HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It took longer than expected during this difficult season marred by an onslaught of injury and a family illness, but Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman reached 1,000 career wins Saturday night.
Adelman’s Minnesota Timberwolves got the job done at home, knocking off the Detroit Pistons, allowing the home crowd to join in the celebration. In attendance was Adelman’s wife, Mark Kay, who was hospitalized during the season with an illness that still has no definitive diagnosis. Adelman, 66, took time away from the team to care for her and he has contemplated retiring after the season to stay by her side.
For the moment, through a tumultuous season full of disappointment, Saturday’s victory provided a rare chance to smile and reflect on a tremendous coaching career. Adelman’s career record stands at 1,000-703 (.587). In his 22nd season, Adelman became the eighth coach to reach 1,000 career wins (joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl) and he is the fifth-fastest to reach the milestone
“Glad we got it done tonight,” said Adelman, one of the game’s most innovative if also most understated coaches, said after the 107-101 victory. “It was tough game; they played well. Our guys hung in there and made some plays down the stretch to win the game. Like I said earlier, it’s a great group of players who stayed with us all year long and never stopped playing. They kept battling it through; the coaching staff too. It was good to get it here especially at home.”
Here’s Adelman in his own words, courtesy of The Wolves’ media relations department:
On moment with Mary Kay making everything worthwhile…
“She had to be part of it. I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that but she has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this in situations and you move and raise six kids and everything else; if it wasn’t for her I couldn’t have done it. So I’m really glad we did it here. It relieves a little bit of stress. Like I said to you before the game, I think it was in some ways when I look back, it was good for this group. We have had such a tough time that you are just trying to scrap wins out. When you have something like this that you are actually working for there is expectations; there is a little bit more pressure and I think that is good because this group we have to learn what that is all about. To be a good team that’s where the expectations are. It’s not just to win a game, it’s to keep going. I’m really happy with the way they have played the last week.”
On the list of coaching names he has joined…
“It’s special people. Some of the names up there, it’s incredible. I never ever expected to be with that group. But like I said before, I have had some really special situations and we were able to stay a couple of places for a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. To get that many wins, there are good players involved and good coaches staffs involved and good organizations involved. It was special to get this.”
On it being more special to have his sons on his coaching staff…
“That was one of the big reasons why I came here. You always want to win, you always want to have good situations to give yourself a chance because it’s a tough job, but I learned in Houston when we lost Yao [Ming] and lost Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that busted our tails every night. It was a lot of fun coaching that group. When I looked at this group this year it’s the same thing. I think there is other ways to get enjoyment. Everybody talks about how you have to win; yeah that’s part of it, but to get around a group of guys you can coach you see them grow individually and as a team, that’s also part of it. And to have my two sons involved, yeah it’s special. That is a huge reason why this was an attractive situation to me. They just didn’t tell me about April before this year that it was so hard to win games in April. I think we have a really group. Like I said, they have really maintained this whole year.”
On where this milestone ranks…
“It’s way up there. Now that it’s done you think about all the years and everything else. It’s pretty special. This has been a difficult year. You have to give credit. You have to thank Glen, David and the whole organization for staying behind me because it was a tough situation. There was never a doubt that I was going to be able to do what I thought I needed to do because of their support.”
On the journey to get here and knowing son Ricky and Derrick weren’t born when he got his first victory…
“Well thanks a lot (laughs). I feel older. I feel older. There is a thousand wins that everybody keeps talking about but I don’t know how many losses too. [He's told 703] Yeah, okay thanks. I knew you would know. I didn’t know (laughs). It is something that you learn as you go on in this league. Like I said, great situations where you walk on the court and you know you have a great chance to win every night. This situation it was tough going out there every day. You learn that it’s a tough business. You have to learn to handle that as well as you do the wins. I think the players have to learn you can’t accept it. It’s part of your job and we got thrown a really tough curveball this year with everything that happened. Even last year at the end of the year. But again, I compliment them for staying with it and hopefully we can get some more before the season ends.”
HANG TIME, Texas – It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.
Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.
With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.
Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.
In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra – Popovich stands a step apart and above.
He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.
Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.
“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.
But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.
He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.
“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.
He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.
“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”
Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”
That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.
After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Steve Nash‘s long-awaited return to action no doubt captivated most of us during the NBA’s Saturday night fiesta.
But while Nash, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers were busy trying to get things in order in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors, there was another intriguing matchup between wannabe contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The game was one thing, a battle of wills between teams trying to forget about the night before in time for a cruel schedule punch that required they both spend no time enjoying or sulking about what happened the night before. The reactions to the outcome from both sides, however, was the truly entertaining part of the night.
Since no one in either locker room has a good explanation for why they can perform at such a high level one night and then fall so flat the next.
“It was a different night, that’s all,” said Hawks guard Lou Williams. “I’m sure you don’t report your best every night. In different games, your body feels different. Your body responds different. Sometimes you travel, sometimes you get an opportunity to sleep in your own bed. Small things like that make a difference.”
