Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Clippers’

Veterans Duncan, Pierce still loom large as free-agent dominoes

If this were, say, 10 years ago and both Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce were hitting free agency July 1, the NBA landscape already would be quivering in anticipation. At 39 and 37 years old, however, and with 2,980 regular season and playoff games behind them, Duncan and Pierce aren’t the A-listers they once were.

But their situations still will have ripple effects on several teams, and potentially players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Otto Porter Jr., Mike Dunleavy Jr., and rookies from the Class of ’15.

First, consider Duncan and the difference now from a year ago. Back then, lots of people thought that a successful title defense in 2014-15 by San Antonio might prompt the greatest of all Spurs to walk away this summer. The repeat didn’t happen but Duncan had a strong season – eerily so, if you look at the consistency of his per-36 stat – and now looms large in San Antonio’s plans. Here is Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express News on Duncan’s pivotal role in seeking and signing other talent:

It is how, and when, the Spurs and Duncan agree on a new deal that will determine how the club approaches the most important summer since 2000, when a 24-year-old Duncan became a free agent for the first time and received an offer from the Orlando Magic that was too good not to consider seriously.

With 10 players hitting free agency on July 1 the Spurs have only six players under contract for next season. Those six — Kyle Anderson, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Reggie Williams (non-guaranteed) — have salaries totaling about $34.2 million.

But NBA rules require all teams to “hold” at least 12 players at all times, and the Spurs can only retain their free agency rights to Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, Jeff Ayres, Aron Baynes, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard by putting them on their player list with salary cap hold figures that presume salary increases.

The cap holds put the Spurs way over the projected $67 million salary cap.

There are several NBA player personnel executives who believe the Spurs will offer Duncan a two-year contract that begins between $6 million and $7 million, with a partial guarantee and a player option in the second season.

If Duncan doesn’t exercise the option, he gets, say, 50 percent of that season’s salary. In effect, his salary for next season would remain over $10 million, the partially guaranteed portion of the second season’s salary remaining on the Spurs team salary after the cap explodes with the NBA’s new TV money kicking in for 2016-17.

“You can call it a ‘wink-wink’ deal if you want to,” said an Eastern Conference team executive.” It’s what they did with [Antonio] McDyess, so why not for Duncan.”

Then there is Pierce, who sounded on the verge of retirement after his last-second shot against Atlanta in Game 6 of their East semifinals series barely missed beating the buzzer. According to Wizards beat writer Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Pierce is definitely planning to play again next season, with the big question being where: Washington or Los Angeles, for his old pal Doc Rivers and the Clippers?

Here is a taste of Castillo’s report, which delves into the impact of Pierce’s choice on Porter, on the Wizards and on assorted free agents or player Washington could select in Thursday’s talent roundup:

Pierce emphasized he loved his year with the Wizards, guiding the Wizards’ young core and getting another crack at the postseason in a more diminished role. And just because he opts out his contract doesn’t mean he won’t stay in the District; Pierce, who turns 38 in October, could sign a one-year deal for more than $5.5 million to stick around, which would also help the Wizards keep the flexibility they desire for the much anticipated summer of 2016.

The Clippers will likely only be able to offer Pierce the mini-mid-level exception of $3.37 million, but they are arguably closer to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy than the Wizards — even in the tough Western Conference — and provide Pierce two amenities the Wizards cannot: A return home and a reunion with Rivers. Pierce grew up in Los Angeles and Rivers, now the Clippers’ maestro as the organization’s coach and general manager, coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics. They won the title together there in 2008.

Rivers had a chance to nab the future Hall of Famer last summer, but opted to give the Clippers’ full mid-level exception to Spencer Hawes. The decision proved to be catastrophic as Hawes was buried on the Clippers bench for most of the campaign and was traded along with Matt Barnes to the Charlotte Hornets for swingman Lance Stephenson earlier this week.

Like his arrival, Hawes’s departure could have a direct impact on Pierce: In a radio interview Wednesday, Rivers said he prefers Stephenson coming off the bench and will look for a starting small forward elsewhere this summer. ESPN then reported the Clippers are considering Pierce.

