Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Lakers’

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

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No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

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No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

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No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Gasol-for-Bynum swap losing ground | Rondo open to D-League stint | Report: Warriors, Kings interested in PG Miller | Blazers revel in big night from 3-point land

No. 1: Report: Gasol-for-Bynum talks stall out — Cavs center Andrew Bynum has been basically excused from the team since his suspension from the team for detrimental conduct five days ago. In the time since then, trade talks regarding Bynum have heated up — especially since moving him before Jan. 7 would spare the Cavs from having to pay Bynum anything more than half of his $12.25 million deal. One deal that seemed to be picking up steam involved Cleveland shipping Bynum to his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, for big man Pau Gasol. But as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelbourne point out, that deal is starting to lose its momentum of a few days ago:

The deal is not dead, but it is no longer progressing. The Cavs, who have until Jan. 7 to trade Bynum before his contract becomes guaranteed and loses its instant value in a trade, are now actively seeking other options.

The major issue, sources said, involves the Lakers’ desire to get an additional asset from the Cavs beyond Bynum’s team-friendly contract, which could save the Lakers more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes. The Lakers are interested in also getting a young prospect or a first-round draft pick as part of the deal. The Cavs have been reluctant to part with either.

To satisfy NBA trade rules, the Cavs would have to add at least one more player to any trade involving Gasol for Bynum. Gasol is in the last year of a contract that pays him $19.3 million. Bynum’s contract is for $12.25 million but is only half guaranteed before next week, which is why the Lakers are interested. By trading for and then waiving Bynum, the Lakers could take themselves below the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in seven years.

The Lakers, though, remain reluctant to part with Gasol before giving the team time to recover from a wave of injuries that have derailed its season, sources said.

There is some pressure for the Lakers to get out of the luxury tax to help with future flexibility. If the Lakers remain in the tax this season, going into the tax in either of the next two seasons would trigger a “repeater tax” the franchise hopes to avoid. The Lakers are planning to be major free-agent players the next two summers.

Gasol, no stranger to trade rumors, addressed the latest one after the Lakers’ practice Thursday.

“I’m more accustomed to them and I deal with them better than I did at first, when it started,” he said. “But it’s just a reality, and I just got to stay cool and keep my mind on the game as much as I can.”

He also said he wants to remain in Los Angeles.

“It’s my home, it’s my team,” Gasol said. “It’s the team that I’ve been through so much with, and I’m not the type of guy that likes to jump ship because everything is not going right right now. So, I’m a loyal guy. I’d like to continue to be here and fight with the guys that are here and once we get bodies back, everything will be better. But right now, I’d like to continue to stay here. This is my team, this is my city.”


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks about his name being bandied about in trade rumors

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No. 2: Rondo says he’s ‘pretty close’ to a return, is open to D-League stint — Some good news for the Celtics as the New Year gets rolling — point guard Rajon Rondo told the Boston media yesterday that his rehab is moving along well and his return might not be far off. One idea that was floated by Celtics coach Brad Stevens to help get Rondo back into NBA shape was the send him down to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League for a few games before he takes the court in Boston. That’s an idea that Rondo isn’t scoffing at, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rajon Rondo said Thursday he is open to a rehabilitation stint with NBADL Maine and is getting “pretty close” after missing nearly a year following tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament.“I’m better than last week when I talked to you guys,” he said, referring to his Dec. 22 meeting with the media. “I’m still getting my endurance but I’m getting pretty close, feeling good, feeling better. Like I said, I feel better than last week.”

“A like a 12-minute quarter, straight,” he said when asked whether there is one sign that he’s ready to return. “I don’t want to go out there and get fatigued and cause another injury. I want to makes sure I’m ready to go and I’m in shape.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Monday that the organization had discussed sending Rondo to Maine for game action and practice time. Rondo had been mum about the possibility until Thursday. If Rondo does play with the Red Claws, it would likely be away from Maine. After Sunday, Maine hits the road for five games on the West Coast before returning to Portland on Jan. 18.

“That’s an idea definitely,” he said. “That’s more game-like speed with our schedule, the Celtics, we don’t a chance to play a lot of pickup, so that might be a possibility. You just never know, I might just pop up and play. You guys won’t get the memo. You just have to catch me on YouTube or something. Each week I’m getting better so I just want to give it a test when I have a chance.”

When asked if he was truly open to playing in the D-League, he said: “That’s what it’s for. I’ll probably be the first (NBA player) to (use it as rehab) but it doesn’t make a difference. I want to make sure I’m healthy and I handle it the right way. I don’t want my first time to come back out game-like to be the first time with the Celtics. I haven’t had a preseason. I haven’t had a training camp. Right now, this is my training camp.”

The Celtics entered Thursday in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite a 13-18 record. Boston has been one of the league’s most surprising teams because of the chemistry quickly gained under Stevens but Rondo said the team’s record will have nothing to do with the timing of his return.

“I’m pretty motivated regardless of our team’s record,” he said. “I told myself before the season I wasn’t going to base it off our record. It’s based off how I feel. We could be 2-30 right now, if I’m able to come back and play I want to play. I love the game. I’ve been away for a long time, and when I feel ready to play, I’m going to play.”

***

No. 3: Report: Warriors, Kings interested in acquiring Nuggets’ Miller — ICYMI (and as we reported in this space yesterday morning), Nuggets point guard Andre Miller and coach Brian Shaw got into quite the shouting match during Denver’s eventual New Year’s Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The fallout from that war of words resulted in Miller being suspended two games by the team yesterday. But there might be more to this tale as Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports.com report that the Warriors and Kings are both trying to work a deal to trade for the apparently disgruntled Miller:

The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings are intrigued with the possibility of acquiring suspended Denver Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

For now, Denver management is determined to smooth over the acrimony between Miller and coach Brian Shaw, and plan on bringing back Miller on Monday for practice, league sources said.

Denver had resisted trade overtures before Wednesday’s encounter between Miller and Shaw on the Nuggets bench, and teams reaching out to the Nuggets on Thursday insist that Nuggets GM Tim Connelly still seems committed to working through the issues with Miller and getting him back on the floor for Denver.

The Warriors have been shopping for a backup point guard and have been engaged for weeks with Toronto on Kyle Lowry, sources said. The Warriors and New York Knicks have been two of the most persistent suitors for Lowry, but Toronto’s recent run of success has made the front office more reticent to unload Lowry, league sources said. Toronto hasn’t completely changed course on a possible deal for Lowry, but they’re no longer simply auctioning him.

