Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Clippers’

Morning Shootaround — April 30



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker iffy for Game 5 | Removing Sterling may not be easy | Strange times with Warriors’ coaching staff | Noah reveals he has knee injury

No. 1: Banged-up Parker iffy for Game 5 — Around February during the season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave All-Star point guard Tony Parker significant time off to rest his myriad of injuries. That was done so that Parker would be healthy and ready to hold up for what San Antonio hoped would be a repeat run to The Finals. Parker, though, is suffering through a troublesome ankle injury and his status for tonight’s Game 5 against the Mavericks in San Antonio is unknown, writes Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker is listed as day-to-day in advance of Game 5 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of his left ankle, suffered in the first half of the Spurs’ 93-89 victory at Dallas on Monday.

“We’ll see how he is (Wednesday),” Popovich said.

The injury is not believed to have required an MRI or x-ray. Grade I sprains are the least severe among three classifications.

Parker finished with 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting in Game 4. He still played 14 minutes in the second half, returning late to hit an important jumper that gave the Spurs an 87-84 lead with 1:37 remaining. The Spurs’ victory knotted the series at 2-2 entering Wednesday’s game at the AT&T Center.

Parker had been uneven even before the injury, averaging just 3.3 in the second half of the first three games. He is averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists in the series.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s adjustment pays off vs. Heat | Rivers lobbying for Jordan to be an All-Star | Myers dishes on Warriors’ rebuild

No. 1: OKC’s halftime adjustment proves crucial vs. Miami — In Wednesday night’s much-anticipated Thunder-Heat game from south Florida, OKC found itself down 30-21 after the first quarter. At one point, Miami’s first-half lead swelled to 18 points, but the Thunder rallied and by halftime had a 55-50 lead. How OKC maintained that lead in the second half en route to a 112-95 rout of Miami had a lot to do with coach Scott Brooks‘ decision to sit starting center Kendrick Perkins in the second half and insert Perry Jones, thus giving OKC a quicker (if smaller) lineup that caused Miami fits, writes our own Steve Aschburner:

So, set aside the MVP debate for a while, at least until these teams meet again Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City. Focus a little on the COY — Coach of the Year — because the Thunder’s Scott Brooks accounted for the biggest highlight move of the night.

Understand that Brooks hasn’t had his preferred starting lineup for a while, not with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook (right knee meniscus surgery) sidelined since Christmas. But the one he started Wednesday has been his next-best option, with a record now (15-5) that’s nearly as good as OKC’s ‘A’ team (17-2).

So, coming out of halftime, Brooks pulled a lineup from column C. He sat down center Kendrick Perkins and inserted backup forward Perry Jones. Jones is listed at 6-foot-11 but he’s a quarter-horse compared to Perkins’ Clydesdale and the switch effectively rendered the Thunder small. Serge Ibaka was the default center, Durant the ersatz power forward.

It worked wonders. OKC outscored the two-time defending champions 36-25 in the third quarter. A 91-75 lead ballooned to its max with 8:45 left when the Thunder opened the fourth on a 10-1 run. Miami fans might have learned their lesson in The Finals about leaving early when things look bleak but this time, there really was little reason to stay.

So Perkins/bad, small ball/good was plain to see on this night. But Brooks dared to tinker with a mostly pat hand (Perkins has started all but two games), in a properly ballyhooed game, in front of an ESPN audience. He went with Jones and left him in for all 24 minutes of the second half. He made sure the Thunder used their mobility especially to get back on defense, choking off any Miami notions of transition buckets (OKC won that battle, getting 20 fast-break points to the Heat’s eight).

And he sold it on in real time, with nary a pout – who can tell with Stoneface Perk anyway? – nor a ripple.

“I thought to win this game, we had to make a decision,” Brooks said. “It’s just this game. It’s not something we have to do all the time. Perk brings so much to us. We’re not going to make it a small lineup/big lineup [issue]. ‘We’ won the game. It’s always been about ‘us.’ We have a bunch of guys who are always about ‘team’ and tonight was a prime example of that.”


VIDEO:
OKC fans watch, celebrate the Thunder’s win in Miami

***

No. 3: Rivers pushing hard for Jordan to make All-Star team — This time of year, many coaches will lobby other coaches within their  conference to vote for a player as an All-Star reserve. The general thought, though, is that this happens during pregame conversations or informal talks amongst NBA coaches. That’s one level of lobbying. Then there’s what Clippers coach Doc Rivers is apparently doing to get center DeAndre Jordan to the All-Star Game. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi has more on Rivers’ lobbying efforts:

Before the season began, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his team had a “big three”: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.Rivers now would like to see his big three in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game and has gone as far as lobbying his fellow Western Conference coaches to include Jordan in their vote to make the team as a reserve.

“I got a great response,” Rivers said. “But that’s why you go under a curtain when you’re stumping and they vote real because [they say], ‘Yeah, I’m going to vote for him,’ and then they shift that other lever.”

Rivers said many of the coaches he called said they would vote for Jordan while others said they liked him without saying whether they would include him.

“Yeah,” Rivers said when asked whether he was hopeful Jordan would be named an All-Star. “But it’s a lot of guys at that position.”

Jordan currently is leading the NBA in field goal percentage at .645 and rebounding with a 13.9 per-game average, and is fourth in blocked shots with 2.38 per game. He also is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game.

“I’m looking forward to [the announcement]; whatever the coaches vote, I’m going to respect it,” said Jordan, who had 14 points and 17 rebounds against the Washington Wizards in a 110-103 win Wednesday night. “If I make it, I make it and I’ll be really excited, but if not, it’s another chip I can add on my shoulder and just continue to keep playing like I’m playing this season.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about L.A.’s win on Wednesday over the Wizards

***

No. 3: Warriors GM dishes on building a contenderJust two seasons ago, Golden State was a 23-win team in the midst of what would become its fifth straight season without the playoffs. Much has changed since then, what with last season’s run to the Western Conference semifinals and this season contender for the Pacific Division crown. BasketballInsiders.com’s Nate Duncan caught up with Warriors GM Bob Myers, who talked in detail about crafting a long-term plan to make Golden State relevant again:

You talked about the timeline. When you came on in roughly early 2011 and then going into that summer and after the lockout, what did you perceive this team’s timeline for contention to be at that point?

Myers: Well what’s left from when I started is our two players, David Lee and Steph Curry. So of the 13 or 14 guys three years ago, we’ve kept two. So it’s a total overhaul of the entire roster, whether it’s through draft, trade or free agency. We have I would say, right now 13 new players in two years, which is a big turnover. Ideally you’d like to have more continuity, but we weren’t having success with the roster that year, obviously. We did believe last year, we hoped we put together a team that could make the playoffs. So our goal this year, last year it was to make the playoffs, this year was to make a good showing in the playoffs, and maybe next year it’s more than that. But we try to be realistic about where we are, we want to go beyond the goal of last year, which was just making the playoffs, and this year maybe advance in the playoffs. Maybe advance further than we did last year. So you’re always trying to build. A lot of things factor into your success in the postseason. We do our best in the front office and as an organization to put together the most talented team, and trust in our coaching staff to develop the players we give them. And then we go from there, and see what happens.

In 2011 you’re 36-46 and there’s this sort of truth, we can debate how truthful that actually is, that you kind of don’t want to be in the middle, that that’s the worst place to be. Was there any thought that you might have to bottom out a little bit to improve in that 2011 timeframe?

Myers: Well, the goal was to upgrade our talent from that team, that was the goal all along. We didn’t have a ton of assets to deal via trade. One of our assets, who happened to be our best player at the time, was Monta Ellis. One of the philosophies of the organization was to get bigger. We really wanted to try and be big. This organization has been small for so long and has had some success in that way, but from ownership on down, we feel like size is imperative to compete consistently in the NBA. So we had an opportunity to trade a guard for a center, and I think those opportunities are rare, and we took advantage of it. And Bogut happened to be hurt at the time. I’m not sure we could have got him if he was healthy. If he was healthy that would have been fine, maybe that would have allowed us to make a push towards the playoffs. But the fact that he was hurt allowed us to see what the team was with a lot of our young assets. Every day we come to work, we’re trying to find ways to improve our roster. Whether that’s through current assets or future assets or developing organically through the players we have here. Every day we want to leave work a little bit better than when we came in.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: For the second time this season, Evan Turner hit a game-winning buzzer-beater … Historically, the Jazz don’t do so hot on the nights they retire jerseys … Ex-Mavs coach  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, like it or not, the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy is part of the NBA now

ICYMI(s) of The Night: There were two standout breakaway dunks last night, so it was hard for us to pick just one. Which one was better: Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s or Blake Griffin‘s? …:


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes strong vs. Phoenix


VIDEO: Blake Griffin takes flight on a breakaway jam

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker might listen to free-agent offers | Durant gets fired up vs. Rockets | More minutes on horizon for Bennett? | Redick nearing return?

