Posts Tagged ‘LaMarcus Aldridge’

Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …


VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …

20140509_aldridge_pop

Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.

20140509_aldridge_curl

The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).

Snakes alive! Spurs squeeze Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs stifle Blazers in Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – It was the middle of the second quarter and the Blazers’ biggest offensive weapon had finally found a clear path to the basket.

LaMarcus Aldridge slammed his dunk attempt off the back iron.

On the next trip down the floor, Aldridge took another feed, had another open path to the hoop.

And clanked another dunk.

Snakes in the Portland locker room. Snakes on the rim.

When the Blazers eventually slithered out of the AT&T Center on the wrong end of another clubbing, they probably didn’t feel bitten by a viper as much as squeezed breathless by a powerful boa constrictor.

Aldridge can’t find room to move in the low post. Damian Lillard can’t find enough opportunities to work his shimmy-shake magic. Wes Matthews can’t find anything to do except toss up his arms in frustration and plead his case to referees. The numbers on a map say it’s just 200 miles between Houston and San Antonio, but the Blazers have discovered the brand of basketball might as well come from opposite sides of the planet.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets’ played one-on-one. Now the Spurs play all-as-one.

In the first round, the Rockets played with frantic, nervous energy. Now the Spurs play with the quiet, deadly hum of high voltage power lines.

In the first round, the Rockets often treated the fourth quarters and the final minutes of games as something to give away. “Here, take this.” Now the Spurs treat the opening quarters of games as time to simply smack the Blazers and bloody their noses. “Here, take that.”

At this rate their stock is dropping faster than Johnny Football’s. Maybe even the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t take a gamble on the Blazers.

For a Portland team that just four days ago was still celebrating the first playoff series win for the franchise in 14 years, this has been a step up in class like going from kindergarten to quantum mechanics. While Houston poked and prodded and tweaked and adjusted a defensive plan to try to turn down the heat from the boiling concoction that was Aldridge, the Spurs have turned to Tiago Splitter and told him to be the lid on the pot. He bumps Aldridge. He grinds Aldridge. He bangs Aldridge. He flusters Aldridge. And then Splitter gets help in close to the basket from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and anybody else who just feels like taking a swipe or throwing shoulder.

“I missed two dunks and four or five layups,” Aldridge said after a 6-for-23 shooting night and just 16 points. “If those shots go in, then the whole game is different.”

And if pigs had wings, it would be tougher for us to catch that bacon.

It’s never a good thing when coach Terry Stotts is pointing out the highlights of not giving up any fast break points and holding the other guys to just 44 points in the second half. Not when his team gave up 70 points and trailed by 19 at halftime.

On one hand, all the Spurs have done is held the home-court advantage as they now head out to Portland. On the other hand, the Blazers have held the lead for a grand total of 16 seconds in two entire games of playoff basketball.

These are not the Spurs who looked disinterested and disjointed through the first six games against Dallas in the previous round. Now they are back to rolling up and down the court like a road grader, flattening anything in their path. Their deepest-in-the-NBA bench is back. So is their swagger. Manu Ginobili throwing football-style touchdown passes to Leonard on the break. Boris Diaw doing the Jell-O roll through the paint to drop in the kind of shot that was so tasty it made you want to lick the spoon.

These are not the Blazers who looked like the poised ones down the stretch against the discombobulated Rockets.

“No panic,” said the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum. “We know we’ve done bad the last two games.”

On the bright side, nobody was bitten.

24-Second thoughts — May 8

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: HT fave Jamal Crawford collects another KIA Sixth Man of the Year trophy

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While NFL fans wait around for the start of their beloved draft, we hoops lovers are already engrossed in Game 2 of the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets.

You can have Johnny Football, that Jadeveon Clowney fella and the draft that never ends (in the NBA we go 60-men deep, that’s it). I’m rocking with the round ball tonight.

Give me LeBron James and Paul Piece, Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard in the nightcap when the Spurs and Trail Blazers get it on in Game 2 of their conference semifinal showdown.

I don’t care how choppy it is early, still waiting for someone to knock down a shot here, I’m sticking to NBA basketball tonight …

(I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t intrigued by this one wrinkle, though. The prospects choosing their walk-up song is a splendid idea. The fact that we already know which song each guy has chosen steals just a little bit of the thunder. But I love the idea and wouldn’t mind if the NBA poached it come Draft night next month.)

