Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Morning shootaround — May 20


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 1 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets try not to fret Howard’s injury | Presti: Durant healing up so far | Dellavedova steps up | Knicks have a plan for No. 4 pick

No. 1: Rockets not fretting Howard’s injury too much (yet) — Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard had limited effectiveness in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals last night after teammate Josh Smith rolled into his left knee on a play. Howard’s status for Wednesday’s Game 2 remains unknown, but based on the postgame buzz our Scott Howard-Cooper was able to sniff out, Houston is trying to remain optimistic as it awaits further updates:

The good news, because there actually is some: It was the left knee this time, not the one that cost him 41 games in the regular season, and the initial diagnosis on Tuesday night was that Dwight Howard had suffered a bruise when the impact from Josh Smith crashing into the leg in the first quarter could have been much worse.

The bad news: Almost everything else.

The Rockets lost the opener of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors on Tuesday at Oracle Arena, lost Howard for most of the night because of another knee injury, are unsure of his availability heading toward Game 2 on Thursday, and all while facing a team that never needs a second invitation to jet around the court playing small ball.

There was no telling in the aftermath of Golden State’s 110-106 victory how much the Rockets can expect, if anything, from Howard two nights later. Another update on his status is likely to come after practice Wednesday at the same Oracle Arena that thundered with noise right on schedule as the home team played in the conference finals for the first time in nearly 39 years.

Teammate and long-time friend Smith said “I’m really concerned,” but declined to elaborate what pushed him to that place as Houston gave no sense the injury was serious. Coach Kevin McHale, not waiting for the end of the first question at his postgame news conference, said “I don’t know. We’ll probably know tomorrow.”

Howard sounded the most optimistic tone of all, insisting: “I don’t think that it’s going to be something that is going to restrict me from playing for the rest of the series. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not going to kill myself over it. I’m just going to stay positive, stay focused and the doctors are going to do their job to make sure I get on the floor.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard suffers a knee injury in Game 1

*** (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 202) featuring Charles Barkley

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Charles Barkley is not afraid to admit when he’s wrong.

He just can’t remember the last time he was actually wrong about something.

Like many of us, though, he couldn’t have predicted the Final Four field facing off for the right to play for the NBA title, well at least not three of the four teams.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers making the Eastern Conference finals is by no means a surprise. But their opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, and the two teams in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, weren’t on everyone’s preseason list to make it this far. Those slots were supposed to be reserved for the blue bloods, the franchises used to working this late in a season, not these upstarts from around the league.

Stephen Curry and James Harden, the top two finishers in the voting for the KIA MVP award and now the combatants at the center of the Western Conference finals, had other ideas.

So did Al Horford and those three other All-Stars the Hawks will deploy against James and his crew in the Eastern Conference finals. The revolution will be televised this year and who better to analyze it all than the biggest star of TNT’s Inside the NBA crew, who joins us on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley.

Dive in to see who we all think comes out on the other side of a heated Final Four round of the NBA Playoffs on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Think you are clowning Chuck? Keep dreaming!

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Morning Shootaround — May 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals | Doc’s message to the Clippers | LeBron at his best? | Hawks and Josh Smith in conference finals

No. 1: Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals — The righteous rally from that 3-1 series deficit came with the fairly tale ending the Houston Rockets imagined, complete with the unusual suspects providing many of the highlights. But no one should dismiss the obstacles and adversity the Rockets faced in storming to three straight wins in their Western Conference semifinal showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. Our very own Fran Blinebury, a man who chronicled past championship teams in Houston, puts the accomplishments of this current Rockets crew in context:

The Rockets didn’t just return to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades. They did it in the very same manner as their famous forebears, with the kind of escape worthy of the Great Houdini.

Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series. They stood with their toes dangling over the edge of the cliff for three straight games and never felt their knees buckle.

Down by 19 points with less than 15 minutes to play in Game 6, they never blinked.

Son of Clutch City. Clutch City Jr. Clutch City 2.0. Pick your descendant.

“There’s only a handful of teams that have done that,” said the resurrected MVP runner-up James Harden after 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the clincher. “We were locked in since being down 3-1. We just said one game, one game, one game.”

When it finally came down to that one game — Game 7 — on a throwback Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center, they grabbed it by the neck from the opening tip and weren’t going to let go until the Clippers ultimately surrendered and the 113-100 victory was complete.

Harden attacked at the offensive end. Dwight Howard was tall and ferocious at the defensive end and every other player that coach Kevin McHale ran out onto the court kicked in his own contribution in some way. International veteranPablo Prigioni, on his 38th birthday, was every bit as important as either of the two marquee stars with his steals and his hustle and his relentless smarts.