So what would the Wizards do if Pierce decides to take a pay cut and return to the City of Angels for one final hurrah?

One thing is almost certain: Porter Jr., who enjoyed a breakout in the playoffs, would start at small forward. But Washington’s depth and scoring would take a hit regardless. Rasual Butler is a 35-year-old free agent. Martell Webster is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract but the 28-year-old was ineffective after his third back surgery in four years. Garrett Temple is a wing option but is better suited as a two-guard and emergency point guard.

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

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Morning shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ and Cavs’ conference title clinchers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Breaking down the Thibodeau ouster| Rivers: Paul, Jordan need each other to succeed | Randle aiming for return in Summer League

No. 1: Was Thibodeau enough of a politician?; Clashes with management led to his dismissal— Five seasons, 255 regular-season wins, 23 playoff wins (including an East finals berth) and countless other player-level accolades (developing an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Most Improved Player) weren’t enough to give Tom Thibodeau job security in Chicago. The Bulls fired Thibodeau yesterday in a not-too-shocking move given the unrest between him and the front office and now, must find his replacement. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and our own Steve Aschburner chime in on the move with two different viewpoints.

Here’s Wojnarowski on how Thibodeau’s lack of political glad-handing may have led to his firing:

For all the issues that inspired Chicago Bulls management to carry out such a ferocious campaign to discredit Tom Thibodeau – minutes restrictions and personnel disagreements and an inability to simply interact – perhaps the most powerful had been jealousy.

Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.

To them, Thibodeau represented a Chicago folk hero who needed to be leveled. Tell them that he was a great coach, and league officials say you’d often hear back from Bulls management that simply, “He’s good.”

If Thibodeau had only the political savvy to publicly praise his bosses, maybe everyone could’ve been spared the years of needless acrimony and drama. As Thibodeau joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, a coaching friend told him: “Remember to kiss some babies,” a suggestion that he needed to learn to be more of a politician.

Thibodeau played a part in creating the dysfunction. In his next job, he needs to bring with him some lessons learned, needs to understand better that there can be compromises without destroying your values system.

In the end, management won over owner Jerry Reinsdorf to pay out the $9 million owed on Thibodeau’s contract. Reinsdorf has lorded over decades of management-coaching dysfunction – and yet Thursday he was issuing a statement on the firing of Thibodeau as a way to stay true to the organization’s “culture.” That’s been a screwed-up culture for a long, long time. Between Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a mess. When Thibodeau arrived, so did the winning – and then, so did the loathing between management and his staff.

Those close to Thibodeau say that Reinsdorf’s statement stung the coach on Thursday, that he had treasured his relationship with the owner. Thibodeau has always admired Reinsdorf’s accomplishments – a self-made tycoon, a successful sports and media mogul – and always felt that Reinsdorf had been an ally for him. Reinsdorf wasn’t around much, though, and talked far more with management than the coach. Thibodeau lost Reinsdorf in the past year, and ultimately lost the job.

Before the end of Thursday night, Thibodeau had sounded enthusiastic to close associates. He was thinking about the next job, about the possibilities out there. Throughout the day, Thibodeau was getting texts and calls from old players – with the Knicks and Rockets and Celtics and, yes, Bulls – and they say that it moved him.

In the hours after his firing, Tom Thibodeau hadn’t sounded angry to his friends – only nostalgic. Five years is a good run in the NBA; it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes calling for him.

And here’s Aschburner on how Thibodeau’s firing may have come as a result of the years-long feud between he and the front office:

Paxson and Forman spoke with assembled Chicago media for about 25 minutes Thursday afternoon at United Center, by which time Thibodeau had been told his services no longer needed and departed the Advocate Center practice facility across the street. He leaves with two years remaining on his contract, worth a reported $9 million, and the freedom to take a new NBA job (New Orleans remains the source of greatest speculation) or sit out to collect the Bulls’ money, whichever suits him. Paxson and Forman said the Bulls weren’t dragging their heels on Thibodeau’s firing to block him until available coaching vacancies were filled — that makes sense, since whatever he’d earn in 2015-16 would offset what they’d still owe him.