Oh and big ups to my main man Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers on winning KIA Sixth Man of the Year honors for the second time in his career. Well deserved honor for one of our faves around here.

24 – For all of my anti-NFL draft hype, this one didn’t exactly start with fireworks. Brutal start for both teams in the early going. no one wanted to score, or even hold on to the ball, for that matter.

23 – We’re two hours from tip in San Antonio and already there is more action than we’ve seen from the Heat offense, which has produced just 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting (1-for-8 from deep) after the first 12 minutes.

22 – Nets guard Shaun Livingston slipped on a wet spot under the basket early and I missed the replay. He kept playing, so I didn’t think it was that serious. It didn’t hit me until a few minutes later that when you hear the words “Shaun Livingston” and “slipped under the basket” you can’t help but freak out. Glad it wasn’t anything serious. He’s one of my favorite players. Loved his game coming out of high school. He’s the embodiment of the power of perseverance. We were all robbed of what he might have been …

21 – Why don’t we just let Rashard Lewis and Mirza Teletovic play a game of H-O-R-S-E  to decide this thing …

20 – Sorry LeBron, but we don’t always get what we want …

But you did get it cranked up the closer we got to halftime …

19 – Joe Johnson scores on an isolation play and ESPN’s Mike Tirico talks about his nickname in Atlanta being “Iso Joe.” My memory could be a bit shaky, but I swear I coined that nickname when I was the beat writer for the Hawks. Seriously, I think that’s one of mine. I wonder if the url is already taken?


VIDEO: Who’s hotter than Teletovic in the first half? 

There are other Nets stars in the crosshairs at halftime, though, K.G. and D-Will in particular …

18 – Welcome to San Antonio folks …

17 – The battle of the role players continues with Teletovic ballin’ out for the Nets and Ray Shuttlesworth doing the honors for the Heat. We can watch this all night …

16 – There has been a breakout of happy feet in these playoffs. I was going to refrain from bringing it up, until my favorite WNBA player went and did this …

This is a nutty game. Watching some of these elder statesmen battle each other as much as they’re battling Father Time can be painful at times. KG missing wide open jump hooks and D.Wade walking the ball up the court and passing up open shots repeatedly …

Too bad the game isn’t the story of the night. The NFL draft is a role player, too. This is the night of the snake …

14 – BALLGAME!!!! The Heat just finished off a 100-second possession (they got three offensive rebounds) with a LeBron layup to push the lead to 89-79. Nets vets moving like those zombies on the Walking Dead …

13 – Ray Ray was fabulous. And the Heat did what you expect a championship team to do. But D-Will’s 0-for-everything shooting night sticks out to me as the most glaring item of the night.


VIDEO: Some sounds of the game for you from these #NBAPlayoffs

12 – Always figured TP for more of a win guy, being from France and all …

11 – Still no sign of the team willing to take the leap and pick Johnny Manziel. #struggleface …

10 – What is it with Lillard and these buzzer beaters?


VIDEO: Dame Lillard loves to beat the buzzer!

Portland faring much better tonight and they’re still down after the first 12 minutes. Thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s relentless assault. Don’t let the #tbt cornrows fool you, KLeonard is the future of the San Antonio Spurs  …

9 – Crusty old Spurs, huh?

8 – I love the fight in these Trail Blazers. They’re getting cracked in the face and still pressing the action. #betterbasketballclinicfromthespurs …

#nosleeptilbrooklyn for the Heat and Nets

7 – The Spurs’ second quarter burst was a thing of beauty, coordinated chaos and fury from the crew that’s supposed to be boring but has been anything but so far …

– #nomorejohnnyfootballjokes

Johnny Football is a Cleveland Brown with the 22nd pick, joining Kyrie Irving as one of the professional sports saviors of Northeast Ohio!

6 – The KLeonard walk off interview at halftime was quality stuff. He’s every bit as no-frills as his coaches and teammates insist. And the #tbt cornrows got some prime time love. That’s always a good thing …

5 – The power of the #NBAPlayoffs … you’re welcome Pit Bull!

4 –  See Roy Hibbert prior to Game 2 of Pacers-Wizards series …

3 – Young fella is 4-for-4 from deep and helping maintain control at a time when there is. Big 3!

2 – There’s a first time for everything …. especially in the playoffs!