No. 1: Parker not opposed to leaving Spurs one day — Much like teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, point guard Tony Parker seems destined to join that duo as a life-long Spur. But Parker, responding to an ESPN.com report that says the Knicks have interest in pursuing him once he becomes a free agent in 2015, isn’t so sure he’d stick with San Antonio no matter the cost. While Parker says staying with the Spurs is his top choice, he told the San Antonio Express-NewsJabari Young that he’s also open to testing the free-agent waters should things not work out as he hopes in San Antonio:

Tony Parker to the New York Knicks?

Unlikely, but Parker wouldn’t rule it out. In fact, he wouldn’t rule out going anywhere if certain circumstances aren’t in place.

A report last week by ESPN.com said the Knicks hope to target the All-Star point guard in 2015, when Parker is set to become a free agent. Told of the report, Parker smiled and said he hadn’t seen it, but is keeping all his options open.

Parker made it clear though, his first choice it to remain in San Antonio as long as he could.

“If I can yeah”, Parker told the San Antonio Express-News. “The history here, they always take care of the guys. They did it with [Tim Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili], so hopefully they take care of me. At the end of this year they have to guarantee my year after, so, technically, maybe, I’ll be a free agent this summer.”

The 31-year-old Parker, who is averaging 17.8 points and 6.0 assists this season, signed a four-year, $50 million extension in 2010. He is owed $25 million in the last two years of his contract, but the final year is partially guaranteed for $3.5 million if he is waived by June 30, 2014 and fully guaranteed for $12.5 million after that.

Said Parker: “I just don’t want a guarantee, I want an extension, too.”

Even if Parker remains in San Antonio for the final year, his decision to stay beyond 2014-15 will depend on his coach and teammates.

Who knows when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will hang it up, though it may not be too far away, and Duncan has a $10 million player option next season, which is the final year of his deal. Will he be around beyond that?

“I want to stay positive,” Parker said, “but if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. My wish is to stay here and play my whole career here, but if there is no more Pop or Timmy or Manu, I’m not against going somewhere. I’m not against that.”

Parker being targeted is nothing new, though, and he always expresses his desire to remain in San Antonio for the remainder of his career. But what if the Spurs and Parker don’t reach an extension, would Parker seek a trade?

“I don’t even think like that because I think Pop and [Spurs General Manger R.C. Buford] they always take care of their guys,” Parker responded. “They did it with Timmy and Manu, so I don’t see no reason why they’re not gonna do it with me.”

***

No. 2: Durant shows fire in win over Rockets — In late October, Kevin Durant told The Oklahoman he wasn’t going to be as ‘obsessed’ about winning a championship as he was a season ago. The Houston Rockets would like to argue otherwise. Durant, in the Thunder’s first game against a contender since losing Russell Westbrook (again), simply dominated on Sunday night against Houston. OKC’s star was going full-tilt, as usual, on offense, but as longtime Thunder observer Darnell Mayberry notes, there was an added passion to Durant’s game:

Perry Jones III hadn’t been in the game 90 seconds.

But Kevin Durant didn’t like what he was seeing.

And so the Thunder star called over his second-year teammate, pulling him off the lane during a free-throw attempt despite OKC owning a 15-point lead.

“Wake your (blankety blank) up,” Durant barked at Jones near the scorer’s table.

No one needed to give Durant a wake-up call.

But it wasn’t just the numbers that defined Durant’s night.

It was the pep in his step, the look in his eyes and the fire and intensity with which he played. He took his game to a higher level Sunday in a showdown he knows could turn into a playoff rematch this spring.

From chewing out an up-and-coming teammate to a second-quarter stare down of old nemesis Francisco Garcia when things got too physical on the low block, Durant was dialed in the whole way.

He harassed an official when he drew a foul call and it was called on Terrence Jones instead of Dwight Howard.

He squawked at the Rockets bench after hitting a jumper over former teammate James Harden, a play he orchestrated the entire way when he called for a screen that would force Harden to switch and be left isolated on the right wing.

“He feel like he got to come and set the tone, and he doing that,” said Kendrick Perkins. “I’m liking the mean KD; giving stare downs when he’s dunking on people. I’m rolling with that.”

Durant, meanwhile, is too politically correct to speak on it publicly, and so he downplayed the source of his efforts after the game. But all throughout the summer, when Houston commanded the league’s attention with its blockbuster acquisition of Howard and caused many to wonder whether the Rockets had surpassed the Thunder, Durant grew testy each time the topic was brought up. The focus, Durant always said, should be on the Thunder. That’s the way he wanted to keep it.

With Sunday’s performance, Durant did his part to make sure it stayed that way.


VIDEO: Highlights from Kevin Durant’s monster game vs. the Rockets

***

No. 3: Bynum’s suspension opens up minutes for Bennett — ICYMI somehow over the weekend, things aren’t going so great for the Cavaliers in their attempts to restart Andrew Bynum‘s career. On Saturday, the team suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team and by Sunday, rumors were swirling that the Clippers and Heat were interested in landing the one-time All-Star center. As Cleveland navigates its future with Bynum, one player who could benefit from the fallout is rookie Anthony Bennett, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Lloyd has info on that, plus some news on what is next for the Cavs and Bynum, too:

Andrew Bynum’s removal from the Cavaliers clears two spots in Mike Brown’s rotation. One will go to Tyler Zeller, the other to Anthony Bennett.

The top pick in the draft has played sparingly to this point, but no longer. The Cavs are committing significant minutes to Bennett moving forward, which is why Mike Brown acknowledged Sunday that he needs to give Bennett time to play through inevitable mistakes.

“I have to continue trying to have patience with him,” Brown said. “This is an opportunity for him to go out and play some minutes and show what he’s capable of doing.”

After saying that, he only played Bennett 11 minutes in the 108-104 overtime loss Sunday to the Golden State Warriors after playing him 19 minutes in the loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday.

“I’m still clueless about this whole thing,” Bennett said. “I’m still trying to learn a lot. I can still learn from my teammates, from the coaching staff, watching film. I just feel like this whole league is all about learning, just going out and playing.”

He has played a fraction of the minutes other top picks in last summer’s draft are receiving. The Cavs hope more consistent minutes will mean more production.

Brown has juggled Bennett’s role from power forward to small forward and now back to power forward, which seems to have further confused the rookie. When he switched Bennett back to power forward, Brown said there is still the possibility he could see minutes on the wing. For right now, Brown likes some of the things Bennett is doing away from the ball. He just wants the rookie to slow down and show some composure when he has the ball.

In terms of Bynum, it looks like the Cavs will have to move quickly on a trade if they want to spare themselves having to pay the majority of Bynum’s salary this season:

Bynum’s suspension was lifted Sunday, but he is still excused from all team activities. He was docked one game’s pay (roughly $110,000). The Cavs have until Jan. 7 to trade or release him or they will be responsible for the balance of his $12 million deal.

If they can’t find a deal by Jan. 7, a league source confirmed the team is considering holding onto him anyway. They would have until June 30 to trade or release him before his $12 million deal for next season becomes guaranteed.

Bynum’s locker hadn’t been cleaned out yet at Quicken Loans Arena. Among the items left behind was a pair of headphones. He is also still part of the pregame introduction video. The team did not hand out his Fathead on Sunday, as was previously scheduled. They also did not hand out game-day programs, called “Tipoff Tonight,” because he was featured on the cover.

To make up for the Fathead issue, kids 14 and under received a certificate to redeem for future Fathead packs.


VIDEO:
Coach Mike Brown talks after the Cavs’ OT loss to the Warriors on Sunday

***

No. 4: Redick nearing return for Clips? — As one of the marquee additions to the team in the offseason, the Clippers’ J.J. Redick got off to a solid start for Los Angeles before a torn ligament in his wrist sidelined him for 6-8 weeks in early December. He’s been rehabbing the injury ever since and Clippers coach Doc Rivers tells Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times that Redick could be on his way back to the lineup soon:

Clippers rookie swingman Reggie Bullock, who is out with a sprained right ankle, has been working out and is making progress.

Coach Doc Rivers said Bullock shot some during the team’s shoot-around before Saturday night’s game against Utah.

“Yeah, he’s getting closer,” Rivers said.

J.J. Redick, who is out with a broken right hand and torn ligaments on the right side of his wrist, now has a soft cast on his hand and not the hard cast anymore.

Redick, a right-handed shooter, has not been shooting the ball yet.

“He’s close too, would be my guess,” Rivers said. “I think it’s a couple of weeks, maybe.”

