Posts Tagged ‘LaMarcus Aldridge’

Morning shootaround — May 19


VIDEO: Get geared up for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol’s next move is anyone’s guess | Report: Paul, Jordan at odds on Clippers? | Reports: Pelicans get OK to talk with Gentry

No. 1: Next move for Grizzlies’ Gasol anyone’s guess now — When the Portland Trail Blazers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, it opened up talk about where Blazers free-agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge would land this summer. Now that the Grizzlies have lost in the West semifinals to the Golden State Warriors, similar chatter is beginning with their big man, Marc Gasol. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein tries to get a feel for just where Gasol’s heart may lie as the summer approaches:

Marc Gasol’s fondness for the Bluff City has been well-chronicled. He went to high school there when Pau was playing for the Grizzlies, wound up in the Grizzlies’ organization via the same unforgettably controversial 2007 trade that sent Pau to the Lakers and, through an increasingly maniacal devotion to getting fitter and fitter, has seemingly shed half a person since his teen years to evolve into maybe the league’s best two-way center.

The Grizzlies are thus understandably jittery about Gasol’s looming turn on the open market and will remain so until they have him re-signed to a new max deal. San Antonio, specifically, is the team they fear most.

Yet it’s premature to try to establish the Spurs as some sort of favorite to steal him away, since they’re also widely expected to focus first on the guy perceived as this summer’s more gettable superstar: Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge.

What is obvious to everyone some six weeks out, especially the Grizzlies, is that Gasol is irreplaceable. The mere threat of losing him is chilling, because there’s no telling how long it would take Memphis to recover.

Most rival teams favor Memphis to ultimately win the Gasol sweepstakes because A) Gasol’s ties to the city are legitimately deep and B) he’s the unquestioned starting center on the NBA’s “I Just Want To Win” team. Which is another way of saying that few league observers can picture him leaving when there isn’t an obvious landing spot that immediately positions Gasol to do more winning than he’s currently doing with the Grizz — unless Tim Duncan retires to create a gaping hole in the San Antonio frontcourt.

Let’s face it: If the Grizzlies could just find the means to acquire a quality shooter or two to add to their “Core Four” of Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, based on all the problems they managed to give Golden State without a long-ball threat, they’d presumably be closer to real contention than any of the teams expected to pursue Gasol hardest in free agency.

Knicks? Lakers? Who else besides San Antonio can mount a legit threat?

Yet we repeat: Gasol has given his own coaches and bosses no hints. Unlike Aldridge, who, according to league sources, hasn’t been afraid to share the occasional whisper with a few well-placed folks about the prospect of leaving Portland, Gasol is saying pretty much nothing.

So it’s going to be a long 43 days until July 1 for the Tennessee incumbents.

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Blogtable: Your advice for LaMarcus Aldridge?

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


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOLaMarcus Aldridge says he loves being in Portland

> You’re LaMarcus Aldridge’s closest friend, his confidant. When he asks you what he should do this summer as an unrestricted free agent, what do you tell him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI tell him the same thing I tell all my friends who are contemplating big life decisions (job changes, marriage, etc.): Make a list of pros and cons, rank them in importance to you and, once you make your decision, don’t second-guess it. Yeah, I try to stay above the fray so I’m still their friend and confidant after they mess up the decision. Not specific enough for blogtable? Fine. I tell Aldridge, if he wants to win, win soon and possibly win multiple times, he heeds what the Spurs have to say when they woo him. But if he wants winning to mean the most, he stays right where he is in Portland, hitches up his big-boy pants and gets ‘er done there.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Buy a ticket to S-A-N A-N-T-O-N-I-O. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker aren’t done. Kawhi Leonard is the real deal as a viable elite level partner for years. You can be playing in The 2016 Finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That friendship doesn’t come cheap. I could use a really nice vacation or a new car. After that, I tell him not to move just for the sake of moving. “It has run it’s course” is not a good reason to leave a team and a city that has treated him well and still has the chance to win big in the future. If getting back home to Texas is a priority, that’s one thing. If he sees another situation that will definitely be better, fine. But it is hard to see many places that would top the one he has now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’d tell him to follow his happiness, not the paycheck. He’s already banked roughly $90 million for his career and unless he’s a fool, he still has a good chunk of that. At this point his priorities should be chasing a title, making money and living where he feels comfortable, in that order. I’d end our conversation with this: Tim Duncan thinks you’d be a good successor in San Antonio.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s his decision and I’m not going to try to change his mind, but I’d remind him that he’s got a pretty good thing going in Portland. Most importantly, the Blazers are a stable organization with a good owner. Terry Stotts is a very good coach and at the time of Wesley Matthews‘ injury, Portland was one of only three teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If they can keep the band together and Matthews is healthy by next March, they can be a contender again. Of course, the change to play for the Spurs and alongside Kawhi Leonard for the next four years is probably tempting. And while I have LaMarcus’ ear, I’d tell him to cut down on the mid-range jumpers and get to the basket more often.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Play the field to your advantage big fella. Entertain all legitimate opportunities to chase a championship, wherever that might lead. I understand you have an allegiance to the organization and the fans in Portland. They’ve been great to you and you have emerged as one of the elite players in the league during your time there. And as your best friend, I love it there as well. But you owe it yourself, particularly at this stage of your career, to explore all of your options and decide what’s best for you, and only you, at this juncture. Don’t worry about anyone else’s feelings or wishes. For once, this is all about you and what you want out of the rest of your career.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m reminding him that he’ll never be appreciated by any other city as much as he will be adored by Portland if he chooses to stay. I’m also urging him to exercise marketplace wisdom: The TV money of 2016 is going to create a huge flurry of player movement and a lot of bad decisions – which will leave the stable franchises standing stronger than ever.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t tell him anything in particular, so much as I ask him some questions. What is he looking for? Does he want to be more famous? Is he looking to make themost money that’s available to him, or is he OK with taking a little less? Does he have to be the best player on the team he plays for, or could he take a secondary role? Is winning a title the most important thing at this stage in his career? Has he talked to the Blazers and have they explained to him their plans going forward in terms of continuing to strengthen the roster? Does he want to play his entire career in the same city? LaMarcus Aldridge has to decide what he wants to do next. The answers to all these questions should lead him closer to making a decision about his future.