Bulls center Joakim Noah, who was in the middle of the action in the win over the Knicks, could tell something was a bit off against the Hawks, who like the Bulls have both impressed with quality wins this season while perplexing with peculiar losses as well.
“We had a letdown because we lost,” Noah said. “One night you come out and play so well and you feel great, and then the next night you come out with the wrong mindset and don’t play well. Our energy was bad, and we settled for too many shots early in the clock. When you’re tired, sometimes you just have to move the ball around, and we didn’t do that. We let (the Hawks) play to their strengths. We can’t get too up or too down about the last two days. You just have to learn from the experience and move on from it.”
If anyone is going to mount a serious challenge to the Heat or Knicks in the East this season, it will have to come from a small group of teams based on what we’ve seen through the first trimester of this season. The Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Sixers have all looked the part at times throughout the past two months. And yet it’s hard to tell if any one of these teams is legitimately up to the task.
We know the Bulls’ chances of mounting that challenge improve dramatically if Derrick Rose is able to return from ACL surgery at anywhere near the MVP-level he played at before going down.
What might surprise some is that the Hawks will need a similar charge from the same position if they are going to shed the label of pretenders and take a seat at the table with the true contenders in the East.
“That was probably one of our most energized wins thus far this year,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew, who Saturday night became the second-fastest Hawks coach to reach 100 wins (behind Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens). “I thought at the very beginning our guys did a really good job, and it started with Jeff Teague and his energy defensively at the very beginning. It was a very clear contrast from [Friday night], where I thought he was a little laid back and didn’t really exert himself defensively. I thought he did a phenomenal job with that. When he does that, he just gets us going. It’s something we talk to Jeff about and something we’ll stay on him about constantly to keep him in the mind frame of being the aggressor defensively, because the rest of the guys feed off of that.”
If the Hawks, like the Bulls, want to be taken seriously, the time to step up is now.
History says the Lakers probably had to do something to save a season that was slipping away.
History also says that in making the switch from Mike Brown to Mike D’Antoni they might just as well be expecting to hit one of those half-court shots to win a car than to be hosting a victory parade next June.
Yeah, the odds are long.
In the previous 66 years, only three in-season coaching changes have produced an immediate championship. Then again, twice it happened for the Lakers, in 1980 and 1982.
However, if the focus is a little farther down the line — and D’Antoni is the right choice — the payoff could be down the line. There have been seven different replacement coaches and eight teams that eventually claimed NBA titles.
1956-57 — Alex Hannum, St. Louis Hawks — The Hall of Famer is more popularly known for leading Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers in 1967, ending the string of Bill Russell and the Celtics at eight titles in a row. But Hannum replaced Red Holzman and interim coach Slater Martin as player/coach midway through the season. The Hawks lost to the Celtics in The Finals that year. But when he retired and went to the bench full-time, they beat Boston to win it all the following year. He was the only coach to beat Boston in the playoffs during Russell’s 13-year career.
1977-78 — Lenny Wilkens, Seattle SuperSonics — The Hall of Famer took over the reins for Bob Hopkins after the Sonics got off to a woeful 5-17 start that season. He put the spark back in the game with an 11-1 start to his regime and took the Sonics to The Finals, where they lost to the Bullets in seven games. The team featuring Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown came back to claim Seattle’s only championship by beating the Bullets for the 1979 crown.
1977-78 — Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers — Gene Shue’s talent-laden Sixers were upset by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 and then staggered out of the gate the following season with a 2-4 record. A Philly favorite as a Hall of Fame player, Cunningham got the first coaching experience of his career when he took over the controls. The Sixers with Julius Erving lost to the Bullets in the Eastern Conference finals in his first year, were beaten by the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982, but finally broke through and it all when Moses Malone led a 4-0 sweep of L.A. in 1983.
1979-80 — Paul Westhead, L.A. Lakers – First-year NBA assistant coach Paul Westhead moved into the main seat 14 games into the season after head coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious head injury in a fall from a bicycle. The Shakespearean scholar got to cap of an amazing debut season when a fellow rookie named Magic Johnson jumped center, then piled up 42 points, 15 rebound and seven assists in the Game 6 Finals clincher at Philadelphia.
1981-82 & 2005-06 — Pat Riley, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat – When Magic became disenchanted with Westhead and nudged him toward the door 11 games into the season, the Lakers plucked the former player turned broadcaster from behind the radio microphone to begin a Hall of Fame career on the bench. The untested Riley guided the Lakers to another NBA Finals win over Philadelphia, then won three more titles in L.A. in 1985, 1987 and 1988. After his cross country move took him to New York and then Miami, Riley the G.M. replaced Stan Van Gundy following an 11-10 start in 2005-06. Seven months later, Riley and Dwyane Wade for the Heat out of an 0-2 hole to beat the Mavericks in The Finals.