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum is getting closer and closer to his NBA debut … The Knicks might be closing in on a deal with big man Jeremy Tyler, a move that could result in the cutting of Chris Smith … The Wizards’ Bradley Beal is a much better shooter when Marcin Gortat is on the courtBlake Griffin has been playing some MVP-type basketball the last few games

ICYMI Of The Night: Maybe there are times now, what with Russell Westbrook being injured, that Kevin Durant misses his old teammate James Harden. But he made a point to see him up close again when he dunked on him last night


VIDEO: Kevin Durant drives in and dunks over ex-teammate James Harden

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers sets goals for Clippers | Rondo’s return getting closer? | Pistons’ Jennings healing up fast | Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension

No. 1: Rivers wants Clippers to pull togetherThe addition of Doc Rivers to the Clippers’ bench as their new coach was widely seen as one of the biggest moves of the NBA’s offseason. No doubt, the Clippers are counting on Rivers’ history of deep playoff runs with the Boston Celtics to translate to L.A. and take a crew known mostly for regular-season highlights further in the postseason. USA Today‘s David Leon Moore caught up with Rivers and the rest of the Clippers and found the the new coach is embracing the high expectations and hopes for a playoff run that are present in Clipperland:

The hype is loud for a team with two perennial All-Stars — point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin — along with a title-winning coach and a deep and talented roster.

Rivers and the Clippers aren’t backing away from it.

“I always thought I’d rather be with a group with high expectations,” the 52-year-old coach says. “Are we ready for that? I don’t know yet. That’s what this journey will be about. I think we are. I think we have a chance to do something. That excites me. If we can look at what’s on paper and get that on the floor and keep it healthy, I think we can be a special team. That excites me.”

What needs to be changed from Del Negro’s regime?

Rivers wants to shore up the transition defense, guard the three-point line better and turn underachieving 6-11 center DeAndre Jordan into a candidate for defensive player of the year.

But there is a bigger goal, Rivers says. “Become a team,” he says. “I was a player. I was in locker rooms, and I understand that part of it. I know how important the locker room is. That’s something we need to improve here — our locker room.

“We just need to grow as a group. We have to embrace ‘heart’ all the time. That’s an area we need to be strongest in. Instead of splintering when things go wrong, we need to pull together.”

***

No. 2: Rondo may be in contact drills soon — Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo last played in an NBA game on Jan. 25, 2013 against the Hawks. It was in that game that Rondo injured his knee and shortly thereafter, had a torn ACL and was done for the season. Rondo has been rehabbing steadily since his surgery and might be ready for the next step in process to return to the court, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

Rajon Rondo watched last night’s 107-97 Celtics exhibition win over a Brooklyn scrub team with the same calm the rehabbing point guard has brought to every other game this fall.

That’s because while Rondo won’t get specific about a timetable, he acknowledged last night that the next step in his recovery from ACL surgery — contact — may not be far off.

“I’m getting fitted for my first brace, and I don’t think contact will be too far from there,” the Celtics point guard said. “I just have to get cleared by my doctors. I know it’s getting stronger each week. When I’m able to jump off my right leg and dunk, that’s probably when I’ll be ready to play.

“Feeling great, working out every day. I’m doing more as far as compound workouts. I’m doing one workout a day, so I’m doing more as far as working on my leg. It’s getting better each day.”

***

No. 3: Jennings healing up, expects to return to Pistons soon — Detroit’s new starting point guard, Brandon Jennings, had surgery to repair an issue with his wisdom teeth a few weeks ago. He’s understandably been mostly quiet since the procedure, but the Pistons are thinking he’ll be ready to go by early next month, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

Brandon Jennings hasn’t had much to say — it’s tough to talk when your mouth is immobilized.

That’s what the Pistons’ public relations staff has reminded media members who have requested to interview Jennings, who returned to the practice facility this week after a brief absence because of an impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of the jaw.

He hasn’t returned to full practices yet, but his light work and good spirits appear to be good signs that he will be able to return quickly when he is re-evaluated in two weeks. Jennings might play by Nov. 5 against Indiana.

“He’s been a part of everything with the exception of running,” coach Maurice Cheeks said Wednesday. “He’s able to watch film, being on the practice floor, he has been a part of it. Whenever he gets his situation taken care of, we will put him in there and see what he’s got.”

Jennings wore a protective mask Wednesday while taking shots, but it’s still to be determined if he will wear it when he returns.

***

No. 4: Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension — The Suns wrapped up their preseason schedule last night with a victory against the Nuggets that was paced by point guard Eric Bledsoe‘s 21-point effort. Bledsoe finished the preseason as Phoenix’s leading scorer (just 13.0 ppg, but that’ll likely be higher during the season) and has had a pretty smooth transition from Chris Paul‘s backup with the Clippers to his new role as a go-to guy with the Suns. As such, writes Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com, the Suns and Bledsoe are trying to hammer out a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline:

The Phoenix Suns are currently in talks with newly acquired guard Eric Bledsoe on a long-term contract extension. If the two sides can’t reach a deal by the end of the month, the 23-year-old combo guard would become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

The Suns are in an interesting spot because they’ve only seen the Kentucky product in training camp and a few preseason games, and it’s still uncertain that he will become the star many project him to be.

Nonetheless, general manager Ryan McDonough, while on Arizona Sports 620′s Burns & Gambo show Wednesday, agreed that Bledsoe does figure into the team’s long-term plans. McDonough said contract talks with the fourth-year player have gone “pretty well” to this point.

“If we’re not able to work out a deal (by Oct. 31), we would start next summer with Eric as a restricted free agent, but obviously we’re hoping to get something done before that,” the general manager said.

“With Eric, there’s more projection. Some would say there’s more risk, but I’d also counter that there’s more upside,” McDonough, 33, said. “He does some unique things athletically. I think he’s the best shot-blocking guard in the league. If he plays extended minutes, which he will for us, I think he might lead the league in steals. He has a unique potential.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In his farewell Board of Governors dinner, David Stern was immortalized in bobblehead form. Where can we get one of those? … The Jazz are reportedly bringing veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley back into the fold … The Nets, understandably, are expecting big things from Deron Williams this season …

ICYMI Of The Night: Jazz rookies can’t seem to get a break. Yesterday, we had rookie Justin Holiday getting his welcome-to-the-NBA moment (from Xavier Henry of the Lakers). Today, we’ve got Rudy Gobert getting his welcome thanks to Blake Griffin of the Clippers … 

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clips making Jordan a focus | Prep coach reflects on Rose | Oden rarely rests| Kidd adjusting to new gig

No. 1: Clippers making efforts on, off court to pump up JordanCenter DeAndre Jordan is one of the key targets of Chris Paul‘s alley oops in what was formerly known as “Lob City” and was also known for being pulled late in games due to his offensive deficiencies and poor free throw shooting. While the Clippers are still going to go as far as Paul and fellow All-Star Blake Griffin can take them, the Clips want to integrate Jordan into the mix as one of their key players as well. Off the court, they’re featuring him on the cover of this season’s media guide and on it, coach Doc Rivers wants Jordan in the game when it matters most in what are calculated moves by the coach, writes Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Two rare or unprecedented sights to look for during the Clippers’ upcoming season:

DeAndre Jordan’s image on the cover of the team’s media guide with franchise players and acknowledged leaders Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, a statement about what will be expected of the 25-year-old center in his sixth season.

DeAndre Jordan, in person, on the court during the fourth quarter of tight games.

New Coach Doc Rivers’ imprint is on both moves. On the first point, Rivers made it known he wants to promote a “big three” concept rather than focusing on All-Stars Griffin and Paul. On the second point, he believes Jordan is capable of playing during crunch time, even though Jordan was mostly a spectator during that stage last season.

Jordan, who was inconsistent defensively and hit only 38.6% of his free throws last season to rank last among full-time NBA starters, played in all 82 regular-season games but got into the fourth quarter of only 30 of them. He played in two of six fourth quarters in the Clippers’ first-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

To Rivers, who replaced Vinny Del Negro this summer, that’s ancient history, not a guideline to future success.

“I wasn’t here last year,” Rivers said Thursday when asked about Jordan’s limited late minutes last season.

Can Jordan be trusted in the fourth quarter?

“Yeah,” Rivers said before the team practiced for its first Staples Center exhibition, on Friday against Portland.

Jordan likes Rivers’ philosophy about not prejudging what he can — or can’t — do.

“Doc is a great coach, and he expects a lot out of me, and I’m definitely going to embrace that challenge,” Jordan said. “He believes in me and that only helps me be more confident and believe in myself.

“It’s a new year, a new start for everybody, and that’s what I’m focused on.”

***

No. 2: Derrick Rose’s prep coach provides insight on NBA starBulls fans everywhere are delighted that Derrick Rose is back on the court and looking pretty much like his old self after missing all of last season while recovering from his torn ACL. Jason Jordan of USA Today catches up with Rose’s high school coach, Robert Smith of Simeon High School, who has great insight into what drove Rose during his rehab work:

JJ: Is it me or does he look faster in these preseason games coming off the ACL tear?
RS: He really does, right! You hit that right on the head. People text me all during his games asking me the same question and I have to agree. That’s hard to believe, but it certainly looks that way. I knew he would come back even better.

