me on Twitter like last year.

Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

*** (more…)

Numbers preview: Spurs-Grizzlies


VIDEO: Spurs vs. Grizzlies: By The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The San Antonio Spurs had the best season in franchise history. They’ve made 39 trips to the playoffs in their 43 seasons in the NBA and they had never won more than 63 games before.

No team had ever won 67 games and not been the No. 1 overall seed in the league … until this year. The Spurs fell short of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference by six games. As good as they were, they weren’t close to being the best.

The playoffs are a new season, but the Spurs are 4 1/2 weeks from seeing the Warriors again. And if the higher seeds win out in the first round, they’ve got a tough matchup in the conference semifinals. Before they get there, they have to take care of business against a depleted Grizzlies team that somehow held on to its playoff spot despite season-ending injuries to its two best players and a never-ending series of roster changes.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 2-7 series in the West, 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

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

Pace: 95.7 (26)
OffRtg: 108.4 (3)
DefRtg: 96.6 (1)
NetRtg: +11.8 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_sas_shooting

Spurs notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)

Pace: 95.7 (27)
OffRtg: 102.6 (22)
DefRtg: 105.4 (19)
NetRtg: -2.9 (22)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_mem_shooting

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Spurs won, 4-0.
Nov. 21 – Spurs 92, Grizzlies 82
Dec. 3 – Spurs 103, Grizzlies 83
Mar. 25 – Spurs 110, Grizzlies 104
Mar. 28 – Spurs 101, Grizzlies 87

Pace: 92.2
SAS OffRtg: 110.7 (7th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 96.0 (16th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Analytics Art: Stars who most improved their 3-point shot


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard powers the Spurs to a record-setting win

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

There’s no denying the robust correlation between a team’s efficiency from 3-point range and their overall success. If the Golden State Warriors’ meteoric rise over the past two seasons wasn’t enough to showcase the significance of that relationship to you, take a look at the PointAfter visualization below. The second tab, plotting every team’s 3-point percentage against their win total, is especially striking.

Premier marksmanship can make up for weakness in other areas. When a star player significantly improves his shooting touch, it adds an entirely new dimension to his team’s offense.

The following five players all increased their 3-point efficiency by at least five percent in 2015-16 while launching at least three 3-pointers each game. It’s no coincidence that four of these players are playoff-bound, too.

5. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.3 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 40 percent

Percent Difference: 5.7 percent

The Hawks have a good problem in that they possess two starting-caliber point guards in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The latter might hold more potential as an explosive force off the dribble, but Teague turned his once iffy jumper into a stark advantage over his promising backup this year.
The 27-year-old reached the 40-percent mark for the first time in his career, boosting his scoring rate to a personal-best 19.8 points per 36 minutes. Teague rarely escapes to the corner in Atlanta’s offense, so his improvement on 3-pointers above the break (39 percent) was essential to reaching those landmarks.

Note: You can see Teague’s shooting percentage in PointAfter’s seven zones by hovering over the above shot chart.

4. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 30.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 37.1 percent

Percent Difference: 6.7 percent

For a large portion of Kemba Walker’s tenure in Charlotte, a lack of spacing limited the progression of the team’s offense. The Hornets rarely boasted several above-average shooters who could usher their scheme into the modern style of the NBA.

Thanks to the rapid improvement of Walker’s jump shot (and some savvy acquisitions by GM Rich Cho), Charlotte is home to one of the league’s top-ten offenses by offensive rating. After ranking last in 3-point percentage last season, the Hornets jumped all the way to eighth behind 3-point percentage champ Troy Daniels (48.4 percent), veteran Marvin Williams (40.2 percent) and their star guard Walker.

Walker more than doubled his raw 3-point total from a season ago while exceeding the league average for efficiency for the first time.

3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.1 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 34.5 percent

Percent Difference: 7.4 percent

Will Barton’s first full season in Denver following a midseason move from Portland in 2014-15 signaled his first with an established role, and he seized the opportunity.

A contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player, Barton took his game to another level in 2015-16 by becoming a bona fide 3-point threat.

The 6-foot-6, 175-pound wing has always been regarded as a good ball-handler for his size. His maturation as a shooter signaled that he can be a weapon without the ball in his hands, too. In today’s NBA, that’s a major plus.

2. Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 36.1 percent

Percent Difference: 8.7 percent

Okay, maybe Aminu isn’t a “star.” But the versatile defender played like one at times for the Trail Blazers, starting all 82 games and enjoying the best offensive season of his career.

His first double-digit scoring season (10.2 points per game) can be tied directly to his marked uptick in 3-point percentage.

With his newfound stroke in his arsenal, Aminu was granted the green light far more often than during his previous three stints with the Clippers, Pelicans and Mavericks. A whopping 49 percent of Aminu’s shots were 3-pointers, up 10 percent from 2013-14 and 35 percent from last season.

As a result, Aminu now has the ability to carry Portland’s offense once in a while. In Portland’s March 31 game against Boston, with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum enduring off nights, Aminu poured in a career-high 28 points on 6-of-11 3-point shooting to guide the Blazers to a 116-109 victory.
If Aminu plays like that during the playoffs, his national profile will surely rise anew.