1991-92 — Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets — A year after he was named Coach of the Year, Don Chaney’s Rockets were stuck in a 26-26 rut and he was fired on Feb. 18. A reluctant Tomjanovich, then a team scout and assistant coach, had to be talked into taking the job. A season later he became the first coach in NBA history to take his team from the lottery to a division title in his first full season on the job. The local legend Rudy T then put enough spot-up shooters around Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to produce back-to-back championships for Houston in 1994 and 1995.
1996-97 — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs – It was 18 games into the season when G.M. Popovich pulled the rug and fired coach Bob Hill. It was a move that was considered presumptuous and unpopular in some corners of town. But all was forgiven when he took a team with David Robinson and second-year forward Tim Duncan to the championship in 1999. Since that time, he has added Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to the lineup, three more titles and the beloved and cantankerous “Pop” is almost as much a part San Antonio lore as the Alamo.
MIAMI –LeBron James isn’t the only member of the Miami Heat family to collect a little postseason hardware. The three-time KIA MVP was joined Tuesday by Heat president Pat Riley, who won the National Basketball Coaches Association 2012 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award.
A member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s Class of 2008, Riley adds this latest honor to his long list of achievements. One of the most accomplished coaches and team executives in NBA history, Riley has spent 43 years in the league as a player, coach and executive.
“It’s good to be back … for a minute,” a smiling Riley said from the podium at AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday night, where he received the award before Game 4 of The Finals between his Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Chuck and I were rivals back in the 80s but there’s a connection that goes back so long.”
Riley praised Daly and all the coaches he’s competed against and learned from in his four decades, and counting, in basketball.
“The only thing I know anything about in my life has been taught to me by coaches,” he said. But he stopped short of saying he’d rather be back on the bench than orchestrating from behind the scenes.
“As far as me missing it, I don’t miss it,” he said. “I feel it in the gut right now. We have a very, very good young coach who’s growing leaps and bounds. I did 30 years. That’s enough.”
Riley joins a distinguished list of coaches who have won the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior winners include Lenny Wilkens in 2011, Tex Winter and Jack Ramsay in 2010 and Tommy Heinsohn in 2009.
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – If Dwight Howard thought Stan Van Gundy was tough to deal with, can you imagine how he’d react to Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan?
The former and longtime coach of the Utah Jazz is apparently contemplating a coaching comeback at 70, with feelers from both the Charlotte Bobcats and potentially the Magic, who fired Van Gundy Monday and are currently searching for his replacement.
Sloan has already spoken with the Bobcats about their opening and is “intrigued” by the possibilities in Orlando, per the Salt Lake Tribune:
Asked about his reported interest in Orlando, Sloan said, “I’m sure a lot of people are interested. But I really don’t know what the parameters are going to be or what’s going on. I guess we’ll wait and see what happens.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you get when you take the most extensive library of NBA footage, a room full of creative and inquisitive hoops heads and the simple directive of helping fill the basketball void so many of us have been feeling the past two months?
You get “Playoff Gems on NBA TV,” 10 crucial postseason matchups that will make their NBA TV premiers this week as Hardwood Classics. Our good friends at NBA TV will air three games a day starting Tuesday and running through Thursday with the 10th and final game airing Friday, Sept. 2. As a bonus they’ll re-air all of the games throughout Labor Day weekend, just in case you miss one the first time.
Here’s a quick rundown of the games, including the date and times (ET) they will air on NBA TV, with a few of our notes to help refresh your memory:
Tuesday, Aug. 30
Bullets vs. Warriors, 1975 Finals: Game 3 — 8 p.m. ET
Any game featuring Rick Barry at his best is worth your time. One of the game’s all-time great scorers, Barry was at his best in this game. He lit up the Bullets for 38 points and Jamaal Wilkes put the defensive clamps, as best any man could, on Elvin Hayes to help the Warriors to what would be an insurmountable 3-0 series lead. The underdog Warriors finished the Bullets off in Game 4 to complete their magical run. There hasn’t been a Finals game played in the Bay Area since this one.
Suns vs. SuperSonics, 1979 Western Conference finals: Game 7 — 10 p.m. ET
The Sonics’ first and only NBA title doesn’t happen without them grinding through this rugged conference final against the rival Suns. Game 7 was played before 37,000-plus fans at The Kingdome. The final and thrilling seconds of this one still gets the juices flowing for Sonics fans who were worried they might not get a chance for a Finals rematch against the Bullets after losing in 1978. Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens and his point guard, Dennis Johnson, did a masterful job of managing the game down the stretch.
Knicks vs. Nets, 1983 Eastern Conference first round: Game 1 — Midnight ET
For those of us with an appreciation for the artist known as Bernard King, this game will be a treat. King turned the Hudson River Rivalry into a rout with a 40-point explosion as the Hubie Brown-coached Knicks dumped the Nets in two games to advance to a conference semifinal date with the Philadelphia 76ers. HT fave Truck Robinson was on this Knicks team as well, as were Rory Sparrow and a young Bill Cartwright (seriously).