Sacramento GM Pete D’Allessandro was a longtime executive with the Nuggets and has long been an admirer of Miller’s. The Kings would love to use Miller as a veteran mentor for young point guard Isaiah Thomas, league sources said.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room too, sources told Yahoo Sports. Miller has grown frustrated with Shaw and had recently addressed some issues to him in a locker room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.


VIDEO: Coach Brian Shaw talks about the team’s suspension of Andre Miller

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No. 4: Blazers enjoy their record-setting night from deep — If you’ve spent any time at all this season watching the Trail Blazers on NBA League Pass or on national TV, you’ve surely noticed they have plenty of capable 3-point shooters and a willingness to fire from deep, too. Damian Lillard is third in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted with 240, while Wes Matthews (203, t-6th) and Nicolas Batum (185, 9th) are both in the top 10 in that category, too. The Blazers’ shooters were simply on fire last night in a win against the Bobcats as Portland set an NBA record by becoming the first team in history to nail 20-plus 3-pointers twice in a season. After the game, the Blazers soaked in their accomplishment, as Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune writes:

“I like being part of history,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I think that’s pretty cool. It’s good to do something that’s never been done before.”

The Blazers entered the game shooting a league-best .396 from beyond the arc and improved on that considerably.

“It was a lot of fun, with shots falling like that, but we’ve been doing it all year,” Lillard said.

Well, not like Thursday night. But the Blazers have made the 3-point shot their calling card this season.

“Everybody has been willing to make that extra pass,” Lillard said. “We have a lot of good shooters. If we get in a good enough rhythm, if we get good looks and the ball is moving how it did, that’s the kind of night it can be.”

“We’re going to shoot 3’s and we’re going to shoot them well,” Stotts said. “We’re going to make our percentages, because we have a lot of good shooters.”

Seven Blazers knocked down at least one 3-point shot, and even LaMarcus Aldridge (0 for 1) and Meyers Leonard (0 for 2) tried to join the party.

“When the guys are hitting like that, that makes it easy for me,” said center Robin Lopez, who had 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting and five rebounds in 26 minutes. “All I have to do is get somebody on the floor open, set the screen, give him a little space and let him go to work.”

“Making those shots is contagious,” Matthews said. “Our crowd gets into it. Our crowd is almost willing the ball in for us, before we even shoot it.

“When that ball is flying around the perimeter like that, when (Aldridge) is kicking it out, it’s almost like it’s expected you’re going to make the shot.”

For a team with a league-best 26 victories, the Blazers have precious few blowouts. They are 14-3 in games decided by 10 points or fewer and had only two wins by more than 15 points before Thursday. Stotts was able to get at least seven minutes of action for all 13 players dressed, with nobody playing as many as 30.

“It’s always good to get a win like this,” Stotts said. “Guys on the bench can get some minutes; starters can get some rest. You have to enjoy these, because they don’t come often.”

“It’s a good feeling,” Matthews said, a smile forming on his face. “We didn’t get to do that much last year. It was on the other end, actually.”


VIDEO: Trail Blazers nail 21 3-pointers in a rout of the Charlotte Bobcats

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Good news for the Magic — Nikola Vucevic‘s ankle injury isn’t as bad as was initially feared … Although he says otherwise, it seems that Knicks guard J.R. Smith is still a tad upset about the team cutting his brother, Chris … Veteran Keith Bogans isn’t too happy about his lack of playing time with Boston this season … Kendall Marshall will become the sixth different player to start at point guard for the Lakers this season

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Apparently, it was a good night to have the last name “Plumlee” as both brothers — Mason (of the Nets) and Miles (of the Suns) — got to finish off tasty alley-oops.


VIDEO: Miles Plumlee reverse jams the alley-oop assist from Goran Dragic


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to finish off the alley-oop from Deron Williams

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Grizz may re-sign Randolph | Gasol (illness) misses Lakers’ trip to Salt Lake City  | Bucks’ Sanders expected to play tonight | Cuban no fan of Christmas Day unis

No. 1: Report: Grizz may be open to re-signing Randolph — Just two weeks ago, Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph told our Fran Blinebury he was well aware of his name being bandied about in trade rumors. Said Randolph then: “The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there.” As such, there’s a common thought around the league that Randolph, who has a player option on his contract this summer, will opt out and test the free-agent waters. But as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports in a lengthy look at the Grizzlies’ up-and-down season, Z-Bo might be willing to stick around in Memphis:

With coaching change, modest roster turnover and a recent bout with injuries, the Grizzlies are 12-15 and 3 1-2 games out of a playoff spot. Is it time to panic?”When I got here, we were deep,” Randolph said. “We had O.J. [Mayo] and Rudy [Gay]. It’s different. But it gives guys a chance to play and have an opportunity to get better.”

Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince have been in and out of the lineup, and Gasol is likely out until mid-to-late January with a knee injury. Quincy Pondexter has a stress fracture in his foot that could keep him out for the rest of the season. But despite the potential riches that could be acquired in the 2014 draft, the Grizzlies aren’t looking to tear down in the short term. League sources say they’re active in trade discussions that would inject some wing athleticism into the mix and improve the team.

If Randolph exercises his player option for next season, the Grizzlies’ $62 million in committed salary will leave them comfortably under the tax but will afford no room to shop for free agents. League sources expect Randolph, 32, to opt out and try to score one more multi-year deal. But two people familiar with the situation say Memphis is not out of the mix to retain Randolph in such a scenario. The team is determined not to lose Randolph for nothing, so unless Randolph expresses a strong desire to leave — which he hasn’t — there’s no immediate pressure to trade him.

“It’s a business and we’ve got new ownership, but I’ve still got a job,” Randolph said. “That’s why I go out and play hard no matter what.”

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No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol (respiratory infection) won’t play vs. Jazz — The Lakers got some good news on Christmas Day when point guard Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup, helping to offset L.A.’s recent loss of guard Steve Blake. But L.A.’s frontcourt will be thin for tonight’s game in Utah against the Jazz as power forward Pau Gasol stayed behind to deal with a lingering respiratory infection. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more:

The Lakers received good news when Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup on Christmas Day, but now they will be without Pau Gasol at Utah on Friday evening. Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory illness and is being listed as day-to-day, according to Lakers PR.

Gasol did not practice on Thursday in advance of the team’s flight and will not accompany the team to Salt Lake City.

“I think it’s lingering a little bit,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think it does affect him.”