Morning Shootaround — May 2


VIDEO: All the highlights from Game 6 of Hawks-Nets

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks finally move on | Spurs, Clippers face off in Game 7 | Billy Donovan meets Oklahoma City
| Report: Kings not interested in trading Cousins

No. 1:Hawks finally move on — Most observes figured the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks wouldn’t have much trouble in the first round of the playoffs against the eight-seed Brooklyn Nets. Instead, it took the Hawks six games and one overtime session to eliminate the Nets, which finally happened last night as the Hawks won Game 6 in Brooklyn, 111-87. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann writes, it may have taken them a while, but the Hawks finally looked like a No. 1 seed again …

With the Eastern Conference well in hand once they beat the Cavs for a third time in early March, Atlanta lost some of its momentum over the final month of the season. And they didn’t look like a 60-win team for much of this series.

But Game 6 was clearly their best. And the short turnaround before the conference semifinals might allow them to take some momentum into Game 1 against Washington.

“We lost Game 4, and you never want that to happen,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But I think we were moving in the right direction, 4, 5, 6. At the end of the day, you got to get back to work and get prepared for Game 1. If you assume anything, you’re in trouble. But I think this was great for us, to play playoff basketball, to compete like you have to in the playoffs.”

“We didn’t play that well the first three games,” Kyle Korver added. “I didn’t think we had our edge. I think coming here and losing two kind of woke us up. I think we can still play better, but we come out of this series playing better than we did going into the playoffs, for sure.”

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No. 2:Spurs, Clippers face off in Game 7 — Today is being billed as one of sports’s biggest days: The Kentucky Derby, Mayweather/Pacquiao, the NFL Draft, Yankees/Red Sox. But the day’s biggest event may just be Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs. The Clips and Spurs were arguably the two hottest teams in the NBA over the last few weeks of the NBA season, and their improbable first matchup has not disappointed. And as Sekou Smith writes, looking at the numbers in the context of history just adds interest to tonight’s game…

Doc Rivers has a 5-5 career record in Game 7s, 5-2 at home. Gregg Popovich is 3-2 in his career, 1-1 on the road.

Doc and the Clippers have the most compelling numbers on their side is the 79.8 percent winning percentage (95-24) home teams own in Game 7s. But on the flip side, there has been a road win in a Game 7 in each of the past three postseasons and all in the first round (Brooklyn over Toronto in 2014, Chicago over Brooklyn in 2013 and the Clippers over Memphis in 2012).

Does it mean anything?

Not really. At least not in a tangible way that either the Clippers or Spurs will be able to use after opening tip.

Both Pop and Doc won Game 7s on their home floors last season, the Spurs beat back Dallas in the first round last season and the Clippers did it a day earlier against Golden State. So they have fresh memories of what needs to be done in this situation, as do their teams.

For all of Pop’s playoff experience, no active NBA coach knows the rigors of Game 7s the way Doc does. The Boston Celtics played in seven of them during his time running the show there, his veteran crew tested in each and every way imaginable during their glory days together.