Wednesday, Aug. 31
Spurs vs. Nuggets, 1985 Western Conference first round: Game 2 — 8 p.m. ET
With the “Iceman,” George Gervin showing off all of his silky smooth moves, the Spurs and Nuggets played a classic. Gervin outgunned high-scoring Nuggets guard Alex English in a series that marked the end of the “Ice Age” in San Antonio — Gervin was traded to the Chicago Bulls after the season.
Celtics vs. Pistons, 1985 Eastern Conference semifinals: Game 4 — 10 p.m. ET
The heated Celtics-Pistons rivalry that colored much of the mid to late 1980s took its first major postseason turn in this series. Isiah Thomas had Joe Dumars (via the draft) and Rick Mahorn (courtesy of a trade with Washington) on his side for the first time in the 1985 postseason. But it was “The Microwave” Vinnie Johnson that stole the show in Game 4. The Pistons’ surprising showing in this series — which they lost 4-2 — was a statement that they would be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
Sixers vs. Bucks, 1986 Eastern Conference semifinals: Game 1 — Midnight ET
With All-World big man Moses Malone sidelined with an injury a young Charles Barkley — that’s right TNT’s very own! — went to work against the Bucks and posted a monster 31-point, 20-rebound night as the Sixers rallied for the comeback win. This was just Barkley’s second season in the league but it served as his breakout year, as he earned second-team All-NBA honors. Malone was traded to the Bullets before the start of the next season and Barkley became the face of the franchise.
Thursday, Sept. 1
Bulls vs. Sixers, 1990 Eastern Conference semifinals: Game 4 — 8 p.m. ET
You didn’t really think this project would be completed without at least one dose of MJ, did you? Michael Jordan was at his versatile best in this game, and did it without Scottie Pippen (who missed the game to attend his father’s funeral). MJ’s 45 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and two steals only tell part of the story. You need to watch the way he dictated the action from end to end to truly appreciate his performance.
Bulls vs. Pistons, 1991 Eastern Conference finals: Game 3 — 10 p.m. ET
In what turned out to be not only the defining game of this series but the turning point in this rivalry, the Bulls were on the verge of erasing three straight years of postseason frustration at the hands of their fierce rivals. MJ went off, scoring 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter in what was one of the defining moments of his early career, this was just his seventh season in the league. He added seven rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and two steals in the breakthrough game that set the stage for the Bulls’ series sweep of the Pistons and their first Finals appearance.
Celtics vs. Pacers, 1992 Eastern Conference first round: Game 3 — Midnight ET
In a battle of Reggies (Indy’s Reggie Miller vs. Boston’s Reggie Lewis), Lewis shined brightest with a 32-point effort to lead the Celtics to victory and a series sweep of a Pacers team that gave them fits a year earlier in a five-game, first-round playoff series. Even with aging and wounded stars Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish still grinding, there was no doubt that Lewis was asserting himself as the heir apparent in Boston. He, and not Bird or McHale, led the Celtics in scoring that season. In 10 playoff games that year, Lewis averaged 28 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor.
Friday, Sept. 2
Suns vs. Rockets, 1994 Western Conference semifinals: Game 7 — 10 p.m. ET
Hakeem Olajuwon was at the height of his powers in this one, destroying the Suns with 37 points and 17 rebounds as the Rockets eventually moved onto the NBA Finals and the first of their back-to-back titles. If you need a refresher course to remind you just how dominant Olajuwon was that season, here is your cheat sheet. If first-person testimonials are needed, just check with Clyde Drexler, Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing. All of those superstars saw their title dreams end that season because of Dream and the Rockets.
Do yourself a favor and tune in this week. You’ll be glad you did!
Sometimes, for whatever reasons, the moment comes and goes and hardly anyone stops to appreciate the gravity of what took place and where it ranks in the annals of the game.
And sometimes that moment is cloaked in such a bittersweet coating that it’s almost best not to mention it, especially to the man whose milestone was achieved. Such was the case for Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller, whose passing of Celtics legend Bob Cousy for 14th place on the career assists list was shrouded in late-game struggles in a loss to the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.
Miller’s five assists give him 6,957 for his career, moving him ahead of Cousy (6,955). But it came on a night that saw him commit his only two turnovers in the fourth quarter, in a game where he shot just 3-for-14 from the floor.
ORLANDO – Do great NBA players make so-so or even lousy coaches? That’s been tossed around the league in recent years because the evidence seems to support that theory. The only great player (NBA 50th anniversary team) who comes to mind is Lenny Wilkens, and he holds the career record for most losses while only winning one NBA title.
Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson coached and received mild results. Dave Cowens could never produce a winner. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can’t even get an interview. Some great players don’t even bother chasing such a career, given the demands of the job. And on and on. We bring this up because Patrick Ewing wants his shot.