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.9 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 44.3 percent

Percent Difference: 9.4 percent

It is true Kawhi Leonard‘s shooting cooled off a bit as the season went on. But there was really nowhere for Leonard to go but down after bursting out of the gates on a stunning four-month hot streak.

Leonard converted at least 47 percent of his 3-pointers from November to February. No other player recorded more than two full months with a 3-point percentage over 47 percent (minimum 20 attempts).

Even with the dip in efficiency as the season turned to spring, Leonard’s overall improvement from 3-point range was staggering. After never eclipsing 38 percent in his previous four seasons, Leonard sustained a truly remarkable long-range run and finished fourth in the NBA with a 44.3 percent clip on treys.
That’s one spot below Curry, whose exploits largely overshadowed Leonard and the Spurs during the regular season. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see those two face off when the stakes are raised in the playoffs.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors locked in on history | Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors | Kobe Bryant reflects on his final days | Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway

No. 1: Warriors locked in on history All that’s left is 48 minutes. A mere 48 minutes and the Golden State Warriors will have produced the finest regular season in NBA history, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls they tied for the best win total ever with Sunday’s win San Antonio. As our very own Fran Blinebury wrote after the Warriors snapped the Spurs’ bid to record the first perfect home record in a season, this history-making season has washed over the league in waves:

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors The chance for history ended at the hands of the one team the San Antonio Spurs have not been able to solve this season. Their quest for the first undefeated home record in NBA history was blown away by a blitz from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. But the Spurs will not let this latest loss to the Warriors, their third in four tries this season, linger. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com provides some context for the Spurs:

The Warriors stopped cold San Antonio’s home winning streak at 39 games, while reaching historic win No. 72, marking the third time in four meetings — and second time in four nights — Golden State knocked off the Spurs. Still, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was satisfied with the team’s effort. He is confident that San Antonio’s experience mixed with a sharpened playoff focus, and a fresh game plan in late May could lift the Spurs over the Warriors when the stakes are highest in a potential Western Conference finals.

“We played a hell of a team, and I thought our aggressiveness, our attention to detail, was much better than [Thursday night’s loss at Golden State],” Popovich said. “They did a lot of good things out there. I’m really happy with how we performed.”

So instead of lamenting a loss they can’t get back, the Spurs choose now to focus on closing out strong in preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs,” David West said when asked whether the Warriors now hold a psychological advantage, having defeated the Spurs three times in the regular season. “Hopefully, it will be another two months, or whatever it is, a month and a half, until we see them again. Our job is just to keep improving and prepare ourselves now for a tough first-round matchup against whomever; just keep developing who we are.”

The outing at the AT&T Center on Sunday played out much differently than Thursday’s 112-101 trouncing at Oracle Arena, yet San Antonio still managed to come up short despite making significant progress against the Warriors defensively.

“I think in Golden State for sure we were not sharp enough,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today we made a few mistakes. I think we played a good game. We were not good offensively. I’m not concerned. I was concerned after the Golden State game [on the road] because it was not us. I think a game like today can easily happen. We hadn’t lost one game at home the whole season. It can happen that you lose one against a team that is one of the best teams ever. We can’t start banging our heads against the wall and [saying], ‘Oh, we are terrible.’ It can happen.”

San Antonio slowed down the pace significantly in Sunday’s contest, giving Golden State its slowest paced game since defeating the Warriors 87-79 on March 17, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. The Spurs also limited Golden State to an ice-cold shooting percentage of 35.1, while dominating the visitors in offensive rebounding 13-3. San Antonio’s 13 offensive rebounds in the first half go down as the most the club had snatched in a single half all season, not to mention the most the Warriors have allowed in any half over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. San Antonio’s supremacy on the offensive glass helped the Spurs outscore the Warriors 11-0 on second-chance points.

The problem is while administering suffocating defense and crashing the offensive glass, the Spurs managed to shoot even frostier (28.6 percent) than the Warriors. Then, as Golden State caught fire in the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run with Stephen Curry racking up 16 points for his 30th quarter of 15 points or more this season, San Antonio remained cold (34.3 percent shooting).

What’s more is the offensive rebounding subsided, too, with the Spurs grabbing just five more offensive boards in the entire second half.

“Our perimeter had a tough time making shots, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “That was the problem offensively all night, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Steph got away from us for a while, but a part of it was some bad shots. We lost our poise for about a three-minute period, and we were in constant transition, and he got away from us. That was the difference in the ball game. But I’m really proud of the guys what they did tonight.”

***

No. 3: Kobe Bryant reflects on his finals days  The finish line is in sight for Kobe Bryant. Tonight’s final game in Oklahoma City (8 ET, NBA League Pass) followed by Wednesday’s finale against Utah at Staples Center and that’s it, a 20 years of a Hall of Fame career comes to an end. In what has been a sobering and reflective season for one of the game’s all-time greats, there is finally a sense of relief and acceptance of his fate. Kobe didn’t go out chasing that sixth title, the way he had hoped. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical points out, Kobe is going out on his own terms:

Against all odds, Kobe Bryant goes home for goodbye on two feet, goes home for goodbye on the best terms he could’ve ever dictated.