This kind of comeback, this kind of emotional turnaround, doesn’t happen without a total buy-in from every single man on the roster. There cannot be a weak link, a single crack in the wall that allows doubt to leak through.

“The guys that we have in this locker room, it’s easy to get down 19 on the road and then just give in and say, ‘Maybe next year,’ ” Harden said. “But I think the injuries this year, throughout the entire year, it’s kind of made us fight through adversity no matter what. So we’ve always been short, down a man It’s always finding a way to get through, finding a way to fight it.”

That the overwhelming capper came just seven days after the Rockets had been whipped and beaten down and humiliated in Game 4 at Los Angeles to dig their 3-1 hole was surprising. That it came at the end of three straight desperation games was positively shocking. And it could be another two decades before another Rockets team — or any other, for that matter — matches that electric comeback.

“It just tells us that we are capable of winning three games in a row,” said McHale. “The guys in there just had a lot of fight and we don’t get to this if not for Trev [Ariza], [Corey] Brew[er], Josh [Smith], Dwight and Jet [Jason Terry]. What they put on in that fourth quarter in Game 6 was amazing. That 40-15 run, you don’t see that very often and I’ve been in this league for a long time.”

***

(more…)

Numbers preview: Hawks-Cavaliers


VIDEO: All-access: The top-seeded Hawks and Warriors advance

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Though they both looked vulnerable at times, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers took care of business to give us the conference finals matchup we’ve been anticipating since the Hawks went on a 33-2 run after Thanksgiving.

This series is a contrast of styles. The Cavs are a team that relies heavily on LeBron James, especially with Kevin Love out for the postseason and Kyrie Irving dealing with leg injuries. The Hawks, meanwhile, like to share the wealth.

While James has been to the conference finals seven times in his 12-year career, this is the first trip there for the Hawks since 1970. Kyle Korver (in 2011 with Chicago) and Paul Millsap (in 2007 with Utah) are their only rotation players who have been here before.

But the Hawks have the knowledge that they tore up what had been an improved Cleveland defense in the final regular-season meeting between the two teams. In the regular season, only one team — New Orleans — scored more efficiently against the Cavs than Atlanta did.

The Cavs scored pretty efficiently against the Hawks too. And the conference finals promises to bring new wrinkles to this matchup. James faced the San Antonio Spurs in the last two Finals. To get there again, he’ll have to get through the Spurs of the East.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, 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

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Beat Brooklyn in six games.
Beat Washington in six games.
Pace: 96.8 (6)
OffRtg: 102.0 (9)
DefRtg: 98.2 (2)
NetRtg: +3.9 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks playoff notes:

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Beat Boston in four games.
Beat Chicago in six games.
Pace: 92.9 (16)
OffRtg: 108.2 (1)
DefRtg: 98.8 (4)
NetRtg: +9.5 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 95.4
ATL OffRtg: 114.2 (2nd vs. CLE)
CLE OffRtg: 110.8 (4th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Morning Shootaround — May 15


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Thursday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets say they are ready to go all the way | LeBron an underdog … never | Pierce’s bravado versus Horford’s grit | Warriors get defensive to turn series around

No. 1: Rockets say they are ready to go all the way — An epic comeback is one thing. But what the Houston Rockets played and lived through last night in Los Angeles was something bigger, at least that’s what it felt like on the inside (from the 2:29 mark of the third quarter until the end it was the Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and the rest of the crew’s show minus James Harden). Rallying from that monstrous deficit and staving off elimination in the conference semifinals was just the first step to much, much bigger things, according to Corey Brewer. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle witnessed the madness:

As the Rockets took off, the Clippers crumbled. They missed 15-consecutive fourth-quarter shots, many coming at the rim or on rushed, but open jumpers. They made just 4 of 22 shots in the fourth quarter with Chris Paul tacking on a 3 at the buzzer as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

“They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch,” Blake Griffin said. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things. Got to be better.
“You could tell we kind of got stunned, and we didn’t respond well.”

When the Clippers were rolling, Griffin had put the exclamation point on their run with a 360-degree spin in the air on a layup. He was 12 of 15 for 28 points after three quarters, then missed all five of his fourth-quarter shots.

“There was times where it just seemed like everything was going their way,” Howard said. “Blake hit 360, 180, I don’t know what it was, and I said, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But we pulled together, we just kept saying we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to give up, we done come too far just to end it like this, and we just kept fighting.