Ewing is finishing up his 3rd season as a bench assistant with the Magic and awaits his chance to move a few seats to his right on someone’s bench. He knows he’s fighting an uphill battle, mainly because of perception. He works with Dwight Howard, and that could be holding him back; some general managers might see Ewing as strictly a big man’s coach.
“That’s true,” Ewing said. “But I can do much more than that. All I want is for someone to give me an opportunity.”
We’ll see. There are vacant jobs in L.A. with the Clippers, and in New Jersey (where Ewing has a home) with the Nets. He’s never even received an interview. Given what he’s done in his career, that’s the least he should receive.
Seriously, it’s hard to pick a favorite when they are bunched up the way they have been since the All-Star break. The Lakers have wrapped up the top spot but they aren’t playing like the top dog with a 14-9 record since then, the fewest number of wins of the bunch.
All eight playoff teams in the West project to win 50 games or more, making an already ridiculously tough postseason field preposterously tough.
On the set of The Beat Tuesday NBA TV analyst Kevin McHale posed the question, “who wants to play the Spurs?”
Two days later I think it’s fair to expand on that and ask who wants to plays the Thunder, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Suns or anyone else? The only team in the West that hasn’t looked dominant for an extended stretch since All-Star Weekend is the Lakers. And we all know they’ll show up with renewed focus come playoff time.
That’s what makes every second of every single game so unbelievably critical for each team (that costly no-call on Kevin Durant‘s shot attempt against Utah Tuesday night stings even worse after the Thunder’s loss t Denver last night).
As always when there is extreme competition involved, we are the big winners.
We’re going to get some of the best top-to-bottom playoff action we’ve seen in years. You won’t be able to sleep on a single series, East or West, though we reserve the right to amend this statement after that eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference is claimed by either the Raptors or Bulls.
More news, notes, quotes and opinions from around the league:
THE HOTTEST TEAM IN BASKETBALL ESCAPES
Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel: “If this season-ending surge truly is about resurrection, then Wednesday night was a significant step. For the first time since its 2005-06 championship season, the Miami Heat is 10 games above .500. Extending its winning streak to a league-best nine in a row and making it 15 victories in its last 18 games, the Heat staggered at times against the Philadelphia 76ers before closing out a 99-95 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena. It wasn’t the smoothest path to 44-34, with Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal all struggling with their offense. But with much-needed bench boosts from Dorell Wright, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, the Heat pushed forward in its chase for the No. 5 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. “We struggled tonight, simple as that,” Wade said. “But you know what? We found a way to win the ballgame.” It shouldn’t have been this difficult against a lottery-bound opponent that not only was coming off a 21-point home loss a night earlier to Detroit, but also was lacking perimeter scorers Thaddeus Young and Rodney Carney. But with center Samuel Dalembert dominant in the middle in a 19-point effort produced on 8-of-9 shooting and with 16 rebounds, the 76ers pushed their lead to 12 early and forced a 77-77 tie heading into the fourth quarter. At that stage, Wade stood 5 of 14 from the field, Beasley 2 of 9 and O’Neal, who was back after missing four games with a hyperextended knee, 2 of 8. Wade came around to close with 22 points on an 8-of-18 shooting, scoring eight points in the final four minutes. “It’s got to be more consistent,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Overall, we will take this.”
SUNS CARVE UP SPURS, MOVE UP IN WEST RACE
Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic: “The San Antonio Spurs had given up 96 points per game this season. Their defense would sound even better if they had not played the Suns three times. Phoenix, foreign to losing streaks since late January, poured the offense all over San Antonio like syrup again Wednesday night, sticking it to the Spurs for the entire second half and running away from them at the end for a 112-101 home victory. “They sliced and diced us and did a real good job of executing their offense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. For the first time since the 1987-88 season, the Suns scored at least 110 points in three consecutive games this season against San Antonio, which no longer is a regular-season threat to the Suns. The Spurs dropped the teams’ regular-season series (2-1) and fell three games behind Phoenix with four games to play. The Suns (51-27) moved into a second-place tie in the Western Conference with Dallas and Denver but are actually fourth because Dallas and Denver are division leaders. The Suns closed strongly, thwarting an early fourth-quarter Spurs effort that cut Phoenix’s lead to five. After a timeout, the Suns lineup of four subs and Grant Hill put away a Spurs team that had played at Sacramento a night earlier and had to bring Tony Parker off the bench in his second game back from a broken finger. The Suns, coming off three days’ rest, went on a 19-7 run out of that fourth-quarter timeout, starting with a Jared Dudley 3-pointer and ending with two Goran Dragic steals that led to his 3-point dunk play and a Hill slam for a 109-92 lead with 3:58 to go. The close enabled Steve Nash to sit out the fourth quarter, having already done enough to set up the win with 18 points and 12 assists with only one turnover in 30 minutes of play. The stars starred for Phoenix with Amar’e Stoudemire (29 points, eight rebounds), who scored more against San Antonio this season than any other team, playing bigger than Tim Duncan (14 points, seven rebounds), and Jason Richardson scoring 20 to make the Suns 26-4 when he totals at least 20 points. The Suns snapped the Spurs’ four-game winning streak and moved to a NBA-best 20-5 since the All-Star break.