“It feels so good,” Bryant told The Vertical. “For the last three years, I haven’t been able to do it. Achilles. Knee. Shoulder. Serious injuries. My preparation was right. I worked and worked for my body to be able to get through this.”

“Coming into the season, I had the concern: Could I make it all year?” Bryant told The Vertical. “I had the fear. But I embraced that fear, and then I let it go. I realized: I can’t control it. I prepare. I do all the work. If that happens, it happens. And I stopped thinking about it.”

All around, the boom mics hung over us. His documentary crew comes everywhere now, chronicling every interaction, every interview. For a moment, Bryant was still thinking about life on a contender. He is nodding his head, insisting this is true: “Listen, I believe this: On a better team, I could play a lot better. Physically, I know I could do so much more. I found that rhythm, that balance. But after three major injuries, to get to the end [healthy], this means the world to me.”

There are two stories to end this NBA regular season: The Warriors’ historic march to 73 victories, and Bryant’s historic uneven, unnerving final season. They’ll remember Bryant as one of the NBA’s great champions, remember a relentless pursuit of perfection. Oh, he’d love to be chasing 73 victories, but mostly he wishes he was pursuing that sixth NBA title.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant had to let go. There wouldn’t be winning this season. There would be bouquets. He’s never minded everyone watching him, everyone feting his greatness. So started the legacy tour, so started a long, slow trot around the bases. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant let himself think for a moment about that Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday night, about the parallel universe of winning ball that’s left his life.

Had the Lakers still been a contender – had everything not crumbled around him – Bryant swears this would all be so different, so much more suited to his persona.

“The ovations wouldn’t be here,” Bryant told The Vertical. “We’d be amidst cutthroat competition. In this season, I’ve been able to come up for air, take the blinders off, look around, soak it all in – and say thank you. Had we been competing for a championship, there’s no way I’d allow all this to happen. We’d have one goal in mind and that would be winning the championship.

“In the end, this wasn’t hard to accept. I can accept reality and move on.”

***

No. 4: Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway Give Bryan Colangelo credit, he didn’t waste any time in his effort to change the narrative in Philadelphia. His rebranding of the situation with the Sixers began the moment he was introduced as the team’s new president of basketball operations Sunday. And if there is one thing Colangelo has learned in all of his years around the game, it’s that change at the fundamental level has to come immediately. David Murphy of Philly.com explains:

For all of the talk of the Sixers finally bringing in some real basketball men, the truth is that people like the Colangelos are, first and foremost, salesmen. They are billionaire whisperers, adept at convincing really rich people to entrust them with their capital. In 1999, Jerry published a book titled, How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports.

The elder Colangelo clearly succeeded at selling Harris and his partners on the need for a leader with a skill set that just happened to line up with the one his son offered. Bryan’s biggest theme during Sunday’s press conference was the need for the Sixers to build relationships throughout the league, one of many tacit references to Hinkie’s greatest perceived weakness.

Yet the logic starts to fall apart when you think about the fact that Ed Stefanski and Billy King were respected, personable executives who nevertheless were forced to overpay to keep their own players (Andre Iguodala) and to sign new ones (Elton Brand). Fact is, the Sixers are not an NBA destination, just like the Raptors weren’t when Colangelo was there (and when Chris Bosh left for the Heat).

Again, though, it comes down to messaging. As GM of the Suns, Colangelo “lured” Steve Nash away from Dallas in 2004, which sounds great, except “luring” really meant paying him $20 million more than any other team, including the Mavericks, who declined Nash’s request that they match the deal. When Colangelo attempted to bring Nash to Toronto in 2012, Nash leveraged Toronto’s three-year, $36 million offer into a three-year deal with the Lakers.

But, hey, it’s a relationship business, right?

Ironically, the failed pursuit of Nash is one of the reasons Colangelo has seen his legacy improve over the past few years as the Raptors have blossomed. Once he lost Nash, Colangelo traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry, who is now an anchor on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Nash, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster with the Lakers.

That’s not to say the Sixers’ new president will destroy whatever foundation Hinkie has laid over the past three seasons. Both Colangelo and Harris repeatedly insisted that the change in leadership would not result in a change in vision.

“This is not about a departure from a process,” Colangelo said.

What was it really about? Let’s answer in a form Hinkie might appreciate. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler did not fly to New Orleans with his teammates after Sunday’s game, but is expected to join them for tonight’s game against the Pelicans … The heated rivalry between the Warriors and Spurs extends beyond the court and also includes the Warriors’ broadcast team and the Spurs fans … Thunder coach Billy Donovan is employing a similar philosophy to what Steve Kerr has done with the Warriors in allowing the players to decide if they want to rest or grind through the end of the regular season … With the playoffs just days away, it’s time for Tyronn Lue to figure some things out about the Cavaliers and his rotation