All that said, the Spurs’ lone Game 7 win on the road in four tries, came in 2008 against the New Orleans Hornets and their All-Star point guard … one Chris Paul.

If you believe in any of the minutiae, that any of these numbers have a story tell, that should be more than enough to chew on between now and game time.

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No. 3:Billy Donovan meets Oklahoma City — Eight years after a one-day stint as the head coach of the Orlando Magic, Billy Donovan is back in the NBA as the new head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, replacing the recently removed Scott Brooks. And in his introductory press conference yesterday in Oklahoma City, Donovan showed that while he may not have much NBA experience, he’s willing to put in the work to succeed, writes Darnell Mayberry

But on several occasions in his near 40-minute introduction to the local media Friday afternoon, Donovan tackled each and every question posed to him about the challenge he faces in jumping from college to the pros. And with each answer, Donovan was confident and candid, thoughtful and thorough.

When it was all over, Donovan had said plenty to make you believe he has what it takes to be an exception to rule and find success as a college-to-pro coach.

“One of the things with me is I’m going to work extremely hard,” Donovan said. “I’m curious to learn and grow. I think there’s unbelievable people that are going to be around me. I’m excited about learning and growing. That’s really, really important to me. And I hope I can put people inside the organization, and even the players, in a position where they can learn and grow as well.”

Donovan acknowledged that there will be an adjustment period. He was so frank about that reality that he referred to his transition as “starting from scratch.” But he maintained a presence about him that exuded self-assurance and left a room full of reporters, family, friends, players, assistant coaches and Thunder chairman Clay Bennett with little doubt that he could do the job.

“I feel very strongly about the game of basketball and what I’ll be able to learn and how quickly I’ll be able to learn it,” Donovan said. “And there’s no question it’s going to be a transition period. I don’t anticipate that. But that’s something that I think that I’ll go through and work through and I’ll have great people around me to help me if I come to any road blocks or things like that that are a struggle. And I feel very confident with the people inside the organization.”

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No. 4:Report: Kings not interested in trading Cousins — The idea that an NBA team would be interested in trading for Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Cousins is that rarest of combinations in today’s NBA: A sturdy 7-footer who seems to relish playing under the rim, collecting buckets and rebounds. So rumors yesterday of interest in Cousins from the Boston Celtics made sense, particularly for a team like Boston with a treasure trove of draft picks and in need of a superstar to go along with their role players. But as Bill Herenda writes for CSNBayArea.com, the Kings have their own plans for Cousins …

The Kings want to make a playoff run next season with DeMarcus Cousins as the centerpiece of the franchise, league sources told CSNCalifornia.com.

The Celtics reportedly have significant interest in Cousins and are expected to utilize their bevy of draft picks to secure the center from Sacramento, according to an ESPN report.

Cousins, a first time All-Star this season, averaged career-highs of 24.1 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game, while finishing tied for third in the NBA with 47 double-doubles despite missing 23 games due to illness and injury.

The NBA can be a fickle, mercurial place and nowhere was that more apparent than in Sacramento last season.

The Kings fired Michael Malone, who had bonded with Cousins, after an 11-13 start to the season. Assistant coach Ty Corbin took over, but Sacramento stumbled to an 18-34 record before a long, public courtship with George Karl was finally consummated at the All-Star break.

With contradicting media reports that Cousins was against the hiring of George Karl, the 24-year-old issued a statement in February stating that he was not against playing for the sixth-winningest coach in the history of the NBA.

Karl lead the Kings to an 11-19 record over the final 30 games of the season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Do the Spurs and Mavericks have a legit chance of signing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency? According to Marc Stein, they feel like they do … Things in Brooklyn haven’t exactly gone to plan for the Nets … Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer finished third in executive of the year voting, even though he had basically nothing to do with building the Hawks roster. According to Ken Berger, GMs voted for Bud as a reflection of their admiration of the work done by Danny FerryKevin Love could get a nice raise by opting out of his contract this summer, even if he intends to stay in Cleveland …

Morning shootaround — April 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Thunder, Donovan closing in on deal| Questions arise for Blazers, Aldridge | Report: Rondo didn’t get playoff shareDuncan savoring this playoff ride

No. 1: Report: Thunder closing in on deal with Donovan — It’s looking more and more like the person who will replace Scott Brooks as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan. According to a report by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the team and Donovan are closing in on a multiyear deal that could be finalized as soon as today. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman tidily wraps up all the hubbub surrounding Donovan and the Thunder:

The hunt for the next Oklahoma City Thunder coach heated up Wednesday, with multiple reports that the team had zeroed in on Florida coach Billy Donovan to replace Scott Brooks.