WOUNDED NUGGETS FIGHT BACK TO DROP THUNDER
Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post: “The Nuggets’ star player was woozier than a Mardi Gras hangover. Down 11, his team hadn’t made a basket in 11 minutes. Two post players were in sport coats. The coach was back in Denver for his final chemotherapy session, while the acting head coach stood in pain on the sideline, grimacing with kidney pain. There were seven minutes left in Wednesday night’s fourth quarter, and this thing was over. So how did Denver possibly win? “It was just guts,” Chauncey Billups said. In a 98-94 win at Oklahoma City, Billups spearheaded a furious run, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter, without a turnover. Carmelo Anthony — knocked unconscious late in the third quarter — played at “50 percent” but still scored six fourth-quarter points with three steals. And with 6.8 seconds left, there stood Anthony — who won two games here last season in the final seconds — sinking both free throws, clinching the win against the playoff-bound Thunder (48-27). “I knew Melo wasn’t feeling his best, so I knew that somebody had to step up and take some of the offensive load,” said Billups, who finished with a team-high 31 points along with eight rebounds. “We put them in a high pick-and-roll, and I was able to trick them a couple of times, get away from the screen. We had the high pick-and-roll rolling.” This was a big win. The Nuggets (51-27) are desperate to snatch either the second, third or fourth seed in the Western Conference to get home-court advantage in the first round. Division-rival Utah lost Thursday, dropping to 51-28, so Denver remains in the hunt for a prime seed. But things couldn’t get any tougher for the Nuggets, who play a rested Los Angeles Lakers team tonight at the Pepsi Center. “Whenever we play hard and play with a chip on our shoulder, nobody can beat us,” said J.R. Smith, who had two fourth-quarter blocks.”
JAZZ FIZZLE ON ROAD, LOSE TO ROCKETS
Steve Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune: “Graciously, the Jazz gave back the victory they stole from Oklahoma City. The Jazz’s 113-96 loss to Houston came too late to reward the Thunder for a game the Jazz would have lost — according to the NBA, in so many words — with a properly called foul at the end of overtime Tuesday. Just the same, Denver, Dallas and Phoenix will thank the Jazz for coming back Wednesday night and delivering practically nothing, while tumbling far from their temporary residence of second place in the Western Conference standings with three games remaining. That’s why this no-show hurts so much. In the Toyota Center, where the Jazz admirably won Game 7 of a playoff series in 2007 and two more first-round games in ’08, they could not summon any kind of adequate effort in an April contest that supposedly meant everything to them. The Jazz’s stakes: vital positioning for the playoffs, including home-court advantage for one or even two rounds. The Rockets’ motivation: whatever. Since when is having nothing to play for a good thing? Houston played carefree basketball, and thrived. At one point in the second quarter, the Rockets had gone 9-for-29 from inside of 3-point range, while making all seven of their three-point attempts. That means the Jazz actually were playing good interior defense, but let’s be honest: A big component of this team’s defensive approach is hoping the other guys miss from outside, and Houston did not cooperate. The Jazz’s available disclaimer of a tough turnaround from Tuesday is valid, except this was their own fault to a degree, as they blew a big lead against Oklahoma City in a game that then became more physically and emotionally draining. Beyond that, at this time of the year, you would like to think that something — Adrenaline? Opportunity? Fear? Anything? — would push them through the trials of travel. It did not happen. Label it understandable, but not forgivable, as harshly judged by the standings. “I expected a lot from them, yeah,” said coach Jerry Sloan. But “I’ve played in a game where I wanted to have energy and I didn’t have energy. If it’s not there, you can’t get it.”
HAWKS STUMBLE DOWN THE STRETCH, AGAIN
Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Hawks blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, dropped their sixth consecutive road game and fell into a tie with Boston for No. 3 in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics would win a tiebreaker over the Hawks, who are the worst road team among the East’s top four. The Hawks were without injured guard Joe Johnson (thumb), but the Pistons had even less manpower. They were missing starters Rip Hamilton (ankle) and Tayshaun Prince (personal) and then lost Rodney Stuckey (ribs) early in the game. Even without their top three scorers, the Pistons outplayed the Hawks down the stretch. The collapse was nothing new for the Hawks, who since the All-Star break are 5-8 in road games when they had a tie or a lead in the fourth quarter. “We self-destructed again coming down the stretch,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “We’ve got to figure it out.” The Hawks led 76-67 with 10:20 to play but squandered the advantage amid a rash of turnovers, missed free throws, and blown defensive assignments. They scored only 16 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-22 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 on free throws. Marvin Williams’ free throw with 2:15 to play gave the Hawks an 85-81 lead. Ben Gordon missed a 3-pointer for the Pistons, and the Hawks rebounded two of their own misses. The Pistons fouled Hawks forward Josh Smith, but he missed two free throws. Will Bynum quickly converted a 3-point play for the Pistons to make the score 85-84 with 56.5 seconds left. Hawks guard Mike Bibby was called for a foul during a scramble for a loose ball, and Gordon made both free throws to give Detroit an 86-85 lead with 42.3 seconds remaining. After Bibby shot an airball on a rushed 3-pointer, Bynum made two free throws to make the score 88-85. Jamal Crawford’s 3-pointer rimmed out for the Hawks, and Jonas Jerebko made two free throws to complete the Hawks’ collapse. “Same thing,” said Hawks forward Mo Evans. “We just relaxed a little bit and got comfortable and thought we had the game in the bag. We let it slip away.”