But the way it all was handled — Reinsdorf’s salvos lobbed at the coach in support of his guys in suits, the Bulls’ brain trust being far more available and talkative on Thibodeau’s fate after it had been sealed than while it was salvageable, an apparent Cold War in addressing their communication breakdowns and a sense that egos ruled the day more than the good sense to make things work among proven professionals — fit a little too comfortably into the franchise’s history. Or its vaunted “culture” that got mentioned time and time again Thursday.

Remember former Jerry Krause‘s notorious comment that “organizations win championships?” And the bad blood between Krause and coach Phil Jackson, and Krause and stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? This was that, the same mood, just different principals.

One NBA head coach referred to Friday’s events in Chicago as “a crucifixion.” Another spoke of “the knife Reinsdorf stabbed in Thibodeau’s back” on the way out.

Among the things Thibodeau did in his time with Chicago was help Rose become the league’s youngest MVP, turned Luol Deng into a two-time All-Star, drill Noah into the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a fourth-place finisher in MVP balloting in 2014 and oversee Jimmy Butler‘s development as this season’s Most Improved Player. He got veteran Pau Gasol to perform at a level that made him an All-Star starter for the first time.

Of course, NBA players are survivors, so it’s not surprising that some of them reportedly weren’t happy with Thibodeau, his grinding work demands and what some of them felt was a limited offensive repertoire. Some were said to have complained in exit interviews with Forman and Paxson, and they didn’t exactly throw themselves in front of the divorce train when asked about the “noise” in March and April.

So who might the Bulls’ new boss be? Forman and Paxson made it sound like they were only now about to rev up a full-blown coaching search, which is hard to believe. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a Forman crony from way back who spent part of his NBA career in Chicago, has been the No. 1 candidate — at least in speculation –since before the season began. The idea that the Bulls would make this leap of cutting loose Thibodeau without having their parachute strapped on, or at least within reach, strains credulity.

Hoiberg is a bright basketball mind, a solid individual and, aside from a health record that required a second open-heart procedure recently, certainly capable of the Xs & Os required in the job. Certainly, he is communicative enough — and clued in enough now — to stroke Bulls upper management in the ways it apparently needs.


VIDEO: K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune analyzes the Thibodeau firing

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Blogtable: Advice for Doc Rivers?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOAssessing the state of the Clippers after their ouster