1 – A fitting nugget to end with on “draft night” …


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard delivers the dagger that all but clinched Game 2 for the Spurs

Morning Shootaround — May 8



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Whose house? Russell’s house! | Blazers have to prove they can hang with Spurs | Hibbert feeds off of positive vibes from teammates, mentors | Heat always ready for “lineup Twister”

No. 1: Round 2 of an epic point guard battle goes to Russell Westbrook: Chris Paul fired the first shot in Game 1. Russell Westbrook‘s response … whew! After spending the opener as a guest on his own floor, Westbrook made it clear whose house it was with a wicked Game 2 effort, finishing with a triple-double* that helped lift the Thunder. Before things head for Hollywood for Games 3 and 4, Westbrook took his star turn. Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman has the details:

Russell Westbrook made it clear early that Game 2 was going to be different.

On the first possession of the night, he snagged a steal, then in the process of gathering the ball and heading up court, he ran counterpart Chris Paul into an official. It was whistled a foul on Paul. Then, Westbrook got an offensive rebound and drew a foul on Blake Griffin. Then, he dished an assist to Kevin Durant.

The game was less than a minute old, but the Thunder point guard was already filling the stat sheet.

Setting the tone, too.

“I think Russell probably played harder than all of us combined,” Paul said. “He was all over the place.”

On a night when the Thunder needed to win on home hardwood and even up this Western Conference semifinal – and did just that with a 112-101 victory — Westbrook made sure that this series turned around. He scored. He rebounded. He assisted. He defended. He hounded.

In the process, Westbrook notched his third triple-double of these playoffs.

No other player has even one triple-double in this postseason.

Roll that around in your head a minute. Westbrook 3, rest of the NBA 0.

His triple-double numbers: 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. He became the fifth player in the last 25 seasons with three or more triple-doubles in one postseason. The others: Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo.

Westbrook added three steals and plenty of defensive headaches for the Clippers. What’s more, Westbrook contained Paul, who managed only 17 points and 11 assists. Maybe that seems like a lot, but compared to what he did in Game 1, the damage was minimal.

Two nights after Paul dominated this matchup with eight three-pointers, 32 points and a career night, Westbrook showed that he wasn’t going to back down. Yes, Paul is great. Sure, he might be the best point guard on the planet.

Then again, maybe not.

The point guard battle royale is back on.

And it is because Westbrook went right at Paul. He drew that foul on the opening possession. Then, he just kept coming. He crashed the boards. He looked for contact. He drove to the basket. For as good as Paul is, he’s more jitterbug than bruiser, and with Westbrooks height and size advantage, he used that to his advantage.

Less than halfway through the first quarter, Paul picked up foul No. 2 and had to go to the bench.

“It’s tough to guard him as it is,” Paul said, “but you get two bad fouls early in the game … it makes it that much tougher.”

(more…)

Spurs’ MVP beauty more than skin deep

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Parker leads Spurs to Game 1 rout of Trail Blazers

SAN ANTONIO – They gave out the Kia MVP award earlier in the day.

Kevin Durant over LeBron James in the ultimate 1-on-1 beauty contest.

But the Spurs have never been ones for strutting their stuff down the runway.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker finished in a tie for 12th place.

“I can’t wait to tell them,” said their coach Gregg Popovich.

There was no need for him to tell the Trail Blazers, who were on the wrong end of a 116-92 clubbing in the opener of the Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.

The Spurs, of course, have been running an entirely different kind of race for years, one that never quite looks right in a bikini.

This is not the way championship teams are supposed to be constructed in the NBA, a league that has always been built on individual stars who are able to hoist entire teams up on their backs.

Mikan. Russell. Kareem. Bird. Magic. Isiah. Michael. Shaq. Kobe. Wade. Dirk. LeBron.

But here are the Spurs winning a league-best 62 in the regular season while trying their damnedest to look a basketball version of the Rockettes, one huge chorus line where it’s the high kick of the collective that most impresses.

“That’s a championship team,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the star of a team celebrated for getting out of the first round for the first time in 14 years. “They came out with more energy than we did. They threw the first punch on both ends of the floor.”

That’s because the Spurs have been throwing punches in these postseason situations since only what seems like the dawn of time. Duncan alone has played more playoff games (219) than the entire Portland franchise.

“They did what championship teams do,” said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. “Most of the guys on (our) team haven’t even been in the second round and they’ve won championships. They’ve been here. I think they definitely came out and let us know how it’s going to be.”

That is, like playing an octopus armed with a set of butcher knives.

While Parker grabbed the spotlight in Game 1 with 33 points and nine assists, this is not his wagon to pull. Not alone. Not all by himself through the long playoff grind.