NELLIE MOVES TO THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: “There were no balloons, no confetti and no video tributes. Just as they had for so many of his previous 1,332 victories, things went exactly how Warriors coach Don Nelson planned it on the night he became the winningest coach in the history of the game. Nelson passed Lenny Wilkens for the top spot with a 116-107 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday with a modest amount of fanfare, exactly what he has wanted the last 5 1/2 months. “Nellie hadn’t said one thing to us about the record. He just wanted to come out and coach and find ways to win some games with the people he has,” forward Corey Maggette said. “Until he got the record, he didn’t mention it. Then, he called us together and told us that he loves us.” The on-court huddle included hugs for each member of the Warriors’ staff and roster and a dousing from a cup of water. The celebration, however, seemed forced in comparison with the emotion exhibited when Nelson tied the record with a one-point win at Toronto on Sunday. The best reactions Wednesday came behind closed doors, only the Warriors forgot to shut the locker-room door. They shook up cans of Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist and drenched the coach when he arrived from a courtside interview. “We didn’t have any champagne, so we improvised,” said forward Anthony Tolliver, who scored a career-high 34 points. “He hasn’t had a championship yet, so we wanted to make this as special as possible. We thought he might be mad, but he is on cloud nine right now.” Nelson’s record is 1,333-1,061 (.557), including 13 50-win seasons and 18 playoff appearances. One of only two to be named NBA Coach of the Year three times, Nelson is in his 31st season as a head coach, but detractors always mention the fact that he hasn’t won a championship. “Maybe everyone will stop hating now that he has the record,” said guard Stephen Curry, who had 27 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds and seven steals. “If I’m not mistaken, he does have five rings as a player,” Maggette said. “Now, he’s the winningest coach. You can’t knock the man’s accolades.”
MAGIC SHOW NO MERCY TO LOWLY WIZARDS
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Matt Barnes and his tattoos could have been lolly-gagging in the last moments, looking forward to a break heading into the fourth quarter in game No. 78 on Wednesday night. Instead he stole a lazy in-bounds pass and fed Jason Williams, allowing Williams to finish something extraordinary on an otherwise ordinary night: Williams, in a two-second span, scored six points. It might be a Guinness Book world record, who knows? Most telling about Barnes’ steal and Williams’ two quick-trigger 3-pointers in the Orlando Magic’s 121-94 rout of the Washington Wizards was that the team that had no motivation to play hard found a reason to do just that in win No. 55. The Magic already had secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and their third consecutive Southeast Division title — without having to lift a jump-shot, wrapping them up when the Atlanta Hawks lost on Tuesday night. Williams drilled a 3-pointer to give Orlando an 81-65 lead with two seconds left in a third quarter in which the Magic pulled away, outscoring the Wizards 34-21. Barnes then swiped Fabricio Oberto’s pass and hit Williams, who jacked up a ’3′ just before the buzzer. And a 13-point lead instantly morphed into 19. “For the other team,” coach Stan Van Gundy said, “that is certainly demoralizing right there.” Barnes and Williams are of the same mind. They both play hard to the end, regardless of the score or the playoff scenario. With four games remaining, nothing makes Van Gundy happier. “You don’t want to fall into any bad habits in these last few games,” Barnes said. “I don’t think we’re the kind of team that can turn it off and on. San Antonio can; they’ve been together a long time. The Lakers can. “Half of our team is new. So, no, I don’t think we can just hit the switch come playoff time.”
CUBAN APPLAUDS NBA FOR ADMITTING MISTAKE
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “On Tuesday night in Utah, the Jazz beat Oklahoma City, 140-139, in overtime when Kevin Durant was fouled at the buzzer but no call was made. The NBA issued a statement acknowledging the mistake Wednesday, which Mark Cuban applauded. “Transparency is a great disinfectant,” he said. “The more transparent the league is, the less people can insert their own opinions. The facts speak for themselves, and that’s always good for the league.” Of course, it could end up costing a home court advantage for the Mavericks or somebody else. “Yeah, but that’s a reflection of another problem,” Cuban said. “Missed calls are missed calls. The question is how do you avoid certain calls being missed. That’s not an issue to address right now. It’s not like everybody didn’t realize it was a foul.” Interestingly, Bennett Salvatore was on the referee crew at Utah, just as he was with controversial endings with the Mavericks in Game 5 at Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals and last season in Game 3 against Denver in the second round.”