The 7-foot Spaniard missed the team’s game at Golden State on Saturday, Dec. 21, because of the same issue. Prior to the Warriors contest, he was the lone player to appear in the starting lineup through the first 26 games.

“Like anything else, you’re not 100 percent physically and you’re going to have shorter times of energy and stuff like that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get over it. He’ll be fine.”

***

No. 3: Sanders expected to return to Bucks’ lineup Friday — The last time Larry Sanders played a game for the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored four points and pulled down four rebounds in 21 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 2. Since then, Sanders has been out as he recovers from a torn ligament in his right thumb that was suffered during an incident at a downtown Milwaukee bar after the loss to Toronto. He was expected to miss six weeks of action — which he roughly has — and should play tonight against as Milwaukee travels to Brooklyn. As Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, though, Sanders is returning to a markedly different Bucks team and his role may be different as well.:

Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew received a late Christmas present when he arrived for work Thursday at the team’s Cousins Center practice facility.

Center Larry Sanders, considered a key part of the team’s rebuilding plans, was back on the practice court.

“It’s good to have him back,” Drew said after the practice session. “He was really good today. The energy, he was real bouncy. Defensively, he was very active and energized.”

Power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who did not play in the last three games while resting his sore right ankle, also returned to practice and should be available against the Nets.

Drew said he did not know what role Sanders would play against the Nets, only that he would play.

“We’ll think about it a little bit,” Drew said. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I like having the options.”

Milwaukee (6-22) has the league’s worst record but has played more competitively lately, winning once and losing three games in overtime.

Now, Sanders will join a young lineup featuring Brandon Knight, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson.

“We’ll definitely have more bodies, so that will be good to give some guys some rest,” Sanders said. “Maybe we’ll be able to have that extra boost at the end of the game that we’ve been lacking. There’s a small margin of winning and losing. Hopefully, we can make that margin up a little bit.”

Sanders was asked if he learned anything from this experience, being injured off the court and being absent while his teammates struggled on the court.

“Definitely a lot of learning,” Sanders said. “I feel like I’ve recommitted myself to the game and other areas of my life. Things have been ironed out a little bit more. I’m looking forward to being out there with a clear mind and helping my team win.

“This team has a lot of fight in them. They’ve been fighting. It’s not like we’ve been getting blown out terribly in all of our games. I feel it and it makes me more excited to get back.”

Sanders will wear a tight glove with a hard plastic piece protecting his thumb, and a wrap will cover that.

.***

No. 4: Cuban no fan of NBA’s Christmas Day jerseys – You can always count on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to have an opinion on just about any topic. So it’s not surprise that when asked about the short-sleeved jerseys the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Knicks, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers wore on Christmas Day, Cuban piped in with his view that is sure to please NBA brass. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more on Cuban’s view of the NBA’s new fashion venture:

As far as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is concerned, the NBA committed a major fashion faux pas by having all 10 teams that played Christmas Day suited up in short-sleeved jerseys.

“Hated them,” Cuban said before the Mavs hosted the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. “I just thought it made our guys look more like a high school wrestling team or a college wrestling team.”

Cuban, whose Mavs had Christmas off, understands the NBA is attempting to market the short-sleeved jerseys to fans who might not want to wear tank tops. He just doesn’t believe it’s necessary for superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant to wear the T-shirt-style jerseys in games to get them to sell.

“I could have thought of better ways to sell [the short-sleeved jerseys] and a lot of different ways by having them in a casual-wear situation,” Cuban said. “We would have been better off, if we want people to wear them casually, to get the trainers and everybody else to wear them to show them in a realistic setting. So I would have done it a little differently, but we’ll see what happens.”

“I think the people that will buy them are more the jersey heads and the people who are trying to be hip and cool as opposed to the mainstream fan who just wants something to wear to work or something to wear to school,” Cuban said. “I don’t think schools are going to be happy if 16-year-old boys come in wearing skin-tight gym wrestling gear. My opinion, they’ll sell, but we could have sold more.

“You live and you learn. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe they’ll sell like gangbusters in China.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you ever wanted to look like Chris “Birdman” Andersen, but didn’t want to have all those painful tattoos, there’s a new way to get his look without getting some ink … A statistical look at how those short-sleeved Christmas Day jerseys affected shooting … While we’re at it, here’s a cool infographic of the history of NBA uniforms … A great breakdown of how and why the Blazers’ starting five has worked so well together … The Mavs’ Devin Harris is shooting for a return in January

ICYMI Of The Night: Journeyman James Johnson has played all of five games for the Grizz this season, but his field goal percentage is a career-best 53.8 percent. Shots like this might be why he’s scoring so well …


VIDEO: James Johnson soars in for the one-handed power slam

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lethargic Nets fall again; Kidd has front-office’s support | Report: Cuban says NBA should discuss allowing HGH use | Lakers’ Williams explains scuffle with Cousins | Burke on minutes restriction

No. 1: Lethargic Nets falter again; Report: Kidd has management’s support — Another week, another round of struggles for the Brooklyn Nets. After Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center, the Nets haven’t won since Nov. 15 and have suffered five straight defeats. Although they did play Sunday’s game without Jason Terry, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets had former All-Stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson all active for last night’s game, but only Johnson played well. We have two reports this morning, the first from Andrew Keh of The New York Times, who says that even Brooklyn fans are growing weary of booing the team. As well, Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein of ESPNNewYork.com talk about coach Jason Kidd, who has the support of team ownership despite a 3-10 start in his first season on the job. Here’s Keh on the scene in Brooklyn after the loss:

The Nets slouched to a 109-97 defeat to the Detroit Pistons, dropping another ragged game against another unexceptional opponent. It was their fifth straight loss and their eighth in nine games. It sent them plummeting to a 3-10 record.

The disquiet around the team translated to plain quiet at Barclays Center. Even the boos sounded halfhearted. “It’s very frustrating and very, very embarrassing,” said Andray Blatche, a sentiment expressed around the locker room Sunday. “We’ve got to play with more pride.”

Jason Kidd, the team’s rookie coach, seemed to send a message to his players as the Nets entered the fourth quarter trailing, 78-66. The five players he sent out — Tornike Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson — were reserves who, with the exception of Anderson, had seen limited time this year.

“They deserved to play,” Kidd said. “I should have let them play the whole game, or the whole quarter. They’re playing, you know, for one another.”

He added, “Those guys are playing hard, and they’re helping one another on the offense end and the defensive end.”