Parker is the match, but the fire comes from a Spurs lineup that burns deeper than any other in the league.

Perhaps the only team in NBA history to win a championship without a truly singular star was the 2004 Pistons. Ben Wallace was their highest finisher in MVP voting that year. Wallace was 10th. Yet he, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace took down the mighty Lakers.

The Spurs have taken that approach one step further, spreading the wealth and conserving their energy all season long in order to be fit and ready for this charge.

Not a single player on the Spurs roster averaged 30 minutes this season. Parker was tops at 29.4.

The Spurs had nine different players who averaged at least 8.2 points and nobody higher than 16.7.

No stars? Tell that to the Blazers, who were seeing them before the end of the first quarter.

This was a Portland team that went into Houston to open the first round of the playoffs and arrogantly rearranged the furniture in winning the first two games on the road. On this night, they were lost, befuddled, hopelessly overmatched.

“They play your plays,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “They knew where and what we were going to do. They did what all teams do in the playoffs.”

The Spurs just do it better.

All that angst and worry when they were pushed to seven games in the first round by the No. 8 Mavericks.

Too slow, too old, too tired?

So in the past two games, San Antonio has averaged 117.5 points, won by an average of 23.5, shot 54 percent from the field and 42.5 percent on 3-pointers.

The Spurs’ defense bodied up Lillard and kept him from doing damage in the paint, kept a lid on Aldridge early and never let the Blazers grow an ounce of confidence.

By the second quarter, the little-used Kiwi-by-birth, Australian-by-passport Aron Baynes was tossing around Portland like throw pillows and the Spurs never let the Blazers get closer than 20 at any time in the last 28 minutes of the game.

When Parker capped off his night with one especially dazzling spin drive, drew a foul and stood at the free throw line late in the third quarter, the home crowd rose with the obligatory chant: “MVP! MVP!”

By that time, it had already been given to someone else who doesn’t play for the Spurs.

Don’t bother to tell them.

Numbers preview: Spurs-Blazers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers and Spurs Series Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Only one Western Conference team has a winning record against the San Antonio Spurs over the last six seasons. That team is the Portland Trail Blazers (14-7), who the Spurs haven’t faced in the postseason since they won their first championship in 1999.

Through the years, the Spurs have had a hard time slowing the Portland offense down. And this season, doing that has been tougher than ever. The Blazers ranked fifth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and first in the first round.

Of course, the Spurs were the best team in the league in the regular season. They’re looking to get back to The Finals, but have another tough challenge ahead.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the first round.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Beat Dallas in 7 games.
Pace: 94.2 (5)
OffRtg: 110.2 (3)
DefRtg: 106.8 (9)
NetRtg: +3.4 (6)

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

First-round notes:

Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Beat Houston in 6 games.
Pace: 95.9 (3)
OffRtg: 111.8 (1)
DefRtg: 109.8 (13)
NetRtg: +1.9 (8)

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

First-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at both locations)
Pace: 98.5
SAS OffRtg: 106.8 (10th vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 107.0 (5th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Underdog role suits Trail Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


Video: Spurs-Blazers series preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — So far.

That’s what Damian Lillard said when somebody asked him if that 25-foot, just-before-closing-time, crackling bolt of lightning on Friday was the biggest shot he’d ever made in his life.

It tells you all you need to know about the 23-year-old with the killer grin and assassin’s calm.

It also tells you all you need to know about the Trail Blazers, most of whom have come so far individually to become this team.

“It’s just kinda who were are. I know Damian has talked about being underdogs — Wes (Matthews) being undrafted,” said coach Terry Stotts. “Damian coming from a small school. Some guys feeling like they’ve been a little roughed up in their careers. I don’t think it’s really anything that we foster. I think it’s just grown organically.”

Grown from a chip that they all carry around on their shoulders into a big stick of righteous indignation that the Blazers have used to prod themselves to a different place.

The second round of the playoffs.

“You ask me if I’m counted out?” Matthews said. “Of course. I’m always fueled by being counted out and we’re gonna be counted out of this next series.”

The Spurs have won three of their four franchise championships, been to the The Finals four times and played in the Western Conference finals three on other occasions in the 14 years since Portland last won a playoff series.

Yet the Blazers can hardly wait to take their “nobody-loves-us” burden into San Antonio for Game 1 on Tuesday night.