ESPN and Yahoo! Sports reported that Donovan had entered into advanced contract negotiations with the Thunder on Wednesday, but a deal had yet to be finalized by the end of the day. Donovan was expected to make a decision within 48 hours, according to ESPN.com, which cited an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation Wednesday afternoon.

ESPN.com then reported late Wednesday night that the two sides are nearing an agreement, with an announcement expected to come Thursday or Friday.

Donovan has yet to respond to the reports, which first floated his name as a likely successor to Brooks two weeks ago.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Yahoo! Sports reported that Presti met with Donovan on Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla. and that Donovan, who is making roughly $4 million annually at Florida, could be in line for a $6 million annual salary with the Thunder.

The same report went on to say that Thunder star Kevin Durant has reached out to several former Florida players in the NBA to learn more about Donovan and has become positive about the potential hiring. Yahoo! Sports, however, also reported that Presti has not conferred with Durant or fellow stars Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, or their representatives, about Donovan.

Last summer, Presti hired two Gators assistants: Mark Daigneault as head coach of the NBA Development League’s Oklahoma City Blue and Oliver Winterbone as an analyst with the Thunder.

UPDATE, 11:59 A.M.: Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde report Donovan is in Oklahoma City finalizing a deal to become the Thunder coach as we speak:

University of Florida coach Billy Donovan is finalizing a contract to become head coach of the Oklahoma CIty Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at Florida, Donovan will sign a multiyear deal to take over the Thunder, sources said.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

UPDATE, 1:15 PM: Per Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde, the Thunder have hired Donovan as coach:

Billy Donovan has agreed to a five-year deal to become head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at the University of Florida, Donovan is leaving for the NBA.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, can become a free agent in the summer of 2016.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has long targeted Donovan to replace the deposed Scott Brooks, and was the only candidate he pursued, sources told Yahoo Sports.


VIDEO: Inside the NBA talks over the Billy Donovan rumors

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Mavs face summer of heavy lifting


VIDEO: Mavericks react to series loss to Rockets

It was less than two weeks ago when the Mavericks entered the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, but a trendy pick in the bottom half of the Western Conference bracket.

Now after being whipped 4-1 by the Rockets and eliminated in the first round for third time — and one playoff miss entirely — since winning their championship in 2011, the Mavs are definitely on the spot.

Team owner Mark Cuban has stated often that his goal is to get Dallas back into title contention before the retirement of franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki, who’ll turn 37 in June.

None of the big moves the Mavericks made for the 2014-15 season got Dallas an inch closer. The signing of free agent Chandler Parsons ended in the pain and disappointment of a knee injury that shut him down after one game of the playoffs and now will require surgery. The December trade for point guard Rajon Rondo simply blew up in the Mavs’ faces. First Rondo had an on-court argument with coach Rick Carlisle in February and then threw another petulant snit in Game 2 of the playoff series, prompting his bench and then claims of a back injury.

“There was a lot of ups and downs,” said center Tyson Chandler, who returned to Dallas after having been sent away after the 2011 title. “I can’t say there weren’t a lot of distractions.

“When you start training camp, your goal is to always win a championship. You always want to fight and give yourself a chance.

“So any time you’re less than, it’s always disappointing and you’ve got to do what it takes in the offseason to continue to pursue.”

Now those pursuits by Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson will have to be bold and bigger this summer if Dallas is to return next season in a Western Conference that is only getting stronger with the emergence of the Pelicans and what should be the return of the Thunder with a new coach.

“We’ve got to get healthy,”Carlisle said.

But then he also noted that as many as 11 Mavericks could be free agents this summer. Nowitzki has two seasons left on his contract.

At 32, Chandler will be one of those free agents and will have to decide if he wants to commit to the franchise that wouldn’t commit to him in defense of the championship. He’s healthy, engaged and surely will draw interest from teams that could put him much closer to the top of the standings.

Rondo finished the regular season as the starting point guard, but Carlisle made it clear he won’t be back.

“We traded a lot of pieces for a point guard that’s not with us right now,” Chandler said.

Guard Monta Ellis could opt out of his contract and most seem to think he will in order to pursue a long-term deal.

If Ellis ($8.7 million) , Al-Farouq Aminu ($1.1 million) and Raymond Felton ($4 million) all opt in for next season, that would cut down on the money available to lure big-time free agent help. Dallas will surely make a run at forward LaMarcus Aldridge. But if the Trail Blazers star does want a return to his native Texas, options in San Antonio and Houston would get him closer immediately to playing for rings than in Dallas.