This was not what King and the front office envisioned when they engineered the Nets’ glamorous summertime overhaul — one that gave them the league’s highest payroll.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the club’s marquee acquisitions, did not re-enter the game until 4 minutes 2 seconds were left. Pierce scored 19 points but shot 5 for 13 from the field. Garnett went 2 for 9 and grabbed nine rebounds. Joe Johnson was the Nets’ sole bright spot, scoring a season-high 34 points while going 8 for 10 from behind the 3-point line.

The word “championship” was thrown around with abandon during training camp and the preseason. It has hardly been uttered since, and when Kidd mentioned it during his pregame news conference, it sounded odd.

Amid myriad issues, the spotlight has inevitably turned toward Kidd. It seems reasonable to wonder, as some observers have, whether this urgent assignment — to produce a championship with an aging and unfamiliar team — could be too lofty for a former player with no coaching experience.

Last season, the Nets fired Avery Johnson as coach after 28 mediocre games. On Sunday, King noted the difficulties facing Kidd, stressed patience and mentioned the progress he has observed.

“He’s going through the growing pains of being a head coach, though I think he’s being more assertive and understanding more what he’s got to do,” King said. “But also, it’s tough with your two best players out. It’s sort of a Catch-22.”

And here’s Stein & Youngmisuk on the Nets’ ownership backing Kidd:

The Brooklyn Nets’ slide has reached five straight defeats, but rookie coach Jason Kidd continues to have the support of the team’s Russian ownership, according to league sources.

Playing without the injured Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, Brooklyn faded in the second half Sunday night and came away with a 109-97 home loss to the Detroit Pistons to fall to a stunning 3-10.

But sources told ESPN.com that Kidd continues to have the backing of his bosses with Brooklyn dealing with several injuries and other mitigating factors which have contributed to the poor start.

The Nets are in 14th place in the East through Sunday, despite the NBA-record payroll sanctioned by Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is on course to spend around $190 million this season on salaries and luxury taxes.

Among the Nets’ initial concerns early in the season, sources confirmed, were some “philosophical differences” between Kidd and lead assistant Lawrence Frank. But sources stressed to ESPN.com that the Nets have been working to smooth out any issues in recent days.

“They’re fine,” one source said of Kidd and Frank.

Sources say Nets veteran players support Kidd, who has coached in 11 of the Nets’ 13 games so far. Kidd opened his first season as a head coach serving a two-game suspension, with assistant coach Joe Prunty moving from behind the bench to serve as the team’s interim coach. Frank and fellow bench assistant John Welch respectively remained in their defensive and offensive coordinator-like roles ostensibly for continuity.

The Nets, though, have seen anything but continuity on the floor. The flood of injuries has forced Kidd to use five different starting lineups in the last six games.

The Nets also have had major problems in the third quarter of games. They were outscored 34-15 by the Pistons in the third Sunday afternoon and are 0-10 this season when they have lost the third quarter. In those 10 third-quarter losses, they have been outscored by 96 points.

And when it happened against the Pistons, Brooklyn heard boos from the home crowd en route to losing for the eighth time in nine games.

“I think everybody in here is embarrassed,” an exasperated Garnett said. “You definitely don’t want that at home. Like I’ve been saying, we’re going to continue to work to try to change this as best we can.”

“Jason just questioned us in the locker room (about the third-quarter woes),” Garnett added. “But it’s something we’re obviously going to have to address. We’ve got to be the worst team in the league when it comes to third quarters, just unacceptable. As players we have to be accountable, including myself, and come out and do whatever it is that we got to do and apply it.”

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No. 2: Report: Cuban says NBA should discuss allowing HGH useThe use of human growth hormone in professional sports in North America has become a point of contention and discussion for many sports fans as scandals regarding the substance have wreaked havoc in Major League Baseball. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked with Sam Amick of USA Today and said while he isn’t advocating the use of the substance in the NBA, he is calling attention to what he views as a lack of research on the topic as it relates to athletes who are healing from injuries:

In the wake of the NBA’s latest round of injuries to fallen stars, always-outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is proposing a possible solution: human growth hormone.

Cuban isn’t advocating the use of the controversial drug but rather calling attention to what he sees as a dearth of research on the topic as it relates to athletes who are recovering from injury. His hope, which he shared in front of the league’s owners and league officials at an Oct. 23 Board of Governors meeting in New York, is that a more-informed decision can be made as to whether it should remain on the league’s banned-substance list or perhaps be utilized as a way of expediting an athlete’s return to the court. If it were ever allowed — and it’s safe to say that won’t be happening anytime soon — Cuban sees a major benefit for teams and their fans like.

“The issue isn’t whether I think it should be used,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail. “The issue is that it has not been approved for such use. And one of the reasons it hasn’t been approved is that there have not been studies done to prove the benefits of prescribing HGH for athletic rehabilitation or any injury rehabilitation that I’m aware of. The product has such a huge (public) stigma that no one wants to be associated with it.”

Cuban, who unsuccessfully has tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers in recent years, hinted at his stance on HGH in an Aug. 8 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In the interview, he criticized Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for his treatment of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and said HGH is “banned for no good reason” in baseball and basketball.

From the NBA’s perspective, the most obvious hurdle to such a cause is that the Food & Drug Administration only allows the prescription of HGH for a limited number of conditions. According to the FDA’s web site, children with various medical reasons for stunted growth can be prescribed HGH, as can adults with a bowel syndrome, a hormone deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or a muscle-wasting disease associating with HIV.

The NBA also is sensitive to the ethical part of the discussion, as the idea that some players would return from injury sooner than others because they were willing to take a drug that may have adverse side effects raises serious concerns about maintaining a level playing field. The possible side effects, according to the FDA, include an increased risk of cancer, nerve pain and elevated cholesterol and glucose levels. If anything, the NBA is moving closer to cracking down on HGH use of any kind.

While NBA Commissioner David Stern had said that he was hopeful that a new HGH-testing policy would be in place at the start of the 2013-14 season, the discussions between the league and the National Basketball Players Association are in a holding pattern, in large part because of the continuing stalemate between the NFL and its players about the implementation of their program. The NFL is the trailblazer of sorts on that front, meaning the NBA policy isn’t expected to be resolved first. The NBA declined a request for comment from USA TODAY Sports. The union’s lack of an executive director after Billy Hunter‘s firing in February also has hindered the process.

As Cuban sees it, though, none of the obstacles should preclude the powers-that-be in the sports world from pursuing more definitive answers about the pros and cons of HGH.