It is a well-polished routine and they know it by heart:

  • Lillard was under-appreciated and under-recruited coming out of high school and had to play his college ball at Weber State.
  • Matthews was undrafted by the NBA out of Marquette in 2009.
  • Veteran star LaMarcus Aldridge had to fight for respect through five NBA seasons before he was finally selected for an All-Star Game and is still routinely overlooked in the All-NBA voting.
  • Nicolas Batum was just a 19-year-old Frenchman with no more than hope and a light resume when he arrived in Portland in 2008.

When it was mentioned that Robin Lopez isn’t even regarded as the best player in his own family, Batum doubled over laughing.

“Yes, it’s funny,” he said. “Good, not great. It’s who we all are. We all have been through a lot. We have all had our ups and downs to get here. Even L.A. was snubbed for all those All-Star Games. Nobody expects anything from us. Except for the ones in here.”

The Blazers were back on the court at their practice facility after a day to soak in the city’s joy over their accomplishment. Not that many took the plunge.

“I did pretty much the same things I always do,” said a beaming Lillard.

He went home. He relaxed. He watched replays of his shot “maybe 5 or 10 times” and he listened to an almost non-stop string of text messages buzz in on his cell phone.

“I’ve gotten so many videos of it sent to my phone,” Lillard said. “I watch it because every version is different. The thing I enjoyed the most about it was just seeing everybody’s reaction. You got to see how bad our team wanted to win that game.

“It wasn’t about me. You saw the coaches excited that we’re going to be moving on. My teammates running all over the floor. The crowd. I think a couple fans almost ran on the floor. I’m just happy we were able to get that series done. Because the last thing we wanted to do was go back to Houston.”

It was all glorious fun while it lasted. But now there is more serious work ahead against the defending Western Conference champions and the No. 1 seed.

“It’s over with now,” said Lillard. “It’s not like the moment is going to go away. We haven’t gone past the first round in 14 years, so people won’t forget it. But our team, we’ve got to move on from it, and we’ve still got games to play. Our goal wasn’t to make a big shot and be happy with that. I think, if anything, that made us want to get more done.”

The Blazers will continue to wear the underdog role as if it were an expensive fur coat, wrapping themselves up it and preaching that it’s still a cold, disrespecting world out there.

Yet beneath there is a silk lining of self-reliance and growing fearlessness.

“Anytime you win, you’re going to get confidence,” Matthews said. “To win in the fashion that we did, where the games were always tight and nothing was safe, we learned a lot. I think that was a learning process for everybody about how valuable all these possessions were and how fragile it could be and a wrong bounce could send you to a Game 7 that you don’t want to be in. Now, I don’t think there’s a limit.”

Maybe there never has been, at least in their own minds.

“We were up 3-1 on Houston,” Lillard said. “To be honest, after the first game, we felt like we were going to win the series. I think getting it done, we proved more to other people than we proved to ourselves. There’s no reason now to think it can’t go on.”

Morning Shootaround — May 5



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat and Nets dismiss regular season series | Westbrook-Paul on center stage | Beal, Wizards prefer underdog role | Jackson’s future with Warriors no easy call | Portland’s Matthews keeps chip on shoulder … always

No. 1: Both sides dismiss regular season sweep by Nets in playoff matchup with Heat –  A 4-0 regular season sweep of the Miami Heat sounds good, until you realize that no one — not the Heat nor the Brooklyn Nets team that owned them (technically and at least on paper) during the regular season – believes it matters. Now that their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup is upon us, leaning on what happened between these two in the immediate past doesn’t seem like such a smart decision. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald sets the table:

Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.

Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.

“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in the postseason.

Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”

The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Paul Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward.

One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear whether Spoelstra will do that.

Chris Bosh will have to match up with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who [Spoelstra] will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever [Spoelstra] wants to do.”

Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”

Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size-wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”

He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”

(more…)

McHale to return as Rockets’ coach

By David Aldridge, TNT

Kevin McHale enjoyed his best season as a head coach in 2013-14.

Kevin McHale enjoyed his best season as a head coach in 2013-14.

A brutal last-second loss to Portland on Friday that gave the Trail Blazers a 4-2 series victory in the first round of the playoffs will not cost Houston coach Kevin McHale his job. According to a source, the Rockets will bring McHale back for the 2014-15 season.

There was speculation that McHale was in trouble if the Rockets lost their series to Portland. Houston finished 54-28 this season and was the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. After a slow start, the Rockets came on strong the second half of the season, as Dwight Howard and James Harden meshed better. But Houston couldn’t stop LaMarcus Aldridge in the first two games of the series, and the Rockets were slowed greatly by an injury to guard Patrick Beverley.