JJ: What convinced you that he would come back better?
RS: Because he took his time and he doesn’t like to disappoint people. I think that was the main reason why he didn’t come back early. He just doesn’t like to disappoint anyone. That drives him. His competitive nature would never let him not come back as good or better than he was before. When he opted to stay out I said to myself, “When he gets back it’s gonna be rough on some people.”

JJ: What’s something that people would be shocked to know about Derrick?
RS: Probably that he’s really superstitious. His routine is always the same, he doesn’t change anything. Just things like always being the last one to come out of the locker room and always being the last one to come to the huddle. Different things like that. But he’s serious about that stuff.

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No. 3: Day off of practice doesn’t mean rest for OdenGreg Oden was held out of two days of Heat practice this week due to swelling on his left knee, but that doesn’t mean he’s just hanging around the practice facility doing nothing. The goal for Oden and the team is to keep the big man on a consistent workout plan and keep his spirits up as well, writes Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I don’t really take a day off,” Oden said. “For me, it’s maintenance to this knee and maintenance to my body, because some days I’m not able to do the up-and-down stuff that they are able to do. I’ve got to be in the weight room, riding the bike, lifting and doing all the things I can.”

Oden began experiencing the swelling on his left knee after completing his first 5-on-5 workout in more than three years. The Heat decided to hold him out of practice rather than risk further injury. The minor setback for Oden caused little concern considering what he’s been through.

He hasn’t played since Dec. 5, 2000 after suffering a series of career-threatening knee injuries.

“I’m fine,” Oden said. “It’s been 3 1/2 years for me so a little bit of swelling … as long as there’s no surgery, I’m OK. It’s going to be a long season so I’m going to get there. It’s just one day.”

“It’s not really a set formula for that right now,” said Oden when asked when he will take days off. “It just kind of goes how the legs feel. I will see how it reacts after hard days and then we’ll figure it out from there. The more days I can get going hard and the more days we can figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

Perhaps most impressive is Oden’s ability to remain positive during the process. He is still a few months away from the possibility of playing.

“I’m all right. I’m just icing it down,” Oden said. “It’s a process. I’ve got to figure out the ups and downs, what all I can do, how long I can do it … It wasn’t the first time [the knee swelled]. I was hoping it didn’t but it did. What can I do about it? Now, the next thing to do is get it back down. I’ve definitely got bigger goals. The best thing for me is to take it day by day.”

***

No. 4: Kidd adjusting to new gig, responsibilities – Last night in Brooklyn was all about Jason Kidd as the former Nets star (and current coach of the team) had his No. 5 jersey lifted to the rafters of the Barclays Center. Before that sentimental moment, Kidd talked with our own David Aldridge about the challenges of his new job — such as learning how to draw up a play quickly — and more in a solid Q&A interview:

ALDRIDGE: When you talked to those guys this summer, did they immediately talk to you as a coach, or did you still think there was a coach-player vibe there?

KIDD: No. I think all the coaches that I ran into this summer have all been great from Doc [Rivers] to Pat Riley, you know, listening to them talk about their story of when they got started It sounded very familiar to mine, and so just listening to them and also asking them questions after the fact of what worked, what didn’t work, and the biggest thing that comes back is be yourself, trust that you know basketball, but trust your gut and always be honest and just communicate, and you’ll be fine.

ALDRIDGE: I’m sure you have a favorite play. I’m sure you’ve got something that over the years you say, “Yeah. I really like that one.”

KIDD: Yeah. There’s some plays that I’m comfortable with drawing, but in the preseason, this is all about being able to give new things to guys and see how they execute, so we can always go during the season to my favorite go-tos, but this is also for us to get better. The train’s moving, so I got to be able to feed guys new stuff and see how they accept it on the fly. Can they execute what we draw up, or can they execute what we talk about? And those are things — as a player, yes, you can do it, but now as a coach, can they — it’s out of your hands, and did you communicate it to them right, or did you leave something out? So those are the things that I’m going through.

ALDRIDGE: How will you critique yourself as a coach?

KIDD: You know, I think trusting myself, being able to take in the information and being able to deliver it. That’s the one thing I will always give myself a grade at the end of the night. There’s a lot of information being thrown my way. How did I process it, and how did I deliver it to the guys?

ALDRIDGE: Yeah. Who do you — I don’t know if “confide in” is the right word — but who will you kind of bounce ideas off of?

KIDD: Everyone. I’ve come with kind of the approach of there’s an open table. You know, come to the table with it, bring it to the board, and let’s discuss it, and then I’ll make a decision do we go with it or not? Maybe we keep it on the board because maybe it’s not the right time for that, but I love more information. The better off I’ll be, but also the team.

ALDRIDGE: Have you actually spent any time with Mikhail Prokhorov yet?

KIDD: Just at the press conference. We spent a little time together. When you talk about an owner who wants to win, well, he’s definitely shown that by putting this team together.

ALDRIDGE: Is that in any way odd to you that haven’t spent much time at all with the person who hired you?

KIDD: He’s always watching, and he’ll give a call once in a while just to check in and see how things are going.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High-flying Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried has a strained hammy … Thunder rookie big man Steven Adams impresses in OKC’s win against New Orleans … Great story looking at the love-hate relationship Carlos Boozer has with most Bulls fans

ICYMI Of The Night: The Knicks’ Iman Shumpert had one of the best put-back dunks of 2012-13 and is getting an early start on his highlight reel for 2013-14  …

Playoff Scenarios: Who Can End Up Where

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From staff reports

There is just one day left in the 2012-13 regular season and 15 of the 16 total possible playoff spots have been wrapped up (Utah and the L.A. Lakers are still slugging it out for the last berth in the West). While things get a little clearer each day, here’s a look at which teams are headed where — and which teams can still change their fate.

UPDATED THROUGH GAMES PLAYED APRIL 16

EASTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS

  • No. 1 Heat (65-16) — Clinched Southeast Division, No. 1 in East, No. 1 overall seed in playoffs
  • No. 2 Knicks (53-28) — Clinched Atlantic Division, No. 2 in East
  • No. 3 Pacers (49-31) — Clinched Central Division, No. 3 in East
  • No. 4 Nets (48-33) — Clinched No. 4 in East
  • No. 5 Bulls (44-37) — owns tiebreaker (won season series with Atlanta 2-1); (1 game left — April 17 vs. Wizards)
  • No. 6 Hawks (44-37) — trail Bulls for No. 5 by virtue of tie-breaker rules; (1 game left — April 17 @ Knicks)
  • No. 7 Celtics (41-39) — Clinched No. 7 in East
  • No. 8 Bucks (37-44) — Clinched No. 8 in East

The quick recap: Miami is assured of home court throughout the playoffs and the division-winning Knicks and Pacers have locked up the No. 2 and 3 spots. The Nets, Celtics and Bucks are all locked into their playoff spots as well, leaving the No. 5 and No. 6 spots (which are between Atlanta and Chicago) up for grabs.

ATLANTA: The Hawks (seeded No. 6 as of Wednesday morning) and the Bulls (No. 5) can still swap spots if Atlanta finishes with a better record than Chicago. But, the Hawks do not have the tie-breaker as they lost the season series to the Bulls, 2-1.

CHICAGO: Has tiebreaker (season-series victory) over Atlanta for the No. 5 seed. The Bulls have one game left on the schedule (April 17 vs. Washington) and, should they finish tied with the Hawks record-wise, Chicago would pass Atlanta and clinch No. 5 in the East.

WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS

  • No. 1 Thunder (60-21) — Clinched Northwest Division, No. 1 overall in West
  • No. 2 Spurs (58-23) — Clinched Southwest Division, No. 2 in West
  • No. 3 Nuggets (56-25) — No. 3 in West; Assured of home court in first round; Can clinch No. 3 with a win Wednesday against Phoenix OR if the Clips lose finale (April 17 @ Kings).
  • No. 4 L.A. Clippers (55-26) — Clinched Pacific Division; Clinched at least No. 4 in West; May or may not have home court in first round; needs either a win (April 17 @ Kings) or a Grizzlies loss (April 17 vs. Jazz) to clinch home court.
  • No. 5 Grizzlies (55-26) — Clinched No. 5 in West
  • No. 6 Warriors (46-35) — No. 6 in West; Cannot fall lower than No. 7
  • No. 7 Rockets (45-36) — No. 7 in West; Can climb up or fall one spot
  • No. 8 Lakers (44-37) — No. 8 in West; controls own fate (April 17 vs. Houston); can move as high as No. 7
  • No. 9 Jazz (43-38) — 1/2 game behind Lakers for No. 8 seed; owns tiebreaker with Lakers (won season series 2-1); can only clinch No. 8 spot

The quick recap: The Thunder have home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs, the Spurs are the No. 2  seed and the Grizzlies are the No. 5 seed. Other than that, there are still plenty of things left to be decided.