“I believe that professional sports leagues should work together and fund studies to determine the efficacy of HGH for rehabbing an injury,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports. “Working together could lead us from the path of demonizing HGH and even testosterone towards a complete understanding. It could allow us to make a data based decision rather than the emotional decision we are currently making. And if it can help athletes recover more quickly, maybe we can extend careers and have healthier happier players and fans.”

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No. 3: Lakers’ Williams explains scuffle with Cousins — Late in the fourth quarter of last night’s Lakers-Kings game from Staples Center, Lakers guard Jordan Farmar was pursuing a steal and a potential breakaway layup when he appeared to be shoved from behind by Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. (You can see the sequence at about the 1:50 mark in the video below). That touched off a small scuffle between the teams, with Lakers reserve forward Shawne Williams in the thick of the scrum. In a postgame interview with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Williams explained what he thought Cousins was trying to do during that sequence:

In a sign that the Lakers’ team unity goes beyond sharing the ball and accepting roles, forward Shawne Williams believed he made a bold statement when he aggressively confronted Kings center DeMarcus Cousins after he bumped Lakers guard Jordan Farmar to the floor.

“Everybody in this locker room is part of a team,” Williams said following the Lakers’ 100-86 win Sunday over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. “We’re family. Anybody who tries to mess with our family or do a dirty play, I’m going to stand up for them on the court.”

Williams believed Cousins tried to do that.

After bumping Farmar to the ground, the Lakers guard appeared agitated by the contact. But Cousins offered to pick him up. Before that happened, Williams intervened and signaled to back away. Tensions increased, and both Williams and Cousins received technical fouls with 5:42 left in the game.

“I just felt like he was pushing him down,” Williams said. “I felt like it was a dirty play because he was already falling. I just stood up for him.”

What did Williams say?

“I told him he needed to knock it off,” Williams said. “He told me he was trying to help him up. I said that was BS. That was it.”

“I don’t think he went overboard,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Williams. “I just think he was trying to stick up for Jordan. Maybe they liked each other when they played together in New Jersey. Shawne is a standup guy.”

“If I’m on the bench, I can’t do nothing. I cannot cross the line,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, we have to be smart. I’m not trying to get ejected or do anything dumb. I just have to let them know that at the end of the day we can’t stand for that.”


VIDEO: Lakers get past Kings, win third straight game

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No. 4: Rookie Burke faces minutes restriction — At 1-13, the Utah Jazz are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. Things appeared to look up — at least in terms of the team’s future and growth prospects — when rookie point guard Trey Burke returned to the lineup last week. Burke missed the first few weeks of the season as he recovered from a fractured finger injury he suffered in the preseason and last night in OKC, he got his first NBA start. Burke played 20 minutes, going 2-for-9 from the field and finished with four points and four assists. Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Jazz plan to limit Burke’s minutes for the forseeable future as he continues to recover from his finger injury:

Trey Burke is still facing minute restrictions as they work their way back from preseason injuries. Burke said his finger feels sore at times after games, but so far there have been no setbacks.

“I understand the process,” he said. “Obviously you want to get into a rhythm and flow out there. For me, I don’t want to get in there and be thinking, ‘I’m about to come out.’ So I try not to think about it as much as possible.”

The point guard, however, said his surgically repaired finger does still impact his play.

“Sometimes I try to baby it when I don’t even need to really because it’s taped,” he said. “Sometimes when a hard pass comes at me, I kind of, like, catch it more with my left hand then my right. But I think that’s mental.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sixers coach Brett Brown is ready to give former first-round pick Daniel Orton a chance in Philly … Tobias Harris had a rough debut, but he’s glad to be back on the court in Orlando … Might the Bulls think about working a trade for Chicago native Evan Turner? … Carl Landry is still a long ways off from returning to the Kings’ lineup.

ICYMI Of The Night: Gerald Green had a great conversation with our NBA TV crew about his breakout season and he showed some of his trademark hops with a monster jam in Orlando last night …


VIDEO: Gerald Green finishes with style on the Suns’ fastbreak

How Is A Championship Team Built?

The Miami Heat were able to acquire most of their roster through free agency.

The 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat acquired most of their roster through free agency.

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

There’s been much discussion recently about the proper way for an NBA franchise to rebuild. Many of these discussions have been about teams who appear to purposefully build an inferior roster in order to obtain a high Draft pick. This concept, also known as “tanking,” inspired an entire series by the ESPN TrueHoop Network staff and an excellent rebuttal from Tom Ziller at SB Nation.

The key question raised by all of these articles: What IS the optimal way for an NBA franchise to construct a championship team?

The best way to answer this question is to look at how past champions were constructed.

Here’s a graph that breaks down the roster construction of the past 20 NBA champions (click to enlarge):

 Championship construction

And here’s how the top three players on each team were acquired:

championship construction 2

(EDITOR’S NOTE ON ABOVE TRANSACTIONS: Maxwell was sold to the Houston Rockets by the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 20, 1990; James technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Cavs two future first-round, two future second-round picks, a trade exception and an option to swap first-round picks with Miami in 2012 — which the Cavs passed on. Bosh technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Raptors two first-round picks in the 2011 Draft and a trade exception.)

A few things of note:

  • The 2004 Pistons were incredible. None of their top three players was drafted by the team; Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur were the only players drafted at all by the Pistons.
  • The Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks were the only championship teams over the past 20 years who acquired the majority of their players through trades.
  • The importance of the Draft is clear. Outside of those pesky Pistons, each championship team drafted either their best or second-best player. I labeled both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant as drafted by their current teams even though they were drafted by other teams (Milwaukee and Charlotte, respectively) and traded on Draft night or, in Kobe’s case, shortly thereafter.
  • The Heat started a new trend of how to build a champion with the majority of their players being acquired through free agency. This has a lot to do with the roster purge they experienced during the summer of 2010 when they cleared significant roster space to re-sign Dwyane Wade and sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Overall, the general construction of these squads seems to be quite basic. Draft a superstar, trade for players who fit well with said superstar, sign supporting role players and, boom … championship. Sounds easy enough.

But it’s obviously not that easy, considering only eight franchises have been able to crack the code over the last twenty seasons.

It’s clear, though, that the first and most important step in building a championship roster is acquiring a superstar. Unfortunately, superstars are rare. So for most franchises that are not located in a hugely desirable free-agent destination, or can’t swing a blockbuster trade, the only way to acquire one is through the Draft.