The NBA Draft will bring just the No. 21 and 52 picks.

“We’ll see what happens this summer,” Nowitzki said. “I know we’ve got a bunch of free agents again. We’ll just see what happens. Mark and Donnie, as always, are going to look to make this franchise better.”

The clock is already ticking on what will have to be a busy summer in Dallas.

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

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No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

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No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

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No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …

 

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Should Blazers fret Aldridge’s future? | Lofty career goals for Pelicans’ Davis | Williams wants to stay with Raptors

No. 1: Should Blazers be worried about Aldridge’s future? — Portland couldn’t have looked much worse in its playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers scored just 86 points (including 15 first-quarter points), got minimal contributions from their thinning bench and saw All-Star guard Damian Lillard shoot 5-for-21 for 14 points. The lone bright spot was LaMarcus Aldridge‘s play (32 points, 14 rebounds) and in the day between Game 1 and 2, talk is bubbling up that losing the series might not be Portland’s only concern. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more:

After an atrocious performance by the Blazers that at one point left Aldridge sitting alone on the bench as his teammates joined a late-game huddle, the Blazers need to worry about more than just losing this series.

They need to worry about losing one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.

Personally, I’ve always believed Aldridge will return to Portland. Paul Allen can offer more years and more money to Aldridge than any other owner. But behind the numbers and dollar figures is the undeniable fact that he has become comfortable in the city and feels valued within the organization. With Aldridge, that means more than any wad of money or the attention of any big city can offer.

It’s why Aldridge took a bold stance last summer after he politely turned down an offer to sign a three-year extension, saying he would rather sign a five-year deal with Portland.

“I don’t want it to be perceived that I’m not happy, or I’m not staying on because I’m not signing a three-year deal,” Aldridge told The Oregonian last July. “It’s just financially smarter to wait … and I’m looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.”

But one Blazers player cautioned that Aldridge already has enough money. Happiness is what he is truly seeking, and that could be found in being closer to family in Texas.

It’s the tricky thing about Aldridge. No one ever really knows where he stands. He is fickle. Moody. And unpredictable.

So as this Blazers season has devolved into a snowball of snafus, epitomized by Sunday’s Game 1 that featured wild shots, broken assignments, and embarrassing miscues, it was safe to wonder where Aldridge’s mind was headed.


VIDEO: The Starters address the state of the Blazers-Grizzlies series

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Numbers preview: Blazers-Grizzlies


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Grizzlies – Blazers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers are two teams that looked like legit contenders at one point or another this season.

The Grizzlies held the second best record in the Western Conference and third best mark in the NBA for most of the year. The Blazers had a top-five defense through March 15 and were one of a few select teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But both teams suffered injuries late in the season that derailed their quest for the 2 or 3 seed. Portland lost Wesley Matthews for the season to a torn Achilles on March 5. Memphis was without Tony Allen (calf strain) for its last nine games and also dealt with foot and ankle injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Appropriately, these two teams have found each other in the 4-5 matchup. Portland is the 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division, but Memphis will have home-court advantage (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the FedEx Forum) because it finished with a better record.

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

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

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

Pace: 96.5 (13)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 101.4 (10)
NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Pace: 94.2 (26)
OffRtg: 103.1 (13)
DefRtg: 99.9 (4)
NetRtg: +3.1 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
Pace: 94.5
POR OffRtg: 98.6 (18th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 108.8 (4th vs. POR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: LeBron the ‘real MVP’ | Blazers’ Batum, Kaman, McCollum injured | Bulls pumped about Rose’s playoff return | Robinson finds a role in Philly

No. 1: Smith backs James as ‘real MVP’ — Two more days to go and the 2014-15 season will be in the books. As such, folks are starting to reveal their choices for the NBA’s awards (if you missed David Aldridge‘s great column, catch up on it). Aside from NBA writers chiming in on who they like, the players will be doing the same thing and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith his no exception. After last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which LeBron James notched a triple-double, Smith crowed about James’ MVP credentials. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 109-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, J.R. Smith was interviewed by the Quicken Loans Arena’s in-house emcee. He was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James’ second triple-double of the season and 39th of his career.

“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”

“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said of James, who won the award four times in his first 11 seasons in the league. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.

“Not to knock anything from the other two guys [Stephen Curry and James Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.”

ESPN.com analyzed the consensus top six candidates’ cases for MVP on Monday, looking at the merits of James, Harden, Curry, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, who happens to be the MVP pick of another one of James’ teammates, Kevin Love.


VIDEO: J.R. Smith is fully backing teammate LeBron James for MVP

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Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”

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No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.

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No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.

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No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.