DENVER: The Nuggets are assured of home court in the first round, but their seeding can still change. Denver can clinch No. 3 with a win Wednesday against Phoenix OR if the Clips lose either of their last two games. If the Clippers and Nuggets finish with the same record, the Clippers own the tiebreaker advantage; although the Nuggets won the season series with the Clips, the Clippers’ division title trumps a head-to-head series win. In this case, the Clippers would be the No. 3 seed and the Nuggets would be the No. 4 seed.

L.A. CLIPPERS: By virtue of winning a division, they can’t fall further than No. 4. However, they can lose home court in the first round despite the division title. Memphis is locked into the 5th seed and can’t pass Denver, and the Clippers are guaranteed a top 4 seed. But, if Memphis finishes with a better record than the L.A. Clippers, they would host a Grizzlies-Clippers series despite being the lower-seeded team.

GOLDEN STATE: They can clinch the No. 6 spot by winning their season finale in Portland on April 17. But if they lose and the No. 7-seeded Rockets win their season finale against the Lakers, Golden State loses the tiebreaker with Houston and falls to No. 7 in the West.

HOUSTON: The Rockets can finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 in the West. Here’s how:

They climb to No. 6 if: They beat the Lakers in their season finale and the Warriors lose in Portland. Houston won the season series with Golden State 3-1.

They stay at No. 7 if: The Warriors win their season finale in Portland. The Rockets would be unable to catch Golden State in the standings.

They fall to No. 8 if: They lose to the Lakers in their season finale on April 17. With a victory, the Lakers would tie the season series with Houston and, by virtue of the next tiebreaker (record against conference foes), would leapfrog Houston. In that scenario, the Warriors would be the No. 6 seed, the Lakers would be the No. 7 seed and the Rockets would be the No. 8 seed.

L.A. LAKERS: First things first — they control their own playoff fate. Win on April 17 against the Rockets (or have Utah lose in Memphis earlier in the night) and L.A. clinches the last playoff berth still available. A victory by Utah coupled with a loss to Houston means L.A. misses the playoffs by virtue of the Jazz winning the season series, 2-1.

They will be No. 8 if: They lose, but the Jazz lose to the Grizzlies, too.

They will be No. 7 if: They defeat Houston in their season finale.

They miss the playoffs if: They lose to Houston in their season finale and the Jazz defeat the Grizzlies.

UTAH: The Jazz need to win their season finale in Memphis … and then hope the Lakers lose at home to the Rockets (who, as you can read above, could fall to No. 8 if they lose). If the Jazz get in, they can’t move up higher than No. 8, even if the Warriors lose and Rockets win their final games. Both teams would finish with better records than the Jazz.

Morning Shootaround — April 5

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Does it get any better than a matchup of the West’s two top teams? We don’t think so, so that’s why last night’s Spurs-Thunder tilt from Oklahoma City gets the nod this morning. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd rolling and high-fiving all night long, even though this one had a bit of a damper put on it with Tony Parker‘s injury (our man Jeff Caplan has more on what happened here).

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News of the morning

Report: Gallinari likely has torn ACL | Nowitzki chimes in on Griner-to-NBA talk | Bulls show toughness in win over Nets | Griffin, Jordan tiring of CP3′s chatter?

Report: Gallinari has likely ACL tearA magical season in Denver took a turn for the negative last night when the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, suffered a knee injury while driving to the hoop in the first half. He eventually fell to the floor and was helped off the court by teammates Timofey Mozgov and Quincy Miller and Denver was left hoping a season-altering injury wasn’t the cause. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has bad news for Nuggets fans as it looks likely that Gallinari has suffered a torn ACL:

After crumbling to the court and needing to be carried to the locker room, an initial examination of Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari suggested a season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday night.

“The doctor indicated that the ligament was loose,” one source told Yahoo! Sports. “They expect that it’s a torn ACL.”

Gallinari will undergo a full MRI examination on Friday to survey the complete damage to the knee. After driving on Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki in the Nuggets’ 95-94 victory on Thursday night, Gallinari planted his left leg only to have his knee buckle beneath him.

The Italian writhed in pain on the floor, and needed to be carted to the locker room.

Nowitzki, Carlisle mostly avoid Griner-to-Mavs talkMavericks owner Mark Cuban — as is his wont — caused quite a stir this week when he said he’d seriously consider drafting Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner with one of his team’s picks in this year’s NBA draft. Griner, the top player in women’s basketball and the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, finished her college career as the NCAA leader in blocked shots and the second-leading scorer in women’s college basketball history. Others have chimed in on Cuban’s statement — including University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma — and now the Mavs’ players are, too. In an interview with the Fort Worth Telegram’s Dwain Price, Dirk Nowitzki gave his thoughts on whether or not Griner, who is 6-foot-8, could make it in the NBA:

When Dirk Nowitzki was asked about the possibility of Baylor superstar center Brittney Griner playing in the NBA, he kept repeating two words demonstratively: “it’s tough.”

Nowitzki weighed in on the controversy after Thursday morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center.

“I honestly have huge respect for [Griner],” Nowitzki said. “She may be the most dominant female player ever in college, but I don’t know if the NBA is made for a female.

“It’s physical, there are a lot of athletes out there. I think it’s tough.”

Speaking candidly, Nowitzki offered a suggestion for Griner, who will be the top overall pick in the next WNBA Draft.

“Maybe if she does want to maybe try in the [NBA] summer league to see how it is,” Nowitzki said. “But I don’t think a female, at this point, can play in the NBA.”

Coach Rick Carlisle admitted he hasn’t watched any women’s college basketball games this season, but is fully aware of Griner’s overwhelming talent.

“I know she’s a helluva player,” Carlisle said. “Beyond that I don’t want to get into the polarizing discussion about it because I think it’s important to have an owner that is open-minded and I think it’s important to be an organization that is open-minded.

“Ultimately, whether or not she can play is something I don’t want to get into.”

“Six-foot-eight is about a [power forward] , I’d say,” Nowitzki said. “We have three guys playing at 6-8 and playing [small forward], so yeah, you’re kind of caught between a [small forward] and a [power forward].”

And there’s always the argument that the speed and athleticism of the NBA is superior to any league out there and could engulf Griner.

“It’s tough,” Nowitzki said. “You’ve got to be fast and athletic at that spot, you’ve got to be able to shoot, you’ve got to be able to go by people, guard people on the other end, chase people off screen and rolls, or in the post-up.

“It’s tough. It’s tough.”

Bulls prove playoff mettle in win in BrooklynHeading into last night’s game in Brooklyn, the Bulls knew they’d be without Derrick Rose. But they also added Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli to that list, which made an already thin Bulls roster even more so. Then came the game, where Chicago found itself down 16 points to Brooklyn and had every reason to pack it in and take a loss. But as has been the case with these Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau, they fought back and, thanks to a late Nate Robinson floater, put away the Nets and moved ever closer to the No. 5 spot in the East. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details a gutty win for the Bulls:

Thursday night is why anybody thinking the Derrick Rose-less Bulls will be an early playoff exit might want to reconsider.

Down three starters and two rotation players to injury, the Bulls rallied from a 16-point deficit and stunned the Nets 92-90 at Barclays Center when Brook Lopez‘s jumper went in and out at the buzzer.

Nate Robinson scored the go-ahead basket with 22.7 seconds remaining, Nazr Mohammed helped force a steal and blocked Lopez in the final minute and Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler provided multiple big plays.

“You guys have seen the mark of this team: We fight to the end,” Boozer said. “We have some resilient guys in here. We just told ourselves to keep grinding and something would break.”

Robinson’s go-ahead basket came in the lane after he also got credit for a steal on Lopez, whom Mohammed ably guarded.

“I’m not afraid to take big shots if needed,” Robinson said.

“The momentum switched in the third quarter,” Boozer said. “We know (people) don’t believe in us. But we believe in each other, man. We’ve had some close games. We just hope all this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs.

“We feel if we have everyone out there, we still have a chance to do something special.”

Jordan, Griffin tiring of each other, CP3?This one might need to be taken with a grain of salt, because as we’ve seen with the Oklahoma City Thunder, star players can have occasional infighting and still be successful. But according to T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, the Clippers’ frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan got into a bit of a spat the other night and some things about Chris Paul bubbled to the surface, too. Here’s more:

The feel-good Clippers are gone, with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin’s immaturity dragging the team down.

Jordan wants nothing to do with Coach Vinny Del Negro because he blames Del Negro for burying him on the bench.

Yet Jordan’s inability to play consistently or make free throws, thereby turning the ball over to the opposition much like a turnover, makes him a liability in close games.

Jordan sees it differently, and he has for the last two seasons, maintaining he would be more productive if allowed to play more.