Blogtable: Did Dwight Choose Well?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 37: Dwight’s choice | Smartest early-offseason move | Summer League must-sees


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Dwight picked Houston. Did he make the best decision?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Howard made exactly the right decision because, first, it’s the one I’d been urging for him all along. Second — wait, there’s a need for a second? Oh, OK, I’ll reiterate what I’d been saying, that he needed to get back to a big fish/smaller pond situation, because the Lakers, L.A., that team’s legacy and the expectations all were too much for him. Howard also needs a coach like Kevin McHale who can share big-man wisdom and moves, and craft an offense around him. And he’ll be better off as, at 27, a “veteran” on a younger roster, where he can develop some leadership muscles that weren’t needed around Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and other Lakers. I’m impressed that Howard made the best basketball decision for himself, even if it costs him some spotlight and bad sitcom cameos.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Depends what you mean by best. He did leave $30 million in salary on the table, taxes or no taxes. From his own personal standpoint, Howard made the easy decision, which was to leave the pressure of playing in L.A. and the burden of playing with Kobe Bryant. He needs to be loved, hugged, cuddled and coddled and he’ll get all of that in Houston, along with a 23-year-old partner who doesn’t already have five championship rings and a penchant for driving his teammates like they were rented mules. He’s back at the center of his own universe and will once again be happy, until he’s not.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Yeah, I think Dwight made the right decision. These aren’t the Lakers we once knew, from top to bottom. The passing of Dr. Jerry Buss and now with son Jim running the operation, this thing is wobbling badly. Dwight wasn’t buying past titles or promises of future titles and he picked the team best constructed to win now — from top to bottom. The Rockets have solid ownership, a GM who has obviously worked miracles to build a contender and a coach in place that will cater the offense around Dwight, unlike a certain stubborn coach in L.A. some refer to as MDA. Now, would I have liked to have seen Dwight remain in L.A.? Yes. I wanted to see him embrace that challenge. Still, I can’t blame him for fleeing considering the state of dysfunction within a franchise that used to hum.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: He did for this week. In a week and three minutes, who knows with Dwight. But Houston is not a bad decision. Another All-Star already in place, a management team that is smart and aggressive and won’t rest with being a good team, a popular place to live among current and former players, and killer BBQ. Oh, and it’s not Los Angeles. Howard couldn’t handle the heat lamps of being a Laker, even with Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown/Mike D’Antoni taking some of the hits. Shaquille O’Neal was wrong about Houston being a small town. But he was right about it not being the Lakers in L.A.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I was really intrigued by the possibility of him playing for the Warriors with Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala (with Andrew Bogut and a young piece or two going to L.A. in a sign-and-trade). That would be a Big Three I could really get behind. But I also believe that Houston was the right choice over L.A. The Rockets are better set up to succeed over the next three or four years than the Lakers are. Sure, there is that cap space next summer, but the chances that LeBron James would leave Miami seem slim and Carmelo Anthony isn’t nearly a good enough consolation prize. Starting with James Harden, the Rockets already have (young) pieces in place and there’s no need to wait a year to get started on building toward a championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Yes. He made the absolute best decision for a guy looking for an escape from the pressures of Los Angeles and the Lakers. Of his suitors, the Rockets checked off the most boxes on Dwight’s wish list. He gets to start fresh with a coach and a fellow superstar he respects, and perhaps most importantly, guys who respect his game. He gets to stay in a big market (sorry Shaq, Houston is no “little town”) and compete for the championship(s) that have eluded him thus far in his career. Howard had prime time opportunities to choose from in every direction. But he followed the path of LeBron James and Chris Bosh and chose to play alongside a contemporary with a like mind (James Harden), one who shares the same ultimate goal, and that’s winning big on his own terms. We won’t find out until the 2013-14 playoffs if Howard made the right decision. But the best, for him … it had to be Houston.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: No, Dwight did not make the best decision. Well, perhaps, if we’re talking title chances, because Houston is closer to a ring than the Lakers are, yet to me they’re both behind about five other teams. But I’m thinking money, because like all of us I think about money a lot. And from that standpoint, Dwight left a big chunk of change behind on the table. I know that’s something that should probably be applauded — valuing winning over cash — but this is a guy who’s battled pretty severe injuries and has no time promised to him going forward. I probably would have taken the cash and then somehow made do with living in Beverly Hills.

Howard Deep In Thought — Wherever He Is

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From NBA.com staff reports

Depending on who you listen to, Howard and his contingent have been in either Colorado or Montana since sometime yesterday while the big man ponders his future. One of Howard’s agents tweeted the following yesterday as the Howard throng made its way to the mountains of somewhere:

Where Howard and Co. are now is almost irrelevant as what all most folks (and most non-Howard free agents) care about is where he’ll play the next few seasons: Golden State, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or in Los Angeles with the incumbent Lakers.

According to ESPN.com, Howard may reveal his choice as soon as Friday and — not surprising to anyone who knows anything about Howard — he’s “totally up in the air” about where to choose:

Perhaps the most surprising development of the week, sources briefed on the meetings told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is the strong impression that the Warriors made in their presentation to Howard on Monday.

The Rockets and Mavericks are widely considered the only teams capable of stealing Howard from the Lakers — and Golden State would need to construct a complicated sign-and-trade deal to have any shot at actually acquiring the center — but sources say that the Warriors indeed got his attention with their pitch.

The Warriors would have to find a way to shed some salaries to accommodate Howard in a sign-and-trade and likely would be restricted in whom they could add to the roster after completing that transaction, but sources say that Golden State is factoring into the center’s thinking.

The Lakers have thus far shown no inclination to participate in any sign-and-trades for Howard, according to sources with knowledge of their thinking. The team’s long-honed plan remains to preserve financial flexibility for the summer of 2014, when only Steve Nash is under contract and a bevy of top free agents could become available.

Howard also got a little message from the Lakers’ former legendary coach, Phil Jackson, via Twitter:

Some interesting post-meeting tales are surfacing, especially after Howard heard the Lakers’ sales pitch on Tuesday after hearing ones from the aforementioned four squads between Monday and Tuesday. According to Yahoo!Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Kobe Bryant had some pointed words for Howard in the Tuesday night meeting that included Bryant, Howard, Nash and several other Lakers decision-makers:

When Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant spoke to Dwight Howard on Tuesday, his words to the free-agent center resounded an unmistakable and unflinching message: Let me teach you how to be a champion.

“You need to learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here,” Bryant told Howard during the Lakers’ presentation, witnesses in the room described to Yahoo! Sports.