McHale is 172-152 (.531) in three seasons as Houston’s head coach, with a 4-8 playoff record, having lost two first-round series.

Lillard becomes one for the ages

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Damian Lillard joins Arena Link to discuss the big shot

PORTLAND, Ore. — Teammate Thomas Robinson says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was just a start for the kid.

If that’s the case, Damian Lillard‘s next trick will likely be a re-creation of that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan: “Over the freeway, through the window, off the scoreboard…”

It wasn’t just a dagger through the heart of the Rockets. It was the kind of shot that defines a career, creates a legend and trails you like a permanent ray of sunshine long after the sneakers and jersey come off and the hair has turned gray.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a “25-foot, 3-point jump shot.”

And Moby Dick was just another whale.

“I’ve seen him do that kind stuff, make shots like that for the past two years,” said Wes Matthews. “From the first day you saw him out on the practice court, you could tell from the way he carried himself. He’s just, well, different.”

It’s the difference that allows a neurosurgeon to poke around inside somebody’s brain with with the sheer confidence, maybe the utter arrogance, that he just won’t slip with the scalpel.

It’s the difference that diamond cutter has when he knows that he won’t turn that big, expensive bauble into cheap rock with a bad tap on the chisel.

“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said the 23 year old who might as well be an ageless Yoda doing tricks with a light saber. “Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”

It came after Chandler Parson‘s out-of-the-blue put-back had given the Rockets a 98-96 lead with 0.9 seconds left.

“The first thing I did when I saw Parson’s shot go in was look at the clock,” Lillard said. “I saw there was time. I knew we would have a shot. I just didn’t know what kind.”

It was the kind of shot that will replayed on the giant video screen at the Moda Center or whatever new-fangled arena comes next for as long as they play basketball in Portland. The biggest last-second shot in Blazers’ history.

It came fittingly on a night when the franchise honored the legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who led the Blazers to their only NBA championship in 1977 and died on Monday.

Rip City — R.I.P. City — indeed.

Up on the screen, there was grainy old color film of Dr. Jack in his wild ’70s disco era plaid pants and wide collars jumping for joy as his share-the-ball Blazers clinched the title.

Down there on the court, just an hour or so later, there were the linear descendants of those Blazers — who move without the ball, do all the little things and play unselfishly — leaping into each other’s arm.

“When he made the shot, I didn’t let him go for the next three minutes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, the workhorse who carried the Blazers, averaging 29.8 points in the series.

It was not just a Portland moment, but an NBA moment, the kind that should be frozen in Jurassic amber.

Lillard’s was the first buzzer-beating shot to clinch a playoff series since John Stockton did it to the Rockets’ ancestors in the 1997 Western Conference finals.

Put it a gold frame and hang it behind a velvet rope with:

Ralph Sampson‘s rim-rattling prayer that beat the Lakers and sent the Rockets to the 1986 Western Conference Finals.

Garfield Heard‘s heave for the Suns that forced triple overtime at Boston Garden In the 1976 Finals.

Derek Fisher‘s running miracle with 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals that beat the Spurs.

– And yes, even Michael Jordan‘s hanging, leaning, drifting to the side jumper over a helpless Craig Ehlo in the Bulls’ Game 5 clincher of the first round in 1989.

That last one started a legend. To hear the Blazers tell it, their second-year guard is already writing the first few chapters of his own.

“Oh, he’s doing things all the time in practice and all season long in games that you just don’t expect and maybe don’t think are possible,” said center Robin Lopez.

“I’ve been around the NBA for 10 years and played a lot of games with a lot of players and seen a lot of things,” said guard Mo Williams. “I’ve seen shots, yeah. Have I seen a shot like that? Noooooo.”

It ended a series that had three overtime games, only one margin of victory that was by more than single figures. The only double digit lead of the night lasted just 16 seconds. The biggest lead of the second half by either team was four. The cumulative score of the entire series had the Rockets ahead by two points.

Just like they led by two with 0.9 seconds left and when Lillard zipped away from the defender Parson and came zooming wide open right toward the inbounding Nicolas Batum.

“I clapped my hands at Nico,” Lillard said. “He threw it to me and I turned. The rim was right there.”

And Lillard let it fly.

If we ain’t seen nothing yet, that next chapter will be a doozy.