> Your nameplate says Doc Rivers, President of Basketball Operations, L.A. Clippers. So tell me Mr. Rivers, what needs to happen this summer for your team to advance past the conference semifinals next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First of all, remember it’s only a nickname, so my prescribed remedies aren’t Hippocratically approved. I already blew the “Do no harm” thing when I signed Spencer Hawes to that four-year deal last summer when I could have had Paul Pierce. Anyway, as much as I like Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick, I know they ought to be coming off the bench rather than starting – maybe then our backups wouldn’t look quite as motley. But we’re capped out with DeAndre Jordan about to get his max deal this summer, so I’ll need to sweet-talk some free agents to consider us on exceptions or minimum contracts, and that’s a hard way to plug two of the skill positions. Hawes? Hey, he’s low mileage, clean, a stretch-four willing and able to help (OK, ya got me. That is my early version of a Craigslist ad, because I’ve got to move him). As for Chris Paul, get out the bubble wrap; no way he’s playing 82 next season, when we need him at his healthiest in May.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: First, I’ve got to convince DeAndre Jordan to take our max contract offer and stick around and I’ve got to beat the bushes somewhere, somehow to get somebody to provide some offense at small forward. I really can’t afford to have my starter (Matt Barnes) go scoreless there in a Game 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m seriously out of answers. I think I have to do something bold, but what? I don’t want to trade Chris Paul. I don’t want to trade Blake Griffin. And I don’t think I will do either. I don’t want to let DeAndre Jordan go in free agency. But something has to be done. Playoff meltdowns two years in a row is a screaming sign something is wrong and needs to be addressed, because this wasn’t about the disappointing bench or anything that requires tinkering. This is about an inability to come through in the clutch. My leaders, my best players, have let me down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers just need another crack at it. I know that sounds so routine and so simple, but that’s it, really. They’re a 50-win team in a tough conference that needs a break or two along the way, just like three or four other contenders in the West. They can’t make wholesale changes even if they wanted to. Doc needs to find some cheap talent the way the Rockets did with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer and what they got with Jason Terry  a role player with experience who can add punch off the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I need Steve Ballmer to tell me focus on coaching and hire somebody else to manage the roster. That person then needs to re-sign DeAndre Jordan and find some way to undo the damage I’ve done to our bench, because we need help in the backcourt and up front. If there’s a chance of getting two or three rotation players (who can shoot and defend) for Blake Griffin, we should explore that. We can still have a top-five offense with shooting around Paul/Jordan pick-and-rolls, and we we need to have more than six players that can be trusted to keep a lead.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first thing we have to do is take care of DeAndre Jordan. Get him signed and then lock him in the gym until his free throws roll off his fingertips like butter. He has to improve that part of his game if he’s going to be worth the $109 million deal he’s due to sign this summer. Then, I’m taking the carving knife to this roster and finding better supporting players to make sure we don’t stall out again in the conference semifinals. We ran out of gas physically and emotionally, which tells me we need a different breed of player to fill out the starting lineup and the playing rotation. There are upgrades needed all over the roster and they will be made this summer.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m recognizing, as I’m sure he does, that organizations win. It’s not just a matter of shoring up the bench. There was no way a franchise known for years as the worst in pro sports could instantly become NBA champion. You need everybody along the chain to be pulling in the same direction, and it starts with Rivers in his relatively new role of leadership. The way he responds to the disappointment can show the way forward.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIt is so tempting to sit there and say the Clippers need to make major changes, in the afterglow of getting ushered out in the second round of the playoffs and half of California making “they’re still the Clippers jokes.” But I honestly don’t think the Clips were that far away. If the regular season ends differently, for instance, and the Clippers don’t have to play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the postseason, I’m guessing things would have gone differently against the Rockets. So I think you keep DeAndre, teach him how to shoot free throws, let Blake continue to develop, and maybe swap out Hedo Turkoglu for a more useful body, and then just see how things shake out next season.

Morning shootaround — May 19


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clippers ready to forget, move on

VIDEO: The GameTime crew previews Rockets-Clippers Game 6

LOS ANGELES — Fuhgetaboutit.

It’s been a trademark all season long of the Clippers, a wiseguy bunch that’s known how to leave bad games in the past and move on.

“This team could pick and choose,” said coach Doc Rivers. “I didn’t like it, but the games they chose were pretty good games. That told me that this team has a chance.”

Now comes the biggest test as the Clippers get their chance to move past a 124-103 whipping by the Rockets on Tuesday night.

A win tonight would put the Clippers into the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But a loss would force a Game 7 back in Houston. Road teams are 24-95 all time in the seventh game of the NBA playoffs.

“No one wants to put themselves in that position,” said forward Blake Griffin.

To avoid, it, the Clippers know that they’ll have to play much better than Game 5 when they were crushed in every category of the game, statistically and otherwise. They were outrebounded 58-39, hammered on points in the paint 64-46 and slammed in fastbreak scoring 17-3.

The Clippers also didn’t seem able to match the Rockets in terms of energy or urgency right from the opening tip. The Rockets seemed to beat the Clippers to every key rebound, each loose ball that was down on the floor and up for grabs.

“We kind of played like we had a couple of bullets in the chamber and we can’t do that,” Griffin said. “This is where you see the difference in teams. You see (good) teams close out games they should close out.”

The Clippers have a mixed track record in close-out games over recent seasons. They are 3-4 in situations that would put them into the next round, winning Game 7 over the Grizzlies in the 2012 first round, the Warriors in the 2014 first round and against the Spurs barely two weeks ago. But they have also lived dangerous in keeping the door open.

Only eight teams in history have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA playoffs, most recently the Suns over the Lakers in 2006.

“I think a lot of championship teams get over things from game to game,” Rivers said. “You play a bad a bad game, you go to the next game. You play a good game, you go to the next game. I think that’s a quality that all good teams must have.”