“Josh hit some big shots. Everybody played great tonight, and we never quit. That’s why we got the win tonight. We kept believing, no matter how tough it got out there, because there was some rough times out there. As a team, we never gave up on each other.

The Clippers did not give up. There was not time for that. But they did break down, missing the sort of shots that had built the lead and led to the blowouts over the weekend.

“You know, I thought we were trying to run the clock out, and we stopped playing,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “They kept playing, and then once it got to eight, you could just feel it.

“I don’t think they thought that they had the game in the bag. I thought they thought, we walk the ball up the floor. I thought we got very tentative offensively, very few people even wanted to shoot in stretches, and you know, it happens. But it’s awful to watch. It’s awful for our team, and we have to figure out in the next 48 hours how to get them back, because we can’t get this one back. We gave this one away. There’s no doubt about that.”

Whether the Clippers gave it away, the Rockets took it or some combination of both, the teams head to Sunday’s Game 7 rolling in opposite directions. As Game 6 demonstrated, that does not mean much.

“I played in a lot of games in my life and you can get the vibe of games and think you have the chance to win,” Brewer said. “Like Trevor (Ariza) said at the beginning of the fourth – he said we are going to win a championship, but we have to win this game first.

“If we win this game right now, that’s how you become a champion.”

***

(more…)

Blogtable: Overcoming playoff injuries

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: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



>
Kevin Love, John Wall, Mike Conley and Chris Paul are just some of the big names who have missed playoff games because of injury. Which team has done the best job overcoming the absence of a key player?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe Cleveland would be having a much easier time of things if Kevin Love were around, but the Cavaliers have circled the wagons pretty well. Which is due, of course, to having the best player in the league in LeBron James. James has managed to give the Cavs enough more often than not to fend off a more talented Chicago roster and push the Bulls to the brink of elimination. His team has rallied with contributions from Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, with Kyrie Irving some sliding degree of healthy as the series plays out. If Love is only marginally missed right now, he should be factoring that into his long-term planning this summer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any question that it’s the Clippers.  Chris Paul didn’t play in Games 1 and 2 against the Rockets, was used for limited minutes in Games 3 and 4 and yet L.A. took control of the series and is starting to look like the team to beat in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers. They won a Game 1 on the road, in Houston, without Chris Paul and then won Game 3 at home with Paul not moving well. Austin Rivers has stepped up. The four other starters have stepped up, with Blake Griffin playing at a very high level. A team that didn’t need another boost of confidence just got one.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m almost forced to say Cleveland only because Love has missed the most games of the four. In terms of importance, he doesn’t rate with Paul or Wall, but was finally becoming comfortable with his role and valuable in the Cavs grand scheme when he damaged his shoulder. The Cavs are still alive and favored to reach the NBA Finals, mainly because LeBron covers most if not all flaws and absences.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m most impressed that the Wizards have won a game (against the East’s No. 1 seed) and almost won another without John Wall. Their offense was built around Wall (he led the league in time of possession), but they’ve had two strong offensive games without him. They got big games from their bigs in Game 3 and a huge performance from Bradley Beal in Game 4. I still think that the Hawks win the series if Wall can’t play (or play effectively), but my predictions relating to the Wizards don’t mean much at this point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThey’ve all done excellent work compensating, so it’s hard to pick one out of the bunch. But the Clippers are on the cusp of history, for the franchise, so it has to be Doc Rivers and crew. They survived the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1 and have handled the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals with CP3 playing at CP1.5 due to his hamstring issues. Austin Rivers has come alive. J.J. Redick is shooting lights out and playing both ends at a high level. Even Big Baby Davis is in a groove and playing well. This is some of Doc’s best work, if you ask me. No one, and I mean no one, would have predicted the Clippers would grind their way through to this point under these circumstances, not after the roller coaster regular season ride they were on.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe No. 5 Wizards have taken it to the top-seeded Hawks without Wall, who would have been the best player in that series. But no team has shown more resolve than the Clippers, who made their Game 7 stand against the defending champs as Paul struggled to recover from his hamstring injury. Then, instead of settling for an opening loss in the next round, they grabbed the initiative against the Rockets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think I’ll go with Cleveland, only because they’ve lost so many key players. Right now, for instance, they’re without Kevin Love for the duration, they have Kyrie Irving playing basically without being able to run, J.R. Smith has missed a couple of games with a suspension, and LeBron hasn’t missed any games but clearly suffered a bad ankle sprain, and yet as of right now the Cavs are still just two wins from advancing to the Conference Finals. To me that speaks to not only their depth, but also their resourcefulness in the face(s) of injury.