 Bryant didn’t come to Howard’s recruitment meeting in Beverly Hills to appease him, but to challenge Howard to stay and embrace the burden of the franchise’s culture and embrace Bryant’s demanding disposition. Bryant invoked Michael Jordan’s hard-driving ways as his blueprint, and how it pushed the Chicago Bulls to six titles.

 Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, insisted he wouldn’t retreat in pushing Howard every day, that as much as the Lakers needed Howard, Howard needed Bryant and the Lakers, too.

“You have to learn how it’s done,” Bryant told Howard, witnesses described. “I know how to do it and I’ve learned from the best – players who have won multiple times over and over.”

“Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you,” Bryant told him.

Howard has retreated to Colorado for a few days, surrounded by representatives, to make a decision on his future. The Lakers are fighting frontrunner Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Golden State to sign him.

CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger also has a little insight into how Howard may reveal his decision (note: it won’t be a LeBron James‘ style TV special):

Only one thing is clear: Howard won’t be announcing his free-agent decision in a nationally televised marketing disaster, as LeBron James did in 2010. Twitter is believed to be one option, but given Howard’s personality and camera presence, my money’s on a tweet linking to a YouTube video.

The possible locations for Howard’s decision-making summit are, in some ways, just as interesting as the decision itself. If Howard chooses to retreat to Montana with his advisers for the July 4 weekend, league sources say he’ll be hunkered down not far from where former Lakers coach Phil Jackson finds his inner Zen. If it’s Colorado, Howard will have plenty of company. Half of LA’s rich and famous — and a good portion of its rich and not-so-famous — vacation in Aspen for the holiday weekend.

Either way, the courtship is over. Now, it’s Howard’s show and we’re all just waiting for the curtain to rise.

It’ll be at least another day of waiting on Superman. We just hope he comes out of the mountains with a clear mind, a clear decision and a clear end to this drama.

Free-Agent Roundup: July 4

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From NBA.com staff reports

Like most folks in the U.S. today in regards to their jobs, Dwight Howard is taking July Fourth off to enjoy the holiday (and continue pondering where he’ll sign as a free agent). Dwight’s decision remains the No. 1 domino yet to fall in free agency, but each day, a couple of smaller ones continue to fall. Wednesday was no different as we saw Manu Ginobili go the Chris Paul route in two ways: he’s staying with his own team and he broke the news of the move via Twitter. Wonder if Howard will do the same thing? Kyle Korver is sticking with the Hawks for another four years while O.J. Mayo has decided the land of bratwurst and beer is for him as he’s reportedly headed to the Bucks. We’re not expecting a lot of free-agency moves today with it being a holiday and all, but here’s the latest overnight buzz on what may happen soon:

Report: Kings won’t match Evans’ offer sheet from Pelicans

Apparently, Tyreke Evans is going to get his wish.

The former Rookie of the Year winning guard who wanted a change of scenery is all-but certain to go to New Orleans as Sacramento is ready to let him take the $44 million offer sheet from the Pelicans without matching it. Instead, the Kings are trying to work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Pelicans that would send Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez to California’s capital city. Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee has more:

The Kings will not match the four-year, $44 million offer sheet that Tyreke Evans has agreed to sign with the New Orleans Pelicans. According to sources close to the situation, the new Kings management group instead is hoping to close Thursday on a sign-and-trade agreement involving Pelicans point guard Greivis Vasquez and backup center Robin Lopez.

No deals can be finalized until July 10.

Because Evans, the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, is a restricted free agent, the Kings have the right to match any offer he receives in the open market. However, team officials reportedly believe the offer is excessive and would damage the team’s long-term salary cap flexibility. They pulled their four-year, $52 million offer to free agent Andre Iguodala Tuesday when the Denver Nuggets swingman refused to make a firm commitment.

Evans’ future with the Kings became less certain when the club selected Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore last Thursday in the NBA Draft. Evans, who was shifted from point guard to small forward, and most recently, shooting guard, averaged 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season.

Smith back in fold with Knicks

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, is apparently off the open market.

The venerable Frank Isola of the New York Daily News broke the news today that Smith and the Knicks have agreed to a four-year deal, which was later confirmed by both the New York Times, the New York Post and other outlets.

Smith, who was the Knicks’ second-leading scorer a season ago, closed in on a deal with New York yesterday — so says Smith’s father, Earl. New York reportedly gave him a four-year, $24.7 million deal, which Marc Berman of the New York Post details, most of which come almost exclusively from the elder Smith:

The Knicks and Smith were “discussing’’ contract terms last night after none of the current offers on the table bowled Smith over, according to an NBA source.

But Earl Smith, J.R. Smith’s father, made it clear to The Post Smith still could change his mind if a new whopping offer comes down the pike tomorrow. That seems unlikely at this point.

Earl Smith also said any deal can’t be finalized today because the lawyers won’t be available on the July 4 holiday.

“I’m a diehard Knick fan, but I want to see my son get justice,’’ Earl Smith said last night. “We know the Knicks only have so much money because of early-Bird rights. But if some team offers a crazy amount of money, like $10 million per, he’ll probably go there. We’ll see what happens. He’s not signing yet.’’

Two of his suitors, the Rockets and Mavericks, are waiting to see if they will land Dwight Howard before making an offer for Smith tomorrow. The Rockets were considering a four-year package for Smith. There is no state income tax in Texas.

Earl Smith said another team’s offer has to be significantly higher than what the Knicks can offer. That is because Smith is sincere in wanting to stay in his hometown. He also wants to play with his brother, point guard Chris Smith, who will be on the Knicks summer league team and assuredly be given a roster spot if he shows no ill effects from left knee surgery. Chris Smith changed agents late this season, going with J.R.’s agent, Leon Rose, as part of an unofficial package deal.

Milwaukee had Smith high on its list, but yesterday instead signed shooting guard O.J. Mayo. The Bucks got rebuffed by Kyle Korver and might be the team that extended Smith an offer that wasn’t spellbinding.

The Pistons, who are in the hunt for Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith, showed minimal interest as did Charlotte and Phoenix.

Bobcats continue to court Jefferson

After Howard and injured-but-talented ex-Sixers center Andrew Bynum, former Jazz center Al Jefferson may be the most offensively talented center on the free-agent market. At different times last season, the Bobcats trotted out Byron Mullens, Brendan Haywood, Josh McRoberts and others as their starting center as Charlotte struggled through yet another NBA campaign. It’s understandable, then, that Charlotte remains hot on Jefferson’s trail, tweets Chris Broussard of ESPN.com:

Pistons trying to deal for Rondo?