For Warriors, 15 is the magic number


VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Note to the Memphis Grizzlies and any other team that may cross paths with the Golden State Warriors this postseason: Don’t get down by 15.

After Wednesday’s Game 5 victory over the Grizzlies, the Warriors are 52-0 in games they’ve led by 15 or more at any point. They went 47-0 in the regular season and are 5-0 in the playoffs after leading by 15-plus.

Three other teams never blew a 15-point lead in the regular season, but none of them were perfect in half as many games as the Warriors. The Utah Jazz were 22-0, the Indiana Pacers were 16-0, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were 6-0 after leading by 15 or more points. In total, the league was 734-72 (.911) after leading by 15-plus.

The biggest lead the Warriors had in a game they lost was 14 points. They led an April 7 game in New Orleans by 14 late in the second quarter, but lost it by the middle of the third and eventually lost the game.

They got their revenge in the playoffs, coming back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the first round on their way to a sweep. That was one of just two playoff games in which a team blew a lead of 15 or more points and lost. The other team to do it was the Milwaukee Bucks, who led Game 3 of the first round by 18 points, before losing in double-overtime.

The Atlanta Hawks have led nearly as many games by 15-plus as the Warriors have. But they’ve blown three of those leads: in Boston on Feb. 11, in Philadelphia on March 7, and in Chicago on the last night of the regular season.

The Clippers were 38-0 after leading by 15-plus in the regular season last year, but blew two leads of 15-plus in the playoffs.

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Morning Shootaround — May 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Wednesday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Horford saves the Hawks | Warriors find the formula | Gasol says he’ll play Thursday | Rockets hoping to attack again | Casey to return as Raptors coach

No. 1: Horford saves the Hawks — After Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, the Atlanta Hawks were in danger of going down 3-2 with the conference semifinals heading back to Washington, against an opponent that had it’s point guard back. But Al Horford saved the day, rebounding Dennis Schroder‘s miss and putting it back in the basket to put the Hawks on the brink of reaching the conference finals for the first time in 45 years. Sekou Smith was at The Highlight Factory for the wild finish

So if there is anyone affiliated with the Hawks who understood the significance of winning this game on this night, with all that was riding on the outcome, it was Horford.

The Hawks have checked every box during his journey from rookie sensation to face of the franchise. First up was just making the playoffs. Then it was advancing past the first round and now comes that final hurdle, making it to unchartered territory that is the conference finals … and perhaps beyond.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of crunch time play, “but more importantly we won. We all get to celebrate. And it’s about our team. I was just in that position and I just made a play. I’m just excited we’re in a position of 3-2 now, and took care of home … and now we have a chance to go up to D.C. and wrap the series up.”

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No. 2: Warriors find the formula — The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the regular season (by a wide margin), thanks to top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they outplayed the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the conference semis on Wednesday to take a 3-2 series lead, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes

The Warriors laugh at Charles Barkley and others, who say their jump-shooting team can’t win a NBA title.

They laugh, because the Warriors know they aren’t merely a jump-shooting team.

They also sport the league’s best defense as they showed Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, where they made 14 three-pointers on one end and played championship-level defense on the other in beating the Grizzlies 98-78 and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Of the 180 NBA teams that have broken a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 of a seven-game series, 81.7 percent have won the series. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memphis’ FedExForum.

“Our intent is to go down there and try to play the kind of defense we’ve played the past two games, which has really turned this series,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I said the first couple of games that our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense. I was wrong. It wasn’t good enough. This is what it’s going to take, this kind of defense from tonight and Game 4.”

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No. 3: Gasol says he’ll play Thursday — The Chicago Bulls’ season will be on the line in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). So Pau Gasol, who’s officially listed as “probable” by his team, says he’ll fight through whatever hamstring pain he has after missing the last two games (two Cleveland wins). Our Steve Aschburner has the story

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

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No. 4: Rockets hoping to attack again — No team in NBA history attempted more 3-pointers than this year’s Houston Rockets. But the Rockets extended their historical season by outscoring the Clippers 64-46 in the paint in Game 5 on Tuesday. To get Game 7 back on their home floor, they’re looking to do the same thing in Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

It was as much as anything the key to the Rockets escaping the ignominy and damage of their lost weekend in Los Angeles with a blowout win of their own to cut the Clippers’ series lead to 3-2 heading into Thursday’s Game 6.