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

***

No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

***

No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

***

No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …

Gibson-Dellavedova ruckus rocks The Q


VIDEO: GameTime crew breaks down Gibson-Dellavedova altercation

CLEVELAND – Taj Gibson said he gave Matthew Dellavedova a look before things really got out of hand Tuesday night. “A look like, ‘What are you doin’, this is basketball, this isn’t wrestling,’ ” the Chicago Bulls forward said.

Didn’t matter. Within minutes, Gibson had been banished from the court at Quicken Loans Arena and had a towel thrown at him as he headed through a tunnel, exiting in a clamor worthy of a World Wrestling villain.

A ruckus that started with Gibson and Dellavedova, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ backup point guard, rapidly engulfed both teams and the sellout crowd early in the fourth quarter. Gibson and Dellavedova had banged a couple of times already, colliding in pick-and-roll switches and vying for rebounds, when it happened again with 10:25 remaining

The 6-foot-9, 238-pound Gibson pushed down Dellavedova, who stands 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Lying face down under the basket, the Cavs guard sended Gibson’s left leg between his, down near his ankles. So he clamped down, making it difficult for the Bulls player to move.

That’s when Gibson, claiming only to be freeing his leg, jerked his foot loose in what, in the primary camera’s view, appeared to be a swift kick to Dellavedova’s backside (or undercarriage).

Or as LeBron James, who was watching from the Cleveland bench, described it: “They kind of get tangled up a little bit, and then [Taj] kicks him in the ass. That’s what happened. And the skirmish starts after that.”

Gibson’s version differed considerably.

“I didn’t kick him at all,” he said. “He just leg-locked me. It got chippy at the end, of course. I tried to pull my leg back. It looked like I kicked him from the way and the force I was pulling my leg out, but … I have to deal with the consequences. They ejected me. I have to deal with whatever the league passes out. But I didn’t kick him at all.”

Gibson was assessed a flagrant-2 type foul, which carries an automatic ejection. The Cavaliers, with their fans fully engaged, rode the emotions of the moment to a little spurt that put them up 92-77 before James re-entered.

But Chicago righted itself enough to outscore Cleveland 24-14 the rest of the way, in spite of going down a second big man (Pau Gasol sat out his second consecutive game in the series with a strained left hamstring.)

“Both teams kind of swarmed the situation and made it bigger than what it was,” Gibson said. “Nobody threw any punches. I’m just sad I couldn’t finish the game and help my team.

“I mean, I didn’t say anything to him. We all react. But this is basketball – we can’t fight. I don’t know why guys always take to that kind of fuss, like they’re gonna do something. I just tried to pull my leg back. When you’re on TV, everything always looks different. But I just try to play basketball. I’m just frustrated I couldn’t finish the game.”

Gibson downplayed a hard screen he had set on Dellavedova to start the play and didn’t ‘fess up to any extra contact when shoving him for rebound position. The Cavs guard does tend to bounce around with kinetic energy, so it wasn’t clear if his reactions to Gibson’s bumps were entirely legit or accentuated.

But James felt Gibson had set the tone on a previous Aaron Brooks-Gibson pick-and-roll.

“It was a couple plays before that that kind of transpired that. Taj threw Delly across the lane a few plays before that on another box-out,” James said. “The same thing happened again: They ran a high pick-and-roll … and we switched. Taj elbows Delly in the back of the head and puts him on the ground.”

And that, James said, was when Gibson kicked his teammate.

Referee Joey Crawford assessed the flagrant-2 foul, reviewing the play while the crowd saw it five or six times on the massive videoboard at The Q – and reacted angrily with each replay of the alleged kick.

Gibson didn’t have much time to give his version to the referees. “Once that official makes a decision, that’s what it is,” he said. “It was really hard to get an explanation when it’s so loud in there. And we’ve got our security, Eric Buck, he just grabbed me and we tried to get off the court in a timely fashion.”

James said he made sure that no Cavs players left the bench area, which by NBA rules would bring certain suspensions from the hotly contested playoff series.

James added: “We just want to play ball. We know there’s going to be some games where it’s going to be physical. My message to my guys is, just play basketball. We’re going to protect ourselves, obviously. J.R. [Smith], Double-T [Tristan Thompson], they all came to the aid of Delly.”

Dellavedova is one of James’ favorite teammates, so the superstar’s protectiveness of his underdog Australian hustle player was understandable.

“Anyone who starts something with Delly, seriously, Delly doesn’t bother anybody,” James said. “He doesn’t even bother himself, so how’s he going to bother somebody else?”