A day after reports surfaced of the Pistons trying to pull off a trade with the Raptors for Rudy Gay, another rumor is circulating that Detroit is after Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, tweets Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com:

Report: Bulls’ Rose pushing for Blazers’ Aldridge?

If you missed Derrick Rose‘s interview with BullsTV that dropped yesterday, do yourself a quick favor and watch it. Rose provides some great insight into why he was so rarely seen last season and says that even after all this time recovering from his knee injury, he still has work to do to be ready for 2013-14.

The Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson wrote about the interview and particularly the relationship Rose shares with coach Tom Thibodeau. But check out the following interesting nugget in Johnson’s story about how Rose has been pushing to get a certain All-Star big man from Portland to the Windy City:

And sources said the Bulls continue to rebuff attempts by the shared agency of Rose and LaMarcus Aldridge to bring the Trail Blazers’ All-Star forward to Chicago. Sources said the Bulls have been unwilling to discuss a deal of Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler for Aldridge.

Twitter quick hits: On Prigioni, Evans, Copeland, Clark and more

Rockets Make Their Pitch To Howard

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From NBA.com staff reports

No matter what team Dwight Howard chooses on July 10th (as reports indicate that is when he’ll reveal his pick), the Houston Rockets have to know they did all they could on July 1 to put their best foot forward.

The Rockets began their presentation to Howard last night/this morning (depending on your time zone), which started with a meeting at 9:01 p.m. PT. According to reports, the Rockets’ contingent traveled to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in a Mercedes luxury van where they met with Howard to begin making a formal pitch to him.

Houston also brought in several key decision-makers to the process (we understand now why the needed a van!), including owner Leslie Alexander, coach Kevin McHale, president Tad Brown, GM Daryl Morey, vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones and executive vice president Gersson Rosas.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has details on the meeting, which included video messages from ex-Rockets Dikembe Mutombo and Yao Ming and Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler being face-to-face with Howard in the meeting as well:

They prepared information about the marketing potential that comes with playing for the Rockets, still wildly popular in China with its enormous and avid fan base. They were ready to present information about living and playing in Houston, about their new basketball facilities and the camaraderie and chemistry they believe they have with their players, past and present.

There were books and an Ipad with much of the information presented to be left with Howard and his representatives, along with video testimonials from, among others, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo.

But the Rockets hoped their greatest advantage would be their potential to become contenders by adding Howard in the middle.

Howard has repeatedly insisted his primary objective in free agency is to find the team with the best championship potential. Considering themselves to be in the strongest position in that measure, the Rockets sought to make their case they also would be positioned to make improvements even after signing a second player to a max contract.

The youngest team in the NBA last season, the Rockets were prepared to argue they would keep their young core untouched and would have the salary-cap exceptions and first-round picks in coming seasons. The youth was expected to be a point of emphasis. James Harden will be 24 next season, Chandler Parsons 25.

Harden and Parsons, their best player and team captain, respectively, have become friends with Howard and were part of the presentation.

Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon traveled from around the world for the meeting. Drexler flew in from Taiwan, arriving after a 13-hour flight Sunday afternoon. Olajuwon traveled from Jordan for the meeting. (His appearance at the NBA draft in Brooklyn on Thursday was added to his itinerary after the Rockets let the NBA know they were flying him in.)

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports says the Rockets are in the lead now for Howard’s services after last night’s meeting focused on the championship-level team Howard would be a part of should he come to Houston:

The Houston Rockets’ dinner presentation to free-agent center Dwight Howard at the Hotel Bel-Air centered on the franchise’s championship history and an infrastructure designed to give Howard a chance at multiple titles, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Yahoo! Sports.

Houston has emerged as the frontrunner to sign the Los Angeles Lakers center, league sources said, and those close to Howard confirmed late Sunday that the Rockets did nothing to dampen Howard’s enthusiasm for the possibilities of playing for Houston.

“Hakeem didn’t say much, but what did he say was very impactful,” one source in the room told Yahoo! Sports. Olajuwon talked about the Rockets as a destination for championships and drew upon his own personal relationship with Howard, sources said.

Rockets stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons pitched Howard about how they wanted him as a teammate, how the chemistry of the locker room would welcome him. Without bringing up the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets could sell two things that the Lakers likely can’t: a chance for a close connection with the franchise’s star players; and an immediate chance to be a championship contender.

“His main focus was winning and we will give him the best opportunity to do that,” Parsons told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears.

Howard was flanked with his agent, Dan Fegan, and Happy Walters, the CEO of Relativity Media and an agent in the company. What those close to Howard had been saying privately for months was clearly apparent through the probing that Howard did himself with Rockets officials: Winning was his most important priority in the process, and most of the evening was spent discussing how the Rockets had a history of constructing themselves around iconic centers in pursuit of championships.

McHale made it clear to Howard that he planned to build his system around him, and that, ultimately, he would hold Howard accountable every day in the franchise’s pursuit of a title. The Rockets had long believed that McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward, would be an immense asset in the recruitment of Howard. Howard had never had a head coach that could identify with him so well, who could literally look him in the eyes.

Agents talking to the Rockets about potential additions to the roster say they’re searching for shooters and complementary players to surround Howard. “They’re progressing on everything with Dwight in mind,” one prominent agent said Sunday night. “They seem very confident.”

After the meeting, things were pretty positive on the Rockets side as Morey tweeted out the following:

All that said, the Lakers weren’t about to be trumped by a Western Conference rival at the stroke of midnight, either.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met with Howard before the Rockets’ wooing of him began just after 12:01 a.m. ET:

The Los Angeles Lakers were assured they would get the last word when it came to Dwight Howard’s free agency pitch process. Turns out they got the first word as well.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met briefly with Howard face-to-face shortly after 12:01 a.m. ET Monday night when NBA free agency officially opened up, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The details of the meeting between Howard ans Kupchak are unknown, but according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com, it was a brief chat:

And there’s this as well from Kennedy:

The Hawks and Warriors are up next to make their pitches to Howard today, and the Mavs and Lakers close things out on Tuesday. Who knows where Howard will end up, of course, but here’s one important nugget (courtesy of Feigen) to keep in mind as this Howard-a-palooza rolls along:

With the lack of a state income tax in Texas, Howard would net more over four years with the Rockets or Mavericks than in the first four years of a contract with the Lakers.

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.