There was, however, one more benefit that came with going at the Clippers instead of trying in vain to go around them. It’s better to hit than be hit. That’s not just a strategy, though the Rockets’ success on Tuesday started there.

“Basketball is a mindset,” McHale said. “Everybody is really talented. It usually is the toughest minded team that’s going to win.”

Though much of the series, that had been the Clippers. On Tuesday, the Rockets turned that around by attacking the paint as they had throughout the season.

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No. 5: Casey to return as Raptors coach — Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said that the postseason “influences everything” in regard to his offseason decisions. So, because the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion, we can expect some changes in Toronto. But those changes won’t start with the head coach, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports. Dwane Casey, who has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be back for fifth season with the Raptors …

No news is good news for Dwane Casey.

While Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri has not declared one way or the other whether Casey will be back as the team’s head coach next season since the team crumpled to the mat in four games against the Washington Wizards, his return is not in question, sources have told the Sun.

What is less clear, is whether his coaching staff will remain intact, or whether there will be some alterations.

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall came back from his broken hand and almost led the Wizards to a huge win … After a quick start, the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with the Warriors on WednesdayMatthew Dellavedova picked up an after-the-fact technical foul for the leg lock that preceded Taj Gibson‘s flagrant foul in Game 4 … The Clippers aim to be better in their second chance to close out the Rockets … The Miami Heat, heading to the Lottery for the first time in seven years, should like what they see wherever they draft … and when it comes to the Draft, don’t underestimate the importance of the interview.

ICYMI: Al Horford rebounds the missed layup by Dennis Schroder and puts it back to win game 5 for the Hawks:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Al Horford

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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 …

Morning shootaround — May 8


VIDEO: What can we expect in Game 3 of Cavs-Bulls?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Impact of losing Wall | McHale to Clippers: ‘Quit hacking us’ | Blatt glad to have Smith back in mix

No. 1: How losing Wall would affect Wizards — The Washington Wizards got some potentially awful news yesterday when the team announced star point guard John Wall has “five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.” That news not only hurts Wall and Wizards fans, but if he misses the rest of the playoffs, the news may be a fatal blow to Washington’s hopes of a long postseason run. Our John Schuhmann digs into exactly how much Wall matters to the Wizards’ playoff efforts:

Wall has been one of the best player’s of the postseason thus far, averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 assists. With the Wizards playing small more than they did in the regular season, Wall has taken advantage of the extra space and sliced up the Toronto and Atlanta defenses. Though they scored less than a point per possession on Tuesday, the Wizards have been the most improved offensive team from the regular season to the playoffs by a wide margin.

In five playoff games, Wall has created 30.8 points per game via assists, 12 more than any other player in the postseason. His teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent off his passes.

Having earned a split in Atlanta, a healthy Wizards team would have a good shot at getting to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But assuming Wall is out, they’re in trouble.

In the regular season, Washington was 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the floor than with him off. In the playoffs, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes with Wall on the floor and just 96.0 in 102 minutes with him off the floor.

Ramon Sessions is a decent back-up and helped narrow that on-off gap after arriving in a deadline-day trade. But he doesn’t have the quickness, size or decision-making skills that Wall does. And he’s not nearly as good a defender either.

The Wizards will likely have to make due without their most important player, asking more of Bradley Bealoffensively. They couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, but they were within five points of the Hawks with less than six minutes to go in Game 2. And they’re not about to say that their season is over.

“All of us have to step up a little bit more,” Wizards coach Randy Wittmansaid after practice Thursday. “John’s, no question, a big part of our team. But that doesn’t limit what this team can continue to do.”

“By no means do we feel like this series is over or our goals change,” Paul Pierceadded. “We’re going to continue to go out there, reach for our goals, and continue to fight each and every night. We did a good job at cutting this series to 1-1, to get home-court advantage. So it’s up to everybody to rally around one another, use some motivation, and try to win these games, especially for John.”


VIDEO: Digging into the affect John Wall has on the Wizards’ offense

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