The other night in Sacramento, Griffin and Jordan exchanged words on the bench. Griffin told Jordan he best never again stare him down as he did when Griffin failed to give Jordan a good pass for a dunk.

Everyone else was left to sit there while waiting for the kids to stop bickering.

The pair have also grown tired of Chris Paul‘s voice, which is understandable at times.

Paul, very much like Kobe Bryant — who has turned off Dwight Howard with his out-of-this-world standards — is relentless. He never shuts up. And Jordan and Griffin have become weary of him.

When asked about being annoying, Paul smiled and said, “I need to work on being a better leader.”

ICYMI of the night: On a downer of a night in Denver, it’s nice to see Andre Iguodala come up big and keep the Pepsi Center rockin’ …:

Morning Shootaround — March 29

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Lakers-Bucks was the more sexy game of the night, what with Milwaukee climbing out of a 13-point hole to take down the West’s most glamorous team. By contrast, the Kings-Suns game gets the award for least sexy matchup of the night (despite an awesome performance from the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins). That leaves Pacers-Mavs as our pick this morning, a bit of a surprise if you look at the final score. We’re picking this one, though, for some off-court reasons. Namely, the Pacers’ mental toughness and circle-the-wagons approach to last night’s game (especially after they learned Danny Granger won’t be back this season). Indiana also heard Dallas’ talk of shaving their hope-to-be-.500 beards after this game, as if assuming they’d topple the East’s No. 2 team with no problem. But great performances from Paul George and Roy Hibbert showed the Pacers are as serious of a contender in the East as they have been all season.

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News of the morning

Sanders gets Bucks rolling vs. Lakers | Z-Bo, Hollins shrug off conflict talk | Cousins takes out frustrations on Suns | Clips’ Barnes wants refs’ grades public

Sanders fuels Bucks’ big victoryAs our man Steve Aschburner pointed out postgame, the big story from last night’s Lakers-Bucks game in Milwaukee was obviously the injury to Kobe Bryant. But while we’re all fretting over whether or not the Black Mamba will play in L.A.’s next game, lost in the shuffle was the play of Larry Sanders last night. He finished with a career-best 21 points and his high-energy play that has been a hallmark of his season sparked Milwaukee as it rallied from a 13-point hole. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Sanders and the Bucks’ big win:

The Bucks knew that somehow, some way, they had to halt a four-game slide that was putting their playoff push in reverse gear.

And they did it with a collective effort, posting a 113-103 victory that featured a career-high 21 points from center Larry Sanders and a stellar defensive performance by veteran Marquis Daniels, who had the difficult assignment to defend Bryant.

“We came out and accepted the challenge,” Daniels said. “We needed a win bad. We came out with more intensity and more energy.

“You just try to make all his shots tough and make him work for everything that he got.”

“Our attention to detail was a little better,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Larry was great, really active, did a lot of talking out there.

“We’ve been struggling lately. And when you struggle, you can get into your own little world, and that’s a bad place to go as a team. You need to be communicating; you need to be playing a collective game.

“Tonight was breaking out of that shell a little bit.”

The Bucks trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter but rallied within 56-53 at halftime.

Then they began to take control in the third quarter, using a 13-2 run that featured three dunks by Sanders and a three-pointer by Daniels.

The Bucks led, 82-77, after three quarters and extended the lead to 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Daniels had a key three-point play off a Monta Ellis assist as part of an 8-0 spurt to give the Bucks a 104-92 lead.

“It gets the crowd going and gets the team going,” Sanders said of his six dunks.

He exhorted the crowd in the final minute, walking over to the sideline and raising his arms to get the fans out of their seats.

“I love the crowd,” Sanders said. “I like to get them hyped, especially with the playoffs coming up. It will be good for us.”

Randolph, Hollins ignore talk of conflictDuring the Knicks’ win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the New York broadcasting crew implied that there might be growing friction between Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph and his coach, Lionel Hollins. They also suggested there is a growing belief there is a wedge between the star and his coach and that dynamic is being played out on the court. Randolph and Hollins, though, refute those claims and detail their relationship further to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:

There is a growing belief that the Grizzlies’ veteran power forward and head coach aren’t on the same page as they prepare for a postseason run. However, both men dismissed that notion Thursday, saying there is no friction between them.

“Our relationship is fine,” Randolph said. “I respect my coach.”

“The only beef I had with Zach is he was excessively late for a shootaround that started at 4:30 p.m. (last Saturday),” Hollins said. “I told him I can’t start you and he understood. Everybody’s got their opinion about what goes on in our locker room. But only the people in there know. I haven’t had a beef with Zach and he hasn’t had one with me.”

Randolph didn’t start last Saturday against Boston because of his tardiness that day. He struggled mightily on the court this past week in games against Washington and New York.

Randolph had just one shot in the second half of a loss at Washington. He was just 1 of 3 from the field against New York.

Hollins said any correlation between Randolph’s recent poor performances and their relationship is off base because there are basketball reasons why Randolph has struggled lately.

“We’re getting him the ball,” Hollins said. “If you watch the games, we’re getting him the ball. It’s just now teams are taking him away. They’re running three people at him and he’s making passes. Other people are having to step up and try to do things. It’s just the way it is.”

Hollins did acknowledge that the Grizzlies aren’t in the best place as the regular season winds down. And his assessment had nothing to do with their fifth-place standing in the Western Conference.

“I’d like for us to be sharper mentally and more focused intensity-wise. But I understand it’s a long season. I understand that guys get tired and you go through lulls. Then, you get your energy back,” Hollins said. “I just don’t want us to get bad habits. That was one of the reasons I had practice (Thursday). I wanted to get back to practicing our habits. It wasn’t a hard workout, but it was back to technique and fundamentals offensively and defensively.”

Cousins pounds away on SunsThe Kings are one of the West’s worst squads but have shown improvement in March, going 7-7 with wins against the Bulls, Clippers and, most recently, the Warriors, during that span. The win in Golden State wasn’t without its dramatic points for the Kings, most notably being that leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins sat out the entire fourth quarter of that game as coach Keith Smart went for a defensive lineup. Cousins was back in action last night and made sure his play wasn’t an afterthought in the Kings’ win, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

A night after being held out the final 12 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins had the option of going back in during the fourth quarter Thursday night.

He declined. There was no need for Cousins to do any more.

Cousins had his way against the undermanned Phoenix Suns. The third-year center scored a season-high 34 points to go with 14 rebounds as the Kings bullied their way to a 117-103 win at US Airways Center.

Rather than seethe over what happened against the Warriors, Cousins took his frustration out on Luis Scola, Markieff Morris, Hamed Haddadi or any other Suns player that tried to stop him.

Cousins scored 17 points and had seven rebounds in the first quarter to spark the Kings’ 38-point effort to open the game. It was the most points Phoenix allowed in a first period this season.

“It was definitely frustration,” Cousins said. “I just try to put it behind me. It’s a new day, so I just try to act like it never happened.”

Cousins showed off his overall skills in going 12 for 16 from the field and making all nine of his free throws. He also made one of his two three-point attempts.

Cousins used power against smaller players and skill and quickness against stronger players that could not match his athleticism.

“The guy has a lot of talent, and you saw everything,” Smart said. “From the three-point shot, he can do that, he shoots them in practice. The midrange, 17-, 18-foot shot. The drive to the basket from deep off the floor. Obviously his rebounding is still going to be his strong suit because that’s what he does, and he’s a very good offensive rebounder.”

Smart knew Cousins wasn’t happy about not playing in the fourth against the Warriors and liked how Cousins responded.

“The best way to handle anything you may be feeling is to go out on the floor and perform,” Smart said. “We’re all judged on the performance. And regardless of what a coach did or a player did, it’s all about your performance on the floor. And tonight he created the environment that he wanted to have success in.”

Barnes wants more transparency with refs — The Clippers are tied with the Thunder in average technical fouls per game this season with 0.8. There have been 58 technicals assessed to the Clips this season, with Blake Griffin’s 12 being the team high. And, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register points out, most of those technicals have come after the Clippers’ players and coaches argue with officials about a call. Reserve forward Matt Barnes, though, has clear thoughts on what should happen with officials in the future:

Matt Barnes, a player who has made a career of not backing down from anyone on the court, didn’t back down from the touchy topic, calling for the leae to be more transparent with their officials.

“One I thing I will say is I know they get graded. I think their grades should be public record,” Barnes said before the Clippers’ victory over New Orleans Wednesday. “Everything we do on the court is public. Our fines, our techs, everything we do is under a microscope. And the refs are supposed to be a part of this league just like we are.

“Their grades should be public record. Everyone should be able to see.”

“It’s hard,” Barnes said. “When you’re playing as hard as you can and you’re getting beat up and nothing is being done about it, it’s frustrating.”

Multiple players agreed that the team has developed a reputation around the league for complaining about calls.