VETERAN STACKHOUSE PROVIDES BIG LIFT FOR BUCKS
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: “Some of his teammates were fighting fatigue after a playoff-clinching victory in Chicago on Tuesday night. But Milwaukee Bucks forward Jerry Stackhouse felt fresh after playing just 16 minutes against the Bulls, and it showed in his performance in the second of back-to-back games on Wednesday night. Stackhouse’s 18 points and 6-for-9 shooting helped the Bucks overcome a slow start as they pulled away in the second half to defeat the New Jersey Nets, 108-89, before 16,037 fans at the Bradley Center. “I was able to get into a rhythm and I’ve been getting some pretty good looks lately,” Stackhouse said. “If I continue to get those looks, I feel more times than not I’ll be able to contribute. “I only played in the second and fourth quarters (in Chicago) so I was a little bit rested. When guys log long minutes, you’ve got to mentally know and pick it up for them a little bit. That’s what the bench is there for.” The Bucks (44-34) won their third straight game and improved to 10 games over the .500 mark, which coach Scott Skiles said is a goal the team has set for itself. Milwaukee remained in the fifth position in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a tiebreaker with the Miami Heat (44-34), which edged Philadelphia, 99-95, on Wednesday. Charlotte (42-36) claimed a 104-103 victory over New Orleans and stayed two games behind the Bucks and Heat, with four games remaining in the regular season. John Salmons led the Bucks with 22 points and even took a turn at the point guard spot in the second quarter when Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour were hampered by foul trouble. Ersan Ilyasova added 15 points and nine rebounds and Kurt Thomas posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds as he started his second straight game for the injured Andrew Bogut. “You could tell we were very tired,” Skiles said. “We had that factored in. But again our guys were able to battle through it. “As the game went on, we started playing a little more consistent defense and moved the ball. Jerry came in and gave us a lift offensively, and Kurt gave us a big lift again, to say the least. It’s a good sign that we could fight through that fatigue.”
PACERS PUMPING UP FOR NEXT SEASON
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star: “The Indiana Pacers say their recent offensive spark — the latest was a 113-105 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse — is something they plan to carry into next season. “We’ve been playing real well of late, and I said it before: It’s unfortunate it’s taken us this long to get going,” center Roy Hibbert said. “But hopefully the same guys will be back next year and we can figure it out sooner.” The Pacers know their summer vacation wouldn’t be starting in less than a week if they were nearly as good offensively earlier in the season as they are now. They’re averaging 107.4 points a game, which would be third in the league, in the past 10 games. They’re 8-2 in those games. “We’re clicking well,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “We’re making shots, we’re moving, we’re getting layups. Roy is scoring in the post, so we’ve got everything going. We’re showing what we can do and we have to make sure we carry it over.” Granger led five Pacers in double figures with 33 points on 11-of-27 shooting. Forward Troy Murphy chipped in 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Pacers looked like they were going to get back at the Knicks for the 43-point rout they suffered in early January in New York. The Pacers shot better than 70 percent for most of the first half and led by as many as 20 points while scoring 72 points. Granger led four players in double figures in the first half with 18 points. “It was a little bit of fool’s gold because we weren’t defending at all,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “To a large extent, that offensive production was negated by an extremely poor defense. “We were still in the attack mode, and when you put 72 points on the board in the first half, you should generally win going away. We did not.”
CELTICS’ PERKINS SAYS PROBLEMS ALL IN THE HEAD
Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe: “Four games over seven days remain in the regular season for the Celtics to shore up their weaknesses and mental lapses, and center Kendrick Perkins said there is one certain way to determine whether they are going to be factors in the postseason. “You can tell by the start of the first quarter,’’ he said. “However we come out in the first quarter, that’s how the game is going to be. “If you get a lot of defense, a lot of energy going from the older guys more than the younger guys, then we are going to have a pretty good game. “I don’t think it’s talent. I don’t think it’s physical. It’s all mental.’’ In last night’s 115-104 win over Toronto, the Celtics shot 57 percent in the first quarter and outrebounded the Raptors, 11-5. While Toronto was able to rally in the second period, the Celtics played with more energy and passion than they did Tuesday in New York. Perkins said the solution to such lapses may be just to get to the playoffs and see which players respond to the challenge. Two of the remaining games are against the Bucks, who may very well be the Celtics’ first-round opponents. “I can’t speak for everybody else, but I am kind of ready for the playoffs,’’ said Perkins, who finished with 7 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes last night. “Let’s get it on, and whatever it’s going to be, we’ve got to go all in and let the chips fall where they may. “When the playoffs start, everybody knows how it is. It’s a different atmosphere, make sure we come in with the right mental [approach] and the guys work how they need to work and go from there.”