“I think we do, and if so, it’s warranted,” Barnes said. “I’ve seen the calls that have been made against us and the calls that are not made for us. Blake’s a superstar, and I see the way he gets beat up or me as a defender being aggressive and the fouls I get. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we have to play through.

“…I think the reputation, for whatever reason, is something we’re going to have to work through because we definitely don’t get calls.”

Barnes said he doesn’t hold any ill will towards officials, though.

“They’re out there doing the best job they can,” he said.

But that doesn’t change his views on whether the NBA should be more open with its reviews of their officials.

“A ref’s grade should be public record after a game just like our stats are,” Barnes said. “They’re out there, doing their job, and they’re supposed to be the best in the world just like we are. Their grades should be public record. I don’t understand why not.”

ICYMI of the night: It takes a lot for a mascot to make the cut down here, but Bango sure did get Dwight Howard good on this one … :


Morning Shootaround — March 27

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Is there any other choice this morning but that OT thriller between the Mavs and Clippers from Dallas? The Mavs have now won seven of their last 10 games to pull within a game of the L.A. Lakers for No. 8 in the West while the Clippers are struggling a little and lost their long-held No. 3 seed in the West to the Denver Nuggets with this defeat. The Clips might not have been in this position had Blake Griffin‘s amazing shot with :00.4 left counted, but he was called for an offensive foul in the must-see play of the game. Still, credit to the Mavs, who are truly not giving up on this dream of making the playoffs this season and have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki ready to lead them to their goal.

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News of the morning

Magic to shut down Vucevic for season? | Del Negro not worrying about future | Banged-up Celtics falling fast in East | World Peace diagnosed with torn meniscus

Magic’s Vucevic done for season?In case you missed it, Nikola Vucevic is fourth in the league in rebounds per game (11.5) and is third overall in total rebounds (780), trailing only Omer Asik and Dwight Howard. Pretty impressive stuff for a player thought of as a throw-in/afterthought in the Howard mega-deal that sent the ex-Magic big man to the L.A. Lakers last summer. While Vucevic has enjoyed a breakout season, he won’t play in tonight’s game against Charlotte and hasn’t played since March 19. Vucevic is recovering after getting hit in the mouth vs. Indiana and has been dealing with concussion symptoms since then. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more on Vucevic, whom the Magic may just keep out of the lineup for a while:

Nik Vucevic, who is recovering from a mild concussion he sustained on March 19, won’t play when the Orlando Magic play the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.

Vucevic said Tuesday he wasn’t scheduled to accompany the team to North Carolina, but he said he expects to play again this season.

“I’m getting better,” the 22-year-old center said. “I’m better day-by-day. I’ll leave it up to the trainer and the doctor.”

Vucevic suffered his injury when he absorbed an elbow to his mouth against the Indiana Pacers. The shot left him a bit dazed and left him wondering whether he had lost any teeth.

In the days that followed, he said he had a headache and some sensitivity to light.

After some tests, a doctor determined he had sustained a concussion.

In Dec. 2011, the league instituted a concussion protocol.

Physician Jeffrey Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan and the director of the NBA’s concussion program, consults with all teams on the return-to-play schedules of players who have suffered concussions.

Coach Jacque Vaughn might decide to not to play Vucevic even after Vucevic receives a medical OK to play again. Vaughn has been cautious in putting players back on the court after injuries.

Vucevic wouldn’t speculate on how close he is to playing again.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All that is up to the trainer. I just follow what he says.”

Del Negro not fretting futureA cursory search of this very blog for the term “Del Negro” brings up a smorgasbord of posts about L.A. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and his seemingly always-tenuous future with the team. Del Negro has, throughout his nearly three full seasons on the job in L.A., become a popular whipping boy whenever things go a little bit south in Clipperland. Such is the case again for the Clippers coach. He is operating on the last year of his contract and hasn’t been offered an extension by the team, but Del Negro tells the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner the future is the last thing on his mind:

Del Negro was asked by a member of the media in front of the group about his coaching future with the Clippers.

The Clippers picked up Del Negro’s contract last year, but he wasn’t given an extension. His deal expires when the season is over.

“I enjoy the pressure,” Del Negro said. “That’s what it’s about. I love the competition. Could things be a little bit better in certain areas? Of course. But all those things get answered at the end of the year.

“Our focus is on tonight’s game and on this season and all those things get answered at the end of the season, one way or the other,” he said.

The Clippers are playoff-bound for the second consecutive season under Del Negro. It will be only the third time in franchise history the Clippers have had consecutive playoff appearances.

Del Negro was asked if his future was tied to how far the Clipper go in the playoffs this season.

“No, my future is great,” Del Negro responded. “I’ve got a great future, no matter what. I’ve been pretty fortunate, so I don’t really worry about that stuff so much. Like I said, all those things take care of themselves when we finish.”

Celtics falling fast in East raceWith no Kevin Garnett and no Courtney Lee last night against the Knicks, the Celtics were at a decided disadvantage before the game ever began. Throw in a four-game losing streak heading into last night’s contest and mix in the overall sloppy play of Boston throughout its 100-85 beating and the Celtics now sport a five-game losing streak and have fallen to No. 7 in the East. Worse yet for the Celtics is that Milwaukee is just 1 1/2 games behind them and owns the tie-breaker, too. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe has more on the late-season stumbles of the Celtics:

For the first time since Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury in January, it seemed as though the Celtics had finally – if not reluctantly — succumbed to the reality of their limited roster. A 15-point home loss to a shorthanded team will do that.

“It’s been like that for us all season long, it just seems like it gets worse and worse,” captain Paul Pierce said of the injuries. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”

The Celtics have lost five consecutive games, and as Garnett is expected to miss up to two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle, a rather gloomy question looms:

Is this what the Celtics can expect while their defensive anchor is out?

“No,” a defiant coach Doc Rivers said. “Guys, I think you’ve been around me long enough. Kevin’s not playing. I don’t worry about it. I really don’t.

“Somebody else has to play better. A lot of guys. It’s not going to be one guy. But overall, we were pretty bad [Tuesday]. Kevin had nothing to do with that.”

After a tight start, the Knicks, who won their fifth straight, utilized a back-breaking 14-0 run in the second quarter to separate themselves. A J.R. Smith 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer gave New York a 15-point lead entering the fourth.

The fans began to file out midway through the final quarter, having seen enough.

“We just didn’t have it,” Rivers said. “I wish I knew why.”

The Celtics had talked in weeks past that they weren’t concerned with trying to move up in the standings to try to earn home-court advantage.

Now, such a possibility is gone.

If the Celtics end up tied with the Bucks in the final playoff spot, Milwaukee will own the tiebreaker as they’ve beaten Boston in three of their four matchups this season.

Which means the Celtics would be the East’s eighth-seeded team and would face powerhouse Miami in the first round of the playoffs.

“Listen, the decision we’re making with Kevin is the right one,” Rivers said. “But we still want to win games.

“We’re not going to let one game say that we’re not going to win any more games. It’s silly to me to even think that way. We have to get ready for tomorrow and go from there.”

World Peace suffers torn meniscusThings can’t seem to ever turn around for the Lakers. After a fairly successful start to March, L.A. has lost three in a row and holds a one-game lead over both Utah and Dallas for the No. 8 seed in the West. Now comes word that small forward Metta World Peace, who has started 64 of the 70 games he’s played in this season, has a torn meniscus in his left knee. The injury deals a big blow to L.A.’s hopes of holding on to that last playoff spot and, worse yet, the Lakers have yet to find out precisely how long World Peace will be out. Sean Highkin of USA Today has more:

The Los Angeles Lakers took a serious setback Tuesday, when the team announced forward Metta World Peace has a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. World Peace was injured during the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors, and the team announced in a news release that an MRI showed a meniscus tear. He will be flown to Los Angeles — the Lakers are on the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday — for further evaluation before a timetable for his return is determined

The loss of World Peace comes at an inopportune time. The Lakers are clinging to a one-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and with Pau Gasol finally healthy, coach Mike D’Antoni hoped to use the final weeks of the regular season to get his starting five reacquainted.

The loss of their starting small forward will likely force the Lakers to start Antawn Jamison alongside Earl Clark and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt. Not only will Jamison be playing out of position, but has the potential to take away one of the team’s most consistent scoring options off the bench.

ICYMI of the night: J.R. Smith went wherever he want and did whatever he wanted in last night’s win against the Celtics, as this play shows … :


Morning Shootaround — March 11

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: That much-ballyhooed Pacers-Heat matchup turned out to be quite a dud, but if you’re interested in hearing about it, our man Sekou Smith has perspective on the game from both the Miami camp and the Indiana camp. Since that one was such a letdown, we’re forced to pick another game and the Blazers-Hornets matchup from New Orleans turned out to be a surprisingly well-played one. Rookies Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis put forth solid nights, Wesley Matthews continued to showcase his mostly unnoticed clutch shooting game this season and the even more overlooked Ryan Anderson came through with a clutch bucket of his own.  It’ll be a season or two before the Hornets or Blazers will be fighting it out for a spot in the West elite pecking order, but for now, enjoy the solid effort put forth by these young squads.

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News of the morning

Dwight apologizes to Orlando | Davis making late ROY charge? | Griffin praises Jordan’s jam | Perkins savors matchup with Celtics

Howard apologizes for messy Orlando exitWith 18 wins this season, the Magic are not far removed from their 21-61 season of 2003-04, which was their last season of play before Dwight Howard came first aboard. Although Howard provided many great memories in Orlando, his messy departure this summer — preceded by a will-he-stay-or-go act last season in Orlando — left many Magic fans with a sizable disdain for the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year. All that said, Howard isn’t so unaware of his actions that he’s beyond apologizing to the folks in his old town — especially as the Lakers ready to visit the Magic on Tuesday. Sam Amick of USA Today chatted with Howard at his palatial, nine-bedroom, 14-bathroom, 11,000-square foot home in Los Angeles about his ‘Dwightmare’ season in Orlando, his first season with the Lakers, playing with Kobe Bryant and more in a must-read interview:

The famous view on the road to Dwight Howard’s house in Bel Air is nothing short of spectacular, the Hollywood Hills below unfolding into the valley where stars have come and gone.

On a clear day, it has been said of this classic route on Mulholland Drive, you can see all the way to Canoga Park, some 14 miles away. And on this day, Howard — the Los Angeles Lakers center and aspiring actor whose dreams of becoming an icon had so much to do with him coming here — can see all the way to Orlando.

The big man who was so beloved there returns Tuesday for the first time since he was traded seven months ago, this time as the villain. In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports, Howard acknowledged that this script — the one that included twists and turns and battered his once-sparkling image — should have been written differently.

“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.

“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”

“There are a lot of things about me that have changed,” said Howard, a 27-year-old Atlanta native who was drafted first overall out of high school in 2004. “I’m becoming a better man because of the stuff that has happened to me this last year and a half. Everybody goes through stuff like this. Even though I’m going through it where everybody in the world can see it, I’m happy that it’s happening.

“If it didn’t happen, I’d be stuck in my ways. I would never change, and then it would be a lot worse. For all this stuff to happen, for me to sit back and see and evaluate myself and what I could’ve done better and realize that I needed to make a change, I’m getting better. I’m growing up. I’m maturing.”

Howard, who had taken the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2010, said he should have spent more time separating fact from fiction to those who mattered most.

“Whenever something happened, I should’ve let my teammates know. I should’ve said, ‘OK, this is what’s going on. I know what’s being said, but this is how I really feel,’ ” Howard says. “Or, ‘Hey, Coach, this is what’s being said, but this is how I feel,’ instead of just letting everything pile on and me not saying anything.

“I just felt at the time like, ‘I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to sit back and let it unfold.’ By doing that, everybody was getting mixed signals. They’re hearing this on TV, or I might make a quote about this and they twist it and turn it into something else. Now you’ve got everybody like, ‘What is he doing?’… It was story after story after story start coming out saying it was me saying this and me saying that, and I’m like, ‘I never said none of this stuff.’ I could tell some of that stuff started to bother my teammates, but I didn’t say nothing because I’m like, ‘They know that I’m not saying this.’ And it just kept piling on and piling on.”

Hornets’ Davis spices up ROY raceSince practically the first week of the season, Portland guard Damian Lillard has been the presumptive favorite to win the Kia Rookie of the Year Award, and he’s got the resume to back it up. Lillard has been West’s rookie of the month every month this season, is second on the Blazers in scoring while leading them in assists and has had the poise of a veteran player throughout most of the season. Before the season began, the ROY race was thought to be one between Lillard and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets, but injuries kept Davis from truly making an impact until the last few months. After last night’s Portland-New Orleans showdown in Louisiana (which the Hornets won), the race might be closer than expected, writes John Reid of NOLA.com:

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard still appears to be the frontrunner to the win this season’s NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. But New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis got another opportunity to close the gap in Sunday’s matchup against Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

Coming off a sensational 20-point, 18-rebound performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, Davis put forth another solid effort in the Hornets’ 98-96 victory against the Trail Blazers.

Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Lillard, who leads all rookies with a 18.8 scoring average,  scored 20 points and had eight assists.

“We’re just getting better as a unit,” Davis said. “We haven’t done a great job of closing out games in the fourth quarter, but we’re doing a better job and we have to continue doing so.”

On the final play of the game, Davis forced Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews to miss a desperation 3-pointer as time expired.Since returning from a sprained left shoulder, Davis had averaged 16.7 points, 13 rebounds in the past three games He grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds and scored 20 points Saturday night against the playoff contending Memphis Grizzlies.

Lillard, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, is the rookie leader in assists (6.4) and 3-pointers with 134. But he couldn’t lead his team like he did in December, when he  made a game-clinching 3-pointer as  time expired to lift the Trail Blazers to a 95-94 victory against the Hornets at the Rose Garden.

“Tonight, it was just one of those games where they made some shots,” Lillard said. “They got going on a run. It was kind of a game of runs and we just came up short.”

Griffin awed by Jordan’s jamThe Clippers live up to their “Lob City” nickname just about every night, with Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin alley-oops serving as the main source of highlights for L.A. But as exciting as Griffin’s jams are, you can’t overlook what DeAndre Jordan can do each night off a lob or a clear lane to the basket. In case anyone forgot, though, Jordan showed his talents off last night with a posterizing, monster flush over the Pistons’ Brandon Knight that drew respect from L.A.’s resident dunk expert, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Blake Griffin has Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol. And after Sunday night, DeAndre Jordan has Brandon Knight.

“That was the best dunk of the year,” Griffin said. “It’s the best dunk I’ve seen in person.”

Jordan caught a lob from Chris Paul, cocked back and turned Knight into a trending topic on Twitter with a vicious slam during the Clippers’ 129-97 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Staples Center.

“It was a great pass by Chris, and honestly, I didn’t see Brandon until I caught the ball,” Jordan said. “After that, was just, yeah….”

Paul described what followed the dunk as “the aftermath.” The crowd went nuts as the scoreboard replayed the highlight over and over. The bench nearly rushed the floor, and Paul, usually pretty calm, howled as he slapped Jordan on the chest.

“It was pretty impressive,” Paul said. “I usually try not to react after all those different types of dunks, but that one was pretty good.”

Perkins still loves facing CelticsHard to believe, but it has been 25 months since the Thunder swung what was a then-surprising deal with the Celtics, picking up defensive big man Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Perkins was at his stopping best on Sunday afternoon against the Celtics (and particularly Kevin Garnett) as OKC picked up a 91-79 victory. But for Perkins, who was a key part of Boston’s 2008 championship team, playing his old team will always get the juices going, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman:

As the Celtics inbounded the ball at midcourt during the first half Sunday, referee Scott Wall had to caution Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett. They were getting a little too physical jostling for position.

Were they being serious? Were these avowed blood brothers getting riled?

“It was serious at the time,” Perk said with a smile. “But there wasn’t nothing behind it all. We damn near could have gave each other a hug.”

No one would have been surprised. But rest assured they were serious. Gran Torino and Garnett are nothing if not serious. And Garnett paid for that seriousness he helped instill in Perkins.

The Thunder beat the Celtics 91-79, and here’s the No. 1 reason. Garnett made just five of 19 shots. That’s Garnett’s most misses in a game since Jan. 16, 2012, when he also went 5-of-19 against Perkins and the Thunder.

No coincidence there.

“Perk took the challenge,” said Kevin Durant. “That’s his mentor, the guy he looked up to, the guy he learned a lot from, and he took the challenge by making him shoot tough shots.”

Garnett was 3-of-11 with Perkins on the bench, with all three makes at the basket and only two of the misses outside the paint.

Perkins kept Garnett away from the basket. That’s how games are won.

“Perk didn’t do anything new tonight,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “He was typical Perk.”

It’s been 25 months since the Celtics traded Perkins, their 2008 NBA championship center, for Jeff Green. It’s not getting any easier for Perkins and his old team to share the court.

“He’s moved on to his new family here, which is great,” said Celtic star Paul Pierce. “But Perk knows he’ll always be family, he’ll always be remembered, especially by me and the Boston organization.”

Perkins was particularly close to Garnett and point guard Rajon Rondo. Those two and Pierce are the only remaining players from the title team.

“I think it’ll be easier when a lot of the guys that I played with be off the team,” Gran Torino said. “Still pretty hard going against guys I went to war with.

“We had great times over there. Not easy at all, especially going against a coach who pretty much raised me. Who started me who I was as a player. It’s always difficult, but know I’m always trying to get the win.”

ICYMI of the night: Watch this dunk … that’s all we’ve got to say: