Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Clippers’

Morning Shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers lose No. 1 spot in East | Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns | Cavs readying for major deal? | Gasol recounts ‘scary’ vertigo bout | Gay weighing next move

No. 1: Pacers lose grip on No. 1 in East — Practically since the Eastern Conference finals ended and the Indiana Pacers walked off the court as the losers in Game 7, they have focused and told anyone who will listen how getting No. 1 in the East is their goal in 2013-14. And for every day of the season heading into last night’s Spurs-Pacers game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana held up its end of the bargain. But the Pacers have stumbled of late and after last night’s embarrassing 103-77 loss to San Antonio (and the Miami Heat’s win vs. the Toronto Raptors), they no longer have that lofty perch. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indianapolis last night and takes stock of a locker room that is in a true funk:

Be careful what you wish for. Someone might snatch it away. That’s not quite how the saying goes, but it’s the queasy version that applies now to the Indiana Pacers.All season long, from back in training camp through the many trips and back-to-backs, despite the physical dings and emotional drain of trying to go wire-to-wire, the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as their goal within a goal. They get that, and any Game 7 against their rivals from Miami would be played in Indiana.

It was a marvelous carrot for an 82-game schedule that wields some serious sticks. A rabbit to chase and, once claimed, to flex. A fix for what slipped away last year, when the Pacers did so many things right in Game 6 against the Heat, only to step on that plane to South Florida for one more.

And then, on the final night of the season’s fifth month, it was gone.

The Pacers just hit the snooze button on their own nightmare.

“Good for them. We don’t deserve it,” center Roy Hibbert said in a home dressing room that was more demoralized than angry. “We’ll see, in the playoffs. But we’ve got to figure things out. Miami is a good team. They’ve had a couple hiccups themselves. But we don’t deserve that No. 1 seed.”

Indiana forward David West, who hinted at a variety of basketball and chemistry issues ailing his team now, said: “We’ve got to concede that we haven’t played basketball well enough to deserve the top spot. That’s pretty much it. We haven’t played well enough. We haven’t been a good-looking basketball team for quite some time now. That’s on the guys in this locker room.”

Not “a good-looking basketball team?” West was given another crack at his description of the Pacers at the moment. “We’re probably the most downtrodden, 50-plus win team in the history of the game,” he said. “We watch film from a few months ago, we don’t even recognize ourselves.”

Said Hibbert: “We should all go to group therapy. … We’ve been spiraling. Now we’re splintering a little bit.”

“We’re not playing the game the right way right now,” Paul George said after scoring 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and, later, citing a severe lack of screen-setting. “We’re not playing for one another. It’s tough to score on any team in this league when you’re trying to do it against the whole team.

“San Antonio is the perfect example. It’s hard to guard them because they move the ball, they share the ball. And it’s regardless of who’s shooting. They want the best shot on offense. That’s the problem we’re having right now.”


VIDEO: David West and others talk about Indiana’s loss at home to San Antonio

***

No. 2: Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns — As was pointed out by our own Sekou Smith in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Clippers star Blake Griffin has solidified his place of sorts as the NBA’s third-best player this season. So when Griffin suffered a back injury that took him out of the game in Houston on Saturday (which L.A. won), concerns were raised about whether or not he’d be healthy for the Clips’ playoff run. Griffin sat out last night’s win in Minnesota and plans to do more of the same so he will be ready come playoff time, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Blake Griffin stood erect with his back up against the basketball stanchion for support, contemplating whether it was wise to push through back spasms that forced him from the game Saturday night in Houston or to rest.

Griffin decided to rest rather than play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. He probably won’t play at Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Clippers have seven regular-season games left before the playoffs start in about three weeks, and they want make sure Griffin is 100% healthy.

“This part of the season is important, obviously, as far as [playoff] positioning and everything else,” Griffin said. “The last two years in the playoffs, I’ve been banged up. I haven’t been 100%. I don’t want it to be that way this year. So I’m trying to be smart about it and I’m trying to be proactive and not do anything to make it a prolonged, healing process.”

Griffin suffered a sprained right ankle before the Clippers played Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, limiting his effectiveness.

Over the last few weeks, Griffin has had his back wrapped up in ice and heat because of off and on back spasms.

“Most of the time it’s manageable,” Griffin said. “It felt like Saturday wasn’t really manageable. That was the reason for not coming back in.”


VIDEO: The Clippers win in Minnesota without Blake Griffin

***

No. 3: Cavs positioning selves for major trade? — When a playoff-hopeful team (like the Cleveland Cavaliers) signs a player who has never been in the NBA (in this case, Scotty Hopson), it might be seen as a move to add some last-minute depth. But according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Cavs’ signing of Hopson yesterday is about anything but that. According to Windhorst, the Cavs’ roster move was one made with an eye toward allowing Cleveland to possibly pull off a major trade this offseason:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to put themselves in position to make a major trade around June’s NBA draft, sources told ESPN.com.

To help facilitate it, the team made an unorthodox but strategic move Monday by signing point guard Scotty Hopson to a two-year, $3.8 million contract. Hopson has never played in an NBA game but will get a check for $1.35 million just for the Cavs’ final seven games of the regular season, sources said.

The Cavs are interested in Hopson, a 6-foot-7 University of Tennessee product who went undrafted in 2011, as a prospect after he played well in Turkey this season. But this move is also aimed at expanding the team’s options in June and July.

Team owner Dan Gilbert approved the last-minute spending in an effort to set his team up to be hunters over the summer. It’s the second significant move made by acting general manager David Griffin, who traded for Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline.

The second year of Hopson’s deal, worth $1.45 million, is nonguaranteed. The Cavs now have a stockpile of nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts that could be attractive in trades around June’s draft.

Combined with the contracts of Alonzo Gee, Matthew Dellavedova and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs have a trove of options to use as trade bait for a team that wants to clear salary-cap space. In addition to their all their own draft picks, the Cavs also own future first-rounders from the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat.

At this time of year, teams routinely sign prospects to contracts with nonguaranteed second years. For example, the Brooklyn Nets signed guard Jorge Gutierrez to such a contract last week. The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton to such a deal two weeks ago.

But these contracts were given out at the league minimum, which is commonplace. The Cavs are taking the extra step of using their more expensive mid-level exception, known as the “room exception,” to create a larger contract for Hopson so he becomes a more valuable trade piece.

***

No. 4: Gasol recounts ‘scary’ bout with vertigo – The Lakers host the Blazers tonight as part of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 ET) and L.A. should have forward/center Pau Gasol back on the court. The big man’s return to the lineup hasn’t been easy and his season overall has been marred by injury, with his last injury being perhaps the most frightening. Gasol hasn’t played since a March 23 home win over the Orlando Magic as he dealt with a bout of vertigo. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more on Gasol’s return and more:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man recounted the “scary” experience Monday.

“Just really light-headed, dizzy, drowsy state for five to six days at home without really moving much,” Gasol said. “Just laying (down). Let my system kind of readjust. Because it was scary. A scary moment for me and my family and the ones that love me.”

Gasol left the Lakers’ 103-94 win against the Orlando Magic on March 23 at halftime because of dizziness and nausea. The 13-year veteran received immediate medical attention in the locker room and was taken by ambulance from Staples Center to a local hospital for overnight observation.

“It was a nightmare,” said Gasol, who has missed the Lakers’ last four games because of the illness. “I was feeling terrible. Everybody that saw me, they felt bad because I was extremely pale. I was kind of shivering. I couldn’t really move. I had three liters of IV fluid. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t sit. They had to take me to the hospital on a stretcher. So, the whole experience was not pleasant.”

The cause of Gasol’s vertigo is undetermined. He does not believe that he was struck in the head against the Magic. Doctors surmised that it could be related to the persistent upper respiratory infection that plagued him for much of the first half of the season.

Or, it simply could have been a new virus that caused the inner-ear infection that threw off his balance and brought on the vertigo.

“They could only guess a couple things but nothing for sure,” Gasol said.

“It was scary,” Gasol said. “Luckily I’m a pretty calm person. I usually take things lightly for the most part. I don’t react emotionally very easily, so that kind of plays in my favor. Because I don’t dwell. I don’t overthink. I don’t think of the worse-case scenario. I don’t get nervous. So that kind of helped me out. But a lot of things could have gone through my mind at that point where after a few hours, I couldn’t really move. I couldn’t really move my eyes even because it would make me nauseous or I would vomit and stuff like that.”

The 33-year old has been visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist on a daily basis since being released from the hospital last week after an MRI on head came back normal. He went through a non-contact practice Monday and will test how he feels at shootaround Tuesday to determine if he will play against the Blazers.

“We’ll see how my body reacts when I get up tomorrow after the exercise today,” Gasol said. “I would love to (play).”

Gasol wore a medicinal patch behind his left ear on Monday and continues to do treatment to recoup his balance.


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks about his bout with vertigo

***

No. 5: Kings’ Gay weighing next contract move — Swingman Rudy Gay has played in 68 games this season, the last 50 of which have come as a member of the Sacramento Kings. The team picked him up in an early December trade with Toronto Raptors and the move has somewhat paid off for Sacramento: Gay is third in points scored (1,012) and second in ppg (20.2). Sacramento, however, has the third-worst record in the Western Conference and must make decisions about its future and roster. That’s where Gay comes in: he has a player-option on his contract for next season and as he tells our Scott Howard-Cooper, he’s weighing what his next move will be:

He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”It is long after another loss at Sleep Train Arena, this time to the Knicks, in a near-empty locker room after most teammates have left. Gay is sitting in front of his stall, showered and changed and contemplating the unexpected search for career stability.

Memphis for 6 ½ seasons, and then suddenly Toronto and Sacramento in a little more than 10 months, and the career intersection over whether to stay in the current contract with $19.3 million on the books for 2014-15 or declare himself a free agent is approaching. In that setting, feeling so undefined about the future is actually understandable.

“What does my gut tell me?” Gay says of the looming decision and possibly decisions, plural. “I don’t know. My gut tells me different things every day.”

There is this, though: A lot of his comments land on the side of staying with the Kings, whether under the existing deal or by becoming a free agent that would mean giving back a large portion of the next season’s money in exchange for a the security of a larger payout over longer time. It’s light years from Gay committing to Sacramento — and in fact he says he doesn’t want to put numbers on the chances he stays “because right now I’m giving it my all and for me to tell them I’m going to be gone next year, that wouldn’t be fair” — but it is interesting.

The thought of another life change? “It’s tough moving around when you have a family. I have a kid on the way. It’s tough. I want to be settled, obviously, and I want to be comfortable. That has a lot to do with it.” (Which is double-sided, of course. Gay may decide to hit free agency now to get the next move out of the way, rather than another season in Sacramento and the open market in summer 2015.)

And the money. Of course the money. No way he walks away from $19.3 million, right? He’s staying in the deal and will be a King at least next season, right?

“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”

But people say no one leaves that kind of money on the table.

“They’re not in the NBA,” Gay says. “Those people don’t do the job and work as hard as I do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Garnett plans to return to the Nets’ lineup next week … Last night, Celtics star guard Rajon Rondo made his debut as a TV analyst for the team’s games … ICYMI, the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins put on an early April Fool’s Day gag … Raptors reserve big man Patrick Patterson has his review of “300: Rise of an Empire”Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation sports agency may end up representing ex-Kansas star Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 Draft … The Lakers might just keep Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall around next seasonOur own David Aldridge and ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande with some must-read views on Kobe Bryant‘s recent comments about Trayvon MartinLou Williams put on a performance reminiscent of his Philadelphia days against the 76ers last night … Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t play against the Jazz last night so he could rest his knees

ICYMI(s) of the Night:One thing we love around here is good passing … and a good dunk … and, while we’re thinking about it, a great call from someone on the broadcast team, too. Thankfully, we’ve got all of that on one sequence here from the Bulls

And, impressive as that Taj Gibson play was, LeBron James (of course) had a play last night that kind of one-ups whatever anyone else did …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson finishes off the Bulls’ passing clinic with a power jam


VIDEO: LeBron James makes the amazing happen with this and-one layup vs. Toronto

Morning Shootaround — March 30



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Doc sends Davis to locker room | Sixers win | Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs | O’Neal praises Mark Jackson | Tuckers seeks a larger contract from Suns

No. 1: Doc sends Davis to locker room – The Los Angeles Clippers are rolling. They’re 15-2 over their last 17 games, and last night, despite losing All-Star Blake Griffin early to injury, they  were able to defeat the Houston Rockets 118-107. Unfortunately, things aren’t all roses in Lob City, as coach Doc Rivers was forced to call arena security to escort forward Glen Davis to the locker room midway through the game. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has the story:

Losing All-Star power forward Blake Griffin with back spasms had already put the Clippers in a tough predicament, but it got more difficult when Coach Doc Rivers grew so upset at Glen Davis that he had the backup forward escorted from the game.

The Clippers just pressed on, walloping the Houston Rockets yet again, 118-107, Saturday at Toyota Center, to sweep their four-game season series.

But after the Clippers clinched a playoff spot for the third consecutive season, Rivers was forced to address the Davis situation.

“He was emotional tonight and we told him to go sit down,” Rivers said. “And I just thought he was a distraction. When guys are a distraction, I don’t think they should be on the bench.”

After Rivers had pulled Davis early in the second quarter, Davis yelled something at Rivers, who in turned yelled, “Sit your big … down.”

A few seconds later, associate head coach Alvin Gentry went to talk to Davis at the end of the bench, but Rivers then told the team’s security to take Davis to the locker room.

Rivers obviously still was upset at his power forward, which left the Clippers even more short-handed because Griffin was still in the locker room getting treatment.

“Nothing went on with me,” Rivers said. “I thought Baby was too emotional.

“And for me if you’re too emotional, I always send you back to the locker room and keep you back there until the next game. I love Baby. I just didn’t think emotionally he was ready to play tonight so we told him go to the locker room.”

***

No. 2:Sixers win – The long, national nightmare is over as the Philadelphia 76ers are back in the win column after trouncing the Detroit Pistons 123-98 last night. The Sixers 26-game losing streak tied the mark set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for worst streak in NBA history. However, the win also pushed the Milwaukee Bucks lead on the worst record in the league to two games over the Sixers. It should be an exciting race to end the season. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the win:

The Sixers downplayed the victory.

“It’s just like another win,” reserve guard Tony Wroten said. “It’s the NBA. You all are talking about the pressure. We weren’t worried about a streak. We were just trying to get better every day.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he never mentioned the losing streak to his team.

“I never went into a room and said, ‘We have to get out of the streak,’ ” he said. “We talked about, ‘Let’s bang out great days.’ I’m glad tonight that the win validates that.”

The win was a big lift for a franchise that turned into the laughingstock of professional sports during the skid.

ESPN had been poking fun at the team after each of its recent losses. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon even roasted the Sixers Friday night for losing 26 consecutive games.

That’s because they equaled the run of futility established by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the 1976 and 1977 seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers tied that record and set an NBA mark with 26 straight losses during the 2010-11 season.

No. 27 never came, as the Sixers dominated the lifeless Pistons (26-47), handing them their 11th loss in 13 games.

“I think we came out with fire like we try to do in a lot of these other games,” Sixers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “We didn’t change anything. We wanted to win the ball game just like we’ve been doing every single day, every game, and every practice, just going out there playing hard.”

While they were made fun of, the Sixers said the losing streak didn’t affect them.

Sacrificing wins has been part of the team’s plan since Sam Hinkie was hired as general manager in May. The Sixers are using this season for player development, evaluating talent, and developing a culture. In the process, they hope to lose enough games to secure a top pick in the NBA draft in June.

“Our judgment day isn’t today, and it won’t be tomorrow,” Brown said before the game. “We are on a three- to five-year plan. Obviously, we want to win. We want to win every time we come on the floor. I coach to win. Our players play to win.”

Surely this victory provided relief for the Sixers, right?

“Not a relief,” [Hollis] Thompson said. “It’s just a sign that we have been doing the right things and working on the right things, and it’s finally playing off.”

***

No. 3: Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs – Vince Carter is 37 years old, but this has not stopped him from having a great season in Dallas averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists in just 24.4 minutes per game. He’s a key contributor for the playoff-hopeful Dallas Mavericks, who utilize Carter’s new-found 3-point game which he has developed over his last three seasons in Dallas. This contribution allows Carter to hope he will be re-signed by Dallas this offseason, despite his age. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more:

In three seasons with the Mavericks, Carter has seen them go from defending champions to barely making the playoffs to missing them entirely.

Neither he nor anybody else knows if this season will produce a return to the postseason. But Carter does know two things.

This team is better than last year’s. And he desperately wants to hang around to see this rebuilding project through to the end.

Or at least next season.

“I think I’ve earned the right to stick around,” Carter said.

The 6-6 future Hall of Famer will be a free agent after this season. Carter’s three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season has been a huge bargain, as the Mavericks paid him only about $9.3 million for those years of work.

He hopes it is a no-brainer that he re-signs with the Mavericks.

“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “Next year might be even better. We can attract some more people, more talent. Now I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now. I know the city very well. I’m stepping out, going to SMU games and getting out and about. I’m very comfortable here.

“I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have here. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”

It’s hard to say the 37-year-old Carter has put together one of the best seasons of his career if you base it solely on numbers. If you factor in personal satisfaction, however, it may be the best year he’s ever had.

Carter probably won’t win the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, but he’s deserving of consideration. He’s the true definition of the role. He plays about half the game, averages a point every two minutes played, can still levitate like it’s 1999 and has a burning desire to see this team continue to get better.

And that includes seeing what happens next. But Carter is wise enough to know that things may not work out.

“The business side, it happens,” he said. “And maybe they need the money. But I’m hoping we’re talking right here at this time next year.”

Carter’s play as this season has gone along has made it clear he’s not finished as a player. While he enjoys the mentoring role — you can see him on the sideline offering his experience to younger players during games — he’s still a gamer.

And he likes being the sixth man on a good team.

“In the beginning, that first year, it was learning how to go about it,” he said. “It’s still having the starter’s mentality, be aggressive, make plays, but within the confines of the offense. And understanding my role.

“That’s the biggest thing for all players, particularly for guys coming from a starting position into a backup role, is accepting the new position. Once I understood it, everything is easier.”

***

No. 4: O’Neal praises Mark Jackson – The Golden State Warriors, at 45-27, would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers if the playoffs started today. Not a bad spot, but lower than many expected the Warriors to be this season after their playoff run last year and with the addition of Andre Iguodala this offseason. But despite these rough spots, center Jermaine O’Neal can’t stand speculative talk about how the Warriors should fire coach Mark Jackson. Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News has O’Neal’s comments:

Warriors veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal called any talk of firing coach Mark Jackson “ridiculous” and “unfair” before offering a vote of confidence unique to his own NBA career.

O’Neal is considering retirement, and if the 35-year-old were to decide to play next season, he said it would be because of Jackson and that the team he would choose would be the Warriors.

“It’s a couple reasons why I will come back,” O’Neal said Saturday. “This fan base, this organization is first class, and obviously my teammates are great, as well.

“But the No. 1 reason that I will come back and play another year is because of Coach Jackson. I’m absolutely, 100 percent positive about that. He makes it easy to come in this gym every day, and there’s not a lot of coaches that do that.”

O’Neal, whom Jackson noted was “underpaid” and “a steal” while playing on a $2 million, one-year contract, said he would choose Golden State despite the distance from family because Jackson has shown just how much he cares about his players.

Offering up an example, the business-minded O’Neal said Jackson allowed him to miss practice Tuesday so he could go to Mountain View to attend Y Combinator’s Demo Day, which features startup companies making presentations.

O’Neal also appreciated how Jackson has been mindful of putting too much of a physical burden on him because of his age and experience.

With Andrew Bogut going down with a pelvic contusion in Friday’s win against Memphis, O’Neal’s presence in the lineup could be needed once again for Sunday’s game against New York as the Warriors look to close out a playoff berth with 10 games left.

“To me, it’s one of the most unfair things that I’ve seen in a long time,” O’Neal said. “And it truly is a team that’s 18 games over .500. Eighteen. And we’re talking about firing a coach with 10, 11 games left?

“Here’s the facts. To everybody that’s negative out there, you may not ever see this again. I know that firsthand because I’ve been in the position. It may take 10 years to be back in that position, so do you want to accept us with open arms and continue to show the support?”

***

No. 5: Tucker seeks a larger contract from Suns – It’s no secret that Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker is a bargain at his current league-minimum contract of $884,000. He’s arguably the motor which keeps the Suns’ high-energy engine running and he does so while averaging 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals (along with superb defense) in 30.9 minutes per game. This bargain for the Suns may not last long, as Tucker hopes to sign a larger contract this summer. Paul Coro of Arizona Central Sports has the quotes:

Suns forward P.J. Tucker picked up a technical foul recently and joked that he wants the Suns to have it taken out of next year’s salary.

For one, Tucker knows he will be making much more money next season after playing on a veteran’s minimum contract for the next two seasons. It also played his hand that he wants and expects to be back with the Suns next season despite becoming a restricted free agent in July.

“Of course, why would I not?” Tucker said. “They brought me here. I think I exceeded their expectations and mine with what has transpired. Of course, I want to retire a Sun.”

Tucker, 28, was a second-round pick by Toronto in 2006 who was assigned to the D-League and released before his rookie season ended. Tucker became an overseas star, playing in Germany, Ukraine, Israel and Puerto Rico, before he joined the Suns’ Summer League team in 2012 and signing a two-year, partially guaranteed deal.

He emerged as a standout defender and the Majerle Hustle Award winner and started all season this year with improved 3-point shooting. “Forbes” magazine named Tucker the most underpaid player in the league for his $884,000 salary.

“The love I have for this organization will always be,” Tucker said. “They gave me a chance to prove myself and actually to prove that I’m a player in this league. It’s almost emotional for me to think about everything I’ve been through and for them to give me an opportunity to do it. Not just to be on the team, but in two seasons, I’ve started a whole year and a half for the team on a minimum contract. That doesn’t happen.

“When I sit back and think about it, which I never do, it’s too much. So I’ll always be indebted.”

Friday night’s game emphasizes Tucker’s value to a team beyond being a locker room leader. Knowing they have a defender of the caliber, strength and versatility of Tucker allow the coaching staff to assign him to top wing scorers like Carmelo Anthony and create a defensive game plan around that.

In restricted free agency, the Suns will be able to match any offer sheet that Tucker signs with another team and keep him. He knows his value is about to skyrocket.

“The moment you sit back and think, ‘Hmmm,’ that’s the moment you’re losing,” Tucker said. “You can’t do that. Not right now I can’t.

“I’m nervous but excited at the same time. This is the most important time in my career. I kind of took a pay cut to come so this is my one chance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrew Bogut suffered a pelvic contusion and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday. … The San Antonio Spurs win their 17th-straight game. … Chris Paul recorded 30 points and 12 assists to lead the Clippers past the Rockets.

ICYMI of the Night: Ebony Nettles-Bay is an AAU high-school basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer in September. If you haven’t read her story, you can (and should) here. She’s a huge LeBron James fan who had the dream of meeting him. This inspired the hashtag #LeBronMeetsEbony which you may have seen on social media. Her dream came true last night as she met her hero in Milwaukee. James spoke about the moment after the game.


VIDEO: James on Ebony Nettles-Bay

CP3 bounces back with 31 to drop Mavs

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Chris Paul’s big night lifts Clips over Mavs

DALLAS – For years, Mavericks fans dreamed of Chris Paul playing for their team. These days, the Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard only gives them nightmares.

Remember his 0-for-12 line in Wednesday’s loss at his former stomping ground in New Orleans? Paul sure did. He headed to the American Airlines Center early Thursday with teammates Reggie Bullock and Willie Green to get some shots up. The result: a game-high 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting overall, 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He added nine assists in the Clippers’ 109-103 come-from-behind victory that pushed Dallas out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily.

Afterward Paul said what no Dallas fan wants to hear.

“I’ve always loved playing here in Dallas to tell you the truth,” he said. “I saw a couple [shots] go through early and had a nice rhythm.”

Paul had nine points, including two big free throws to seal it with 12.6 seconds left, in the fourth quarter. For the third time this season, the Clippers squashed the Mavs with massive late-game momentum swings. After his field-goal-less Wednesday, Paul buried his first two shots of the game, including swishing a 3-pointer.

“Yeah, you knew,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Well, I didn’t really know it, but once he made that first 3, we were good, and that was good. It was good to see him — he didn’t hesitate at all. He was looking for his shot and running the team at the same time, and that’s what we want him to do every night.”

Paul was not solely motivated by Wednesday’s rare stinker, but by the intense pain he could practically feel all over again in his right shoulder. The last time he played in Dallas on Jan. 3, he crashed to the floor and separated the shoulder. He’d miss the next six weeks. He said he’s still not all the back. The injury, he said, has messed with his shooting mechanics, still aches, has weakened his back beneath his shoulder blade and makes it difficult to sleep without discomfort.

It didn’t keep him from being ornery. In the third quarter, he shoved Shawn Marion and started a skirmish that netted him, Matt Barnes and Marion technical fouls.

In that Jan. 3 game, Paul had 19 points on 5-for-8 shooting and six assists before the injury occurred midway through the third quarter. The Clippers led 77-75 at the time. They won that one with a late surge with, to rub salt in the wound, a 20-point performance from Paul’s backup Darren Collison, who last season had a less-than-memorable one-and-done stint with Dallas.

Less than two weeks later, with Paul in a suit unable to play, Dallas blew a 17-point lead in the final 4:30.

Paul’s bounce-back game sets up a critical matchup Saturday night at Houston. At stake is the No. 3 seed. L.A. currently holds it down. Both teams have 22 losses. The Clippers won for the 51st time and the Rockets got their 49th win Thursday.

“It was big for us,” Paul said of getting the win. “This would have been a tough loss, especially after last night. Going into Houston is a big game, but it feels good to get a win on this trip.”

Blogtable: The NBA’s most dynamic duo

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


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to snuff out Portland’s chance at a win Monday

> Right now — taking health problems and everything else into consideration – who would you name the most formidable pair of teammates in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This reminds me of the trivia question about baseball’s all-time brother act among HR hitters. Of course it’s the Aarons, on the strength of Henry’s 755 and Tommie’s 13. To me, any pair of teammates that includes LeBron James as one of them is a serious contender as top tandem. Some might argue that Chris Bosh is Miami’s second-best player now, but I’ll stick with a rested and recuperating Dwyane Wade as wingman to the NBA’s best player (not necessarily the 2014 MVP), based on how well Wade and the team have managed his health and workload.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because there are questions going forward about how Russell Westbrook will hold up over the long haul of the playoffs and because there are constantly questions about Dwyane Wade’s knees, you have to go past the obvious.  I’ll put Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at the top of my 1-2 punch list.  Paul can run the break, get everybody a good shot at any time and Griffin has raised his all-around game to be part of the MVP conversation.  Formidable isn’t the word to describe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, just incredibly efficient.  The pairing that could leap up and make an even bigger splash still in the playoffs is James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I know Westbrook’s been in and out of the lineup and might be a knee bump away from potentially being shelved again, but together this tandem of 25-year-olds is a two-way terror like none other. Durant is the best player in the game right now, simply unguardable. Put the strength and speed of Westbrook, practically unguardable in his own right, next to KD and say goodnight.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFour first names and two players equal one top tandem: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin. The best point guard in the world and one of the top, maybe the top, power forward gives the Clippers a dynamic inside-outside pairing with a season of Griffin’s commendable improvements and Paul coming back from the shoulder injury. James Harden-Dwight Howard and Paul George-Roy Hibbert (defense, defense) are in the conversation. Paul is not 100 percent, but the potential challengers of Westbrook-Durant, Lillard-Aldridge, Rose-Noah have larger health issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLeBron James and Chris Bosh. James is the best player in the world and Bosh is the next most important player on the Heat, with his ability to defend the pick-and-roll and space the floor offensively. Dwyane Wade can create more offense when James is off the floor, but Bosh is the better complement. He’s bigger and a better perimeter shooter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most lethal pair of teammates, injuries included, remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. There aren’t two guys working in tandem that can wreak more havoc or affect more change, on both ends of the floor, during the course of a game than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo and their Miami Heat counterparts. When they crank it into high-gear, who else can wade into that deep water and still stay true to what they do best? Sure, Westbrook and Wade have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues this season. But the entire league knows what happens when they have it going. They are the obvious choices for the most obvious of reasons, we’ve seen them go to that next level so often over the past three or four years that there should really be no argument here.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’m sure we’ll see nominations for Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Howard, maybe even LeBron and Bosh. But I think I’ll go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think CP3’s leadership or toughness have ever been questioned, and with CP3 missing time this year due to injury, I think we saw exactly how good and complete a player Blake has become. The thing I also like about these two is that they combine to form a terrific inside-out combination, or at least as much of an inside-out combination as exists these days in the NBA.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Right now it’s the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo. The smartest PG in the league paired with one of the most athletic big man gave us Lob City, but now that Griffin is evolving into something more than just a spectacular dunker, the Clippers have a spectacular duo who’s winning a ton of games. They can both win games by themselves, as a duo or involving their other teammates. I really like what Doc Rivers has turned them into. Without injuries, I’d go with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I was thinking about Howard/Harden, Nowitzki/Ellis, Paul/Griffin and Westbrook/Durant. But right now I don’t believe that any duo is as good on both sides of the floor as LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his fourth season with the Heat, Bosh is so much more than the third-best player of the team. You could argue that Miami would be going nowhere if they didn’t have the lefty big man. He takes and makes big shots with great regularity and is capable of a key defensive play anytime. And LeBron is just the best player on the planet. I really believe that if you have those two players working together, you’re guaranteed a shot at the title. And they’re the only duo I think about in those terms.

Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nash to return tonight | Clips get Redick, Crawford back at practice | Kings’ White may make NBA debut tonight | Kerr: NBA teams like Hoiberg

No. 1: Report: Nash planning to play tonight vs. Wizards — We informed you in this space yesterday that what seemed like a foregone conclusion — Steve Nash‘s season being over — might soon be be completely reversed. That is no less true today as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that Nash should suit up and play tonight for the Lakers’ home game against the Washington Wizards:

After five weeks on the sidelines, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash is planning a return to the lineup on Friday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers, left with only one healthy point guard, are planning to use Nash as a backup to Kendall Marshall against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center.

Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, participated in a full practice session with the Lakers on Thursday.

After recently ruling out Nash’s return, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni changed course on Wednesday and suggested Nash could return over the final 15 games of the regular season.

D’Antoni informed reporters that guard Nick Young and forward Jordan Hill would return from injuries on Friday, too. The Lakers lost point guard Jordan Farmar to an injury this week.

Nash, 40, has suffered from nerve damage in his back and hamstring injuries this season. Nash, who hasn’t played a game since Feb. 11, has averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 assists in 10 games.


VIDEO: Coach Mike D’Antoni addresses the state of the Lakers’ roster

***

No. 2: Redick, Crawford back at Clippers practice — You’re not that far off in thinking it seems like the Los Angeles Clippers have been dealing with injuries to their backcourt practically all season long. Point guard Chris Paul missed several weeks with a shoulder injury, J.J. Redick has been in and out of the lineup with various maladies and Jamal Crawford (calf) has been the most recent casualty of late. But things are looking up for the Clips, perhaps, at just the right time as Redick and Crawford practiced with the team yesterday, writes Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

Doc Rivers and his coaching staff had a plan for the Clippers’ practices on Thursday and Friday. They were coming off two days of rest, a rare gift from NBA schedule-makers.

Then, for the best possible reasons, Rivers tore up those plans.

J.J. Redick (back) and Jamal Crawford (calf) were cleared to practice, and with the team still trying incorporate new acquisitions Glen Davis and Danny Granger, Rivers thought better of trying to use the time to add new things.

“There are just too many guys coming back now,” Rivers said before Thursday’s practice. “As a staff, we basically scratched all the stuff that we were going to do. There are too many guys coming back, and we’ve just got to get them back playing basketball.”

Redick hasn’t played since Feb. 3 because of a bulging disk in his lower back. He ramped up his individual workouts in recent weeks in hopes of returning this season.

There’s still no date targeted for when he’ll play in a game again.

Crawford first strained his left calf Feb. 26. He tried to return March 8, but he admitted that was too soon.

After working on strengthening the muscle, Crawford went through an individual workout Wednesday and came through it with confidence.

He said the plan is for him to play Saturday against the Pistons.

“Rhythm, wind and stamina will come back at some point. I just want to make sure I don’t hurt the calf and feel confident.” Crawford said. “I can get in shape fast and get my wind back, but the peace of mind that nothing will happen if I do a certain move or change a certain direction, that’s more important.”

Darren Collison, who missed the last two games with a stomach virus, also returned to practice.

Thursday was the first time this season Rivers was able to hold a full practice with the current roster.


VIDEO:
Jamal Crawford talks about his return to Clippers practice

***

No. 3: Kings’ White ready to make his NBA debut Royce White, the 16th pick of the 2012 Draft, has experienced a long and winding road in and out of the NBA since that night. White, who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, never played in an NBA game with the Houston Rockets (the team that drafted him). He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the offseason and while he played in the preseason, he was cut before the opener of the 2013-14 season. The Sacramento Kings signed White to a 10-day contract on March 6 and to a second 10-day deal last week. He’s spent time with the Kings’ NBA D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, and was called up to the team and could play in an actual NBA game tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

Players signing 10-day contracts usually isn’t big news.

But most players who sign 10-day contracts aren’t fewer than two years removed from being a first-round draft pick and have never played in an NBA regular-season game.

White, 22, was selected by Houston with the 16th pick in the 2012 draft. White, however, never played a game for the Rockets. White and Houston never agreed on the best way to deal with his mental-health concerns. White has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which leaves him susceptible to panic attacks and having a fear of flying.

White said those issues are not a problem with the Kings after his experience with Houston, which eventually traded White to Philadelphia. The 76ers waived him before the the start of this season.

“I think (the issues) kind of resolved themselves over time,” White said Thursday after his first practice with the Kings. “Just me being in the league for a year and a half and having things be on the table with the league and the union and discussing it put this organization in a better position to handle things. It’s been so good we haven’t even had a discussion about anything. That’s exciting.”

The Kings went into the first 10-day contract with a plan of how to bring White along, beginning with a four-game stint in the D-League. He spent last weekend working out in Sacramento before signing his second 10-day deal. White said the process of joining the Kings has gone well, and that it began with a workout in late February.

“It happened really quick, but we still did it in a way that was really thought out,” White said. “We took a number of things into account. (General manager Pete D’Alessandro) has been great and understanding with me, where I’m coming from, where I want to go and how that fits into the Kings’ organization and being real flexible with me, and I really appreciate that.”

After White’s first practice with the Kings, coach Michael Malone said he was impressed with his strength, passing and basketball IQ.

Malone said White would be treated like every other player on the roster. When asked if there were any concerns, the coach said, “Not at all.” Malone said if White doesn’t play tonight, he would against Milwaukee on Sunday.

“This whole process between Royce and the Sacramento Kings is about him as a basketball player,” Malone said. “He did everything that we asked him to do up in Reno. He’s been tremendous while he’s been in Sacramento. No problems at all. No worries from our standpoint as a coaching staff. We’re going to expect him to do what everybody else is expected to do. Show up on time, work hard, pay attention, be disciplined and buy in to what we’re trying to do. He appears to be ready, willing and able to do that.”

Regarding rumors and stories that have been written about White and the issues that have delayed his pro career, White said: “Read what you want. There’s nothing I can really say in a sentence. There’s a lot of things I want people to know.”


VIDEO: Royce White talks about potentially making his NBA debut tonight

***

No. 4: Kerr: NBA teams interested in Cyclones’ Hoiberg – Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has a pretty extensive NBA resume, boasting 10 seasons as a player in the league plus a season as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. At ISU, he’s led the Cyclones to three NCAA tournament appearances in his four seasons in Ames, Iowa, and, according to TNT analyst Steve Kerr, Hoiberg has a future as an NBA coach. Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register has more:

Fred Hoiberg’s future as an NBA coach rests with him — and him only — says a former NBA player and executive.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the NBA. The minute he says he’s interested, he’ll have some offers,” said Steve Kerr, part of the television crew calling this weekend’s NCAA Tournament for TNT.

Hoiberg has acknowledged that he had head coaching inquiries from NBA franchises that he would not identify. He said he hasn’t let it extend beyond the inquiry stage.

“Nothing got to the point where there was an offer,” Hoiberg, 41, said when his contract was re-worked last summer.

If Hoiberg accepts a head coaching or general manager position in the NBA before his contract expires, he owes Iowa State $500,000. His buyout increases to $2 million if he accepts another Division I head coaching position.

In other words, if he’s ever going to leave Ames, it’d make most sense to go to the NBA.

Hoiberg has an 88-46 record in his fourth season as the coach.

Hoiberg has ties to Minnesota, as a player and front-office administrator for the NBA’s Timberwolves. His family, however, is in Ames.

“It’s been great for me to be home,” Hoiberg told reporters at last season’s NCAA Tournament. “I grew up five blocks from Hilton Coliseum, used to walk to games. I was a ball boy as a kid. I was a ball boy for the football team, and I’ve just always had such a great passion for Cyclone athletics.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sponsor logos on NBA jerseys are looking more and more like an inevitability … It seems a lot of folks are getting upset over Drew Gooden‘s recent in-game shoulder shrug … Surprising Bucks rookie Nate Wolters was injured in last night’s game vs. Golden State … Kings big man Carl Landry had successful arthroscopic surgery on his knee … Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has high praise for backup big man Robert Sacre … Remember Mickael Pietrus? He plans to make an NBA comeback next season

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Houston was without Dwight Howard last night, so fellow big men Omer Asik and Terrence Jones did their best impression of him in terms of guarding the paint …


VIDEO: Omer Asik gets up to deny Luc Mbah a Moute


VIDEO: Terrence Jones swats away Gorgui Dieng not once, but twice

Blogtable: The MVP of the LAC

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


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut


Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin of the Clippers (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> MVP of the Clippers: Studly power forward or savvy veteran point guard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m sticking with Chris Paul as the Most Valuable Clipper because he organizes their offense, initiates their attack and shoulders the greatest responsibility for taking them where they want to go. Even in his injury absence he brought value: Blake Griffin stepped up his game and their group is better for it. It’s a tough choice, but if I were running that team and had to do without one, it’d be the power forward. I want my point guard.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I know that Blake Griffin did excellent work while Chris Paul was injured. But it’s still CP3 that makes the Clippers’ engine run at full throttle. I’m giving the edge to the little man, but he’s got to show leadership and get them at least to the second round.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comBlake Griffin. Who carried the team through 18 games without CP3? Yeah, Jamal Crawford was great, but Griffin emerged as the leader he needs to be. It was a major step forward in his mental and emotional development to go along with the great strides he’s made in his physical game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chris Paul is the best point guard in the world, and that is a unique level of special considering the position, but the highlight-smasher is the MVP of the team. Blake Griffin was just as great with Paul out with a shoulder injury and with CP3 regaining his rhythm as with Paul in a good place. The Clippers are better this season because Griffin is better. He should get third-place votes in the real MVP race, the league-wide one.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Blake Griffin is their regular-season MVP, because he carried the Clips to a 12-6 record (along with one more win in November) and the No. 1 ranking in offensive efficiency in that month-plus that Chris Paul missed. But point guard is still the most important position on the floor and they’ve been much better defensively when Paul has been healthy. So he’s more important to their success in the postseason, though they wouldn’t get out of the first round if either of the two wasn’t close to 100 percent.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a great question and one that I’m sure Doc Rivers is glad he doesn’t have to answer. I’m going to split hairs and make it clear that Blake Griffin, as of this moment, is the Clippers’ best player. He’s done more this season, with and without Chris Paul in the lineup, than even the most optimistic of fans (yes, I’m talking about you, Clipper Darrell) could have imagined. Griffin will rightfully finish in the top three or four of the MVP race and has legitimized his profile as one of the league’s truly elite power forwards and overall players. But if someone asks who the Clippers’ most valuable player is, Paul has yet to relinquish that title. The Clippers’ turnaround that began before the arrival of Rivers, was spurred by Paul. He was a culture-shifter and franchise-changer for a Clippers outfit in dire need of some project rehab work in both departments. Best player right now? Griffin. Most valuable player? Paul.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogHow about neither? Honestly, I’d like to cast a vote for the guy who has the offense clicking, who has the defense playing a million times better than they were the first few weeks of the season, who has figured out how to overcome the loss of guys like that gritty point guard, and who has put the highlight-smashing power forward in position to succeed, and who has added guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Big Baby Davis and Danny Granger. I’ve said all along that this season, the Clippers’ MVP has to be Doc Rivers.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: My man is Blake Griffin. He has been consistent all season long, he has grown into a complete basketball player, he added a weapon as important as the mid-range shoot to his arsenal of spectacular dunks, he became not only the terminal of Lob City but also the assist-man. And he also proved he can be a leader for this team, given the way he played when Chris Paul was injured. CP3 is still the mind of this Clippers, but I think Blake should be their MVP this season. They make a tremendous duo who can take the team very deep into the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Forget Kevin Spacey. The NBA is the house of guards. Basketball is the game of the perimeter players (forgive me Kareem). They are the ones to handle the ball, to make plays, to decide, to execute at crunch time. That’s the way things go, so Chris Paul is the man for the Clippers.

Analytics Art: NBA passing

By Andrew Bergmann, for NBA.com

Click to expand

Here’s a look at how starters on all 30 NBA teams share the basketball.

(Click graphic to expand)

The thickness of the gray lines on the accompanying chart represents the average number of passes per game between two players.

A very clear picture emerges on which teams distribute the ball more evenly between players, such as the Nets, Bulls and Cavaliers. On the flip side, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin dominate passing for the Clippers, and likewise for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio of the Timberwolves.

This data would have been virtually impossible to collect in the past. However, all NBA arenas are now equipped with SportVU technology. Several cameras are installed overhead which are used to track every move of the game.

Click on the chart for a bigger version.

The top level center, point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward were selected from all team depth charts.

The average number of passes were calculated from data from this season only (through Tuesday), taking into account only those games where all five players were active and saw playing time.

In-bounds passes were excluded.

Line thickness represents combined passing in both directions between two players.

Special thanks to Matt Scott and Ryan Warkins.

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA Digital, Sports Illustrated, FastCompany and Visual.ly. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

Throwing down wouldn’t be manning up despite pounding on Clippers’ Griffin

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters talk about the physical play on and from Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin doesn’t need my advice. Fact is, the way he has played this season for the Clippers, both with and without Chris Paul, he doesn’t need much more than the essential advice his new coach, Doc Rivers, gave him when he encouraged Griffin to rotate 180 degrees and face the basket, rather than backing down into the low post. That transformation has been responsible for the Clippers’ rise as a contender and vaulted Griffin into MVP discussions (for the Nos. 3-5 ballot slots, anyway).

But there has been an incessant chorus over the past two months – and this is my nomination for the NBA’s 2013-14 Damn Foolishness Award – that Griffin needs to go medieval on some of his opponents’ rear ends.

Pray that it does not happen.

Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and ESPN columnist Michael Wilbon all have encouraged Griffin to varying degrees to man up, square off and throw down the next time he gets a cheap-shot or abused physically in a game. That’s right, they’re advocating fisticuffs. Going hockey goon on his own behalf allegedly is the only way Griffin can put a stop to the occasional takedowns and extracurricular skirmishes that somehow, despite his monster season, are said to be retarding his growth.

Malone, who cut a chiseled figure not unlike Griffin during his 19-year Hall of Fame career primarily for the Utah Jazz, shifted that conversation into high gear last month while sitting in on an ESPN game broadcast. Said Malone: “First thing I’d do [is say], ‘Blake, the next time one guy cheap shots you, just lose your mind. I would pay your fine. Lose your mind, run roughshod.”

Sounds like a new-millennium version of Sheriff Andy Taylor giving Opie the bully talk, right? Don’t let him take your milk money, son, give him the ol’ knuckle sandwich. Except that those knuckles hang bare at the ends of long, rippling arms, on a guy who stands 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds.

Black eyes are one thing. Major reconstructive surgery and maybe even manslaughter are quite different.

There’s a romanticizing that goes on when former NBA players look back on their days in the trenches, on the abuse they dealt and endured and on the reputations some of them crafted as enforcers. Maurice Lucas often gets regarded as the league’s unofficial undisputed champion of mean, owing both to some legit skirmishes (Artis Gilmore, Darryl Dawkins) and Luke’s withering glare.

But anyone who remembers or has seen the footage of Kermit Washington‘s fist driving violently into Rudy Tomjanovich’s face in December 1977 still can feel in his or her gut the sickening aftershocks of The Punch. The Malice at The Palace melee in November 2004 between the Pacers and the Pistons remains a sore point and image problem for the league, a decade later.

And that wacky videotape of Barkley and O’Neal going WWE on each other under the basket – a staple of the “Inside the NBA” studio banter – would be rated NC-17 and aired far less often if Shaq’s big ol’ paw actually had smashed flush into the Chuckster’s mug.

Chuck might look a little more like Cher right now, too.

No ring, no gloves? No skates, no helmets? Then no way. Goading Griffin into mayhem – Wilbon likened it on his “PTI” show to a pitcher whizzing a fastball high and tight near someone’s ear hole – is reckless because the romanticism of how those moments have gone for some old-schoolers neglects the physics of how badly the next bout might actually go.

Griffin – who addressed his wise reluctance to muscle up on those who initiate the cheap stuff, in a post by our Jeff Caplan coming out of All-Star weekend – could wind up seriously hurting someone or getting hurt himself. Malone says he’ll pay his fine, but would The Mailman be willing to serve Griffin’s time (and pay his salary) if he got hit with a 5- or 10-game suspension? How ’bout if things got really ugly and the Clippers star wound up in jail?

Or worse still (gulp) ended an opponent’s career? Flailing some elbows or sneaking in rabbit punches (a Malone favorite) aren’t likely to achieve the desired effect of sending a league-wide message to “Back the bleep off Blake!” Yet balling up and throwing fists the size of canned hams could escalate it into something ugly and irreversible. No, Griffin’s best tactic is the one he’s been deploying: Bang away within the rules, bristle at any undue rough treatment so the referees are on notice, then laugh all the way to the free-throw line.

Griffin is not soft. He has nothing to prove in that area. And he, the Clippers and the NBA have plenty to lose if he heeds irresponsible advice.

Damn Foolishness, I tell ya. You got a nominee for this NBA season? Have at it in the comments below.

Morning Shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What might have been for Denver | The Barnes effect | World according to Thibs | Poking Dirk

No. 1:  So these are the Nuggets? — The Nuggets had an offseason that everyone in Denver would just as soon forget. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, left for Toronto, their Coach of the Year, George Karl, was fired. And the only thing that was worse than that offseason was … well, the regular season. The once high-flying Nuggets are out of the playoff picture a year after winning 57 games. It hasn’t been pretty.

But after their big win over the Clippers Monday night, a win which snapped Los Angeles’ 11-game winning streak, the Nuggets were left to think about what might have been. From Christopher Dempsey at the Denver Post:

But the Nuggets have found a way to play a better brand of basketball this month. They’re 5-5 in March after losing all but three of their 12 games in February. The Clippers had won 11 straight games before the Nuggets took them down, powered by a 14-2 run to end the game.

“You look at it, we shot ourselves in the foot a lot this season,” guard Randy Foye said. “Had a lot of injuries. But everything happens for a reason.”

“We’d definitely be in the playoffs right now if we took care of the Sacramentos and the Minnesotas of the league,” Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said. “We definitely could be in playoff position. It’s a little bit frustrating.”

Because the Nuggets aren’t in playoff position, the finish of the season is getting acute attention. There are things the Nuggets want to accomplish in the final month of the regular season, which for them will end on April 16.

Topping that list is carving out an idea of exactly what kind of team they will be in the future.

“I think we’re playing better,” Lawson said. “We’re starting to find ourselves a little bit better, doing exactly what coach wants. I think we’re gaining a little bit of steam, giving ourselves an identity.”

VIDEO: Nuggets end Clippers’ streak

***

No. 2: Matt the man – The Clippers may have an L1 next to their line in the daily standings, but there’s not a team in the league that doesn’t realize how good this team is and how good it can be come playoff time.

That’s been the case for a while, now. The big difference lately. Well, to hear Dan Woike of the Orange County Register tell, it, it had to do with a key decision — of many he makes all the time — by coach Doc Rivers:

On Jan. 20, Rivers made one of those decisions, moving Matt Barnes into the stating lineup for Jared Dudley. Since then, the Clippers have gone 20-6.

“I thought his energy matched that group better,” Rivers said Monday. “Matt’s defense has really improved as the year has gone on, and that’s really helped that unit.”

Before the Clippers’ game with the Nuggets, Barnes was a part of the top two five-man lineups in terms of net efficiency, with a minimum of 150 minutes played.

In those 26 games, Barnes is averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. As a starter, Barnes is hitting 40.3 percent from 3-point range compared to just 26.6 percent from deep in the 23 games he came off the bench.

A key to that has been Barnes getting to the deep corners in transition, spotting up for the highest-percentage 3 on the floor while opening driving lanes for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

“You just want to create space,” Barnes said.

Barnes said adjusting to playing with the starters hasn’t been too difficult.

“Defensively, it’s always been easy for me, no matter what group I’m playing with. I think offensively, there’s so much attention paid to Blake and Chris that if you find space and keep the floor spaced, you’re going to find open shots,” he said. “They’re trapped and doubled a lot. If you make yourself available and cut, passers are going to find you.”

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No. 3: Thibodeau gets all philosophical on us – Few teams in the Association follow the lead of their coach more than the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a demanding, defense-first mastermind who has an injury-riddled team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

ESPN’s Scoop Jackson caught up with Thibs to ask him how he has taken the Bulls, a team that has had so much going against it this season, to the point where no one wants to go against them in the playoffs:

What do you believe in the most?

 Balance.

Really?

For me, there’s five things I look at after every game. It’s the defense, the rebounding, low turnovers. I think those three things put you in position to win. Then its inside-out and sharing the ball. So it’s five-man offense, five-man defense. Make a commitment to one another and be balanced.

Is this basketball we’re talking about or life?

[Laughs] Well, basketball is really a microcosm of life. There’s a lot of things you can take from this game and learn. And a lot of lessons from basketball that you can apply to life and certainly a lot of things that you can take from life and apply to basketball. Adversity. Hey look, you are going to face it in life. Being mentally tough when you face adversity, I think, whether you face it in life or basketball, it’s similar.

But if you have that balance in both, it applies the same?

Yeah, yeah. As it applies to us, we feel good about our team. We love the challenge. And at the end of the day, it’s what we think, it’s what we believe. And whatever that is, we’re probably right.


VIDEO: All-access with Tom Thibodeau

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No. 4: Moral: Don’t go to sleep on Cubes – The Mavericks seem to have awakened from their slumber. They’re a solid-14-6 since a yawning 9-8 in January, they’re on track for a 50-win season, they’ve won three in a row (including a stomping of Oklahoma City the other night) and they’ve climbed to within a game of sixth-seeded Golden State.

We’re not saying this is all the doing of Dirk Nowitzki or owner Mark Cuban. But Cuban may have had something to do with it, according to Dwain Price of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:

Cuban took time before Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics to tell the media of a conversation he had with Nowitzki earlier in the day. It’s about as critical as Cuban as ever publicly been about Nowitzki.

“I think sometimes he loses concentration, and I think we’ve got to get past that,” Cuban said. “I mentioned it to him today. I asked him how his nap was during the game [Sunday at Oklahoma City]. He laughed. At least that’s while I was facing him. When I turned my back and walked away, I don’t know.”

Nowitzki had two first-quarter rebounds against the Thunder and finished the game with just four boards and 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Cuban also was none too pleased that Nowitzki had just 12 points and six rebounds during last Tuesday’s 108-85 loss on the road to the Golden State Warriors.

Asked why he was publicly challenging Nowitzki, Cuban said: “That’s only because I did it already personally.”

“Dirk always goes through a little slump during the year where he needs to remotivate. And I think we’ve seen that for a couple of games, and I think he’s going to come back stronger, particularly after three days and those naps he’s gotten through the last couple of games.”


VIDEO: Mavericks dump Thunder on March 16

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Our Jeff Caplan points out the un-luckiness of the Celtics on the road … If the NBA playoffs were a one-and-done, like March Madness, the smart money would be on the Phoenix Suns. So reports NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury … The Sixers lost their 21st straight game on Monday night. But it wasn’t very pretty, even for the victors, the Indiana Pacers …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes you have to look all over to find a really cool play. Sometimes, it just smacks you in the face like a Play of the Day …


VIDEO: Gerald Green can dunk

Morning Shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Challenges ahead for PJax in New York | Report: Kobe wants D’Antoni out | Griffin, O’Neal exchange words after game | Kings’ Thomas opens up on journey, season

No. 1: Knicks now Jackson’s situation to fix — As our NBA TV’s own Greg Anthony reported last night, Phil Jackson is headed to New York as the team’s new President of Basketball Operations. That’s a fancy title, but it basically means he’s in charge of fixing what ails the Knicks and setting up their future for more long-term success than they’ve enjoyed over the last 10 or so seasons. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes that whether or not Jackson can be a success at building a team remains to be seen:

Jackson has been training internally for this moment for years, having viewed himself more and more as a front-office guy, especially after being passed over for a third stint as Lakers coach in favor of Mike D’Antoni. If the Kings had been sold to the Chris Hansen group and moved to Seattle as the new SuperSonics, there is a good chance Jackson would have become president of basketball operations or some similar gaudy title that meant general manager. He has been looking for this kind of opportunity.

In that way, strangely, he needed the Knicks more than the Knicks needed him. New York got the name, which is obviously something to them, but Jackson got the job. They could have gone a lot of other directions, albeit without the same star power to soothe the masses, while Jackson, at 68, didn’t have the same options among teams that had job openings in a city he would live.

Jackson is very smart and will show up with a plan, and maybe he conquers this just as he did coaching. That wouldn’t be the biggest shock. But all we know for now is that the Knicks hired someone to run basketball operations who has never worked in basketball operations and that they will be cheered for it in New York.

Jackson won’t be out grinding on the college scouting circuit and he won’t get into emotional wrestling matches with agents unhappy with a client’s playing time. Someone else will handle the day-to-day. But there will come times when Jackson will have to make a major roster decision that involves proper use of the salary cap in addition to basketball acumen.

He can’t shape the roster in his coaching vision either, because coach Phil Jackson would never want a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony yet the Knicks have made it clear the idea is to keep ‘Melo and surround him with veterans, not split with Anthony this summer in free agency. New York could miss the playoffs and still have people asking them about the possibility of championships within a couple years. The new general manager, by some title, arrives with expectations.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Phil Jackson’s move to the Knicks

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No. 2: Report: Kobe has ‘no interest’ in playing for D’Antoni — The Lakers and Kobe Bryant issued the final word yesterday — Bryant won’t be coming back for the rest of this season. While the news was another letdown for Lakers fans, it wasn’t exactly a shocker either as word of his official shutdown had been looming for days. Bryant, not surprisingly, remains as steadfast as ever that he’ll come back and perform at his high level. He said as much during his news conference yesterday in Los Angeles, where he also made a point to express his desire for L.A. to get back to a championship level as fast as possible. But could part of that plan include ousting coach Mike D’Antoni? Sean Devaney of The Sporting News has more on that potential move:

With a 22-42 record and little hope of further improvement, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni is merely coaching out the string this year in Los Angeles—and likely won’t be back next season.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported on Wednesday morning that he had heard D’Antoni would be out, and that the Lakers’ potential pursuit of free-agent Carmelo Anthony would be the reason. But multiple sources told Sporting News that the reason for D’Antoni’s potential dismissal is closer to home—star guard Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season.

The Lakers are expected to undergo a massive overhaul in the offseason, with enough cap space available to sign a max-level free agent—like Anthony. But Anthony played for D’Antoni with the Knicks and was never able to see eye-to-eye with the coach, who eventually agreed to walk away from the job in New York in March 2012.

Bryant has let it be known in recent weeks that he would like the Lakers to keep free-agent forward Pau Gasol this summer—a maneuver that can be read as a shot at D’Antoni, with whom Gasol has openly feuded.

L.A. is also in position to have one of the top picks in this year’s draft. With a returning group that includes a top-notch rookie, plus Bryant—Gasol and a free agent—the Lakers figure to get out of the Western Conference basement quickly, if they can stay healthy.

But the question remains: Who will be the coach?


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks with the media about his season-ending injury

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No. 3: Griffin, O’Neal get into postgame war of words — If you missed last night’s Warriors-Clippers game from Staples Center last night, do yourself a favor and watch it today on League Pass. It had the environment, both on the court and in the crowd, of a playoff game and had plenty of physical play throughout. The excitement and emotion of that game may have spilled over once things were over as Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin got into a verbal altercation, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Golden State Warriors forward Jermaine O’Neal confronted forward Blake Griffin in the hallway outside the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room at Staples Center after L.A.’s 111-98 win Wednesday night.

The two had a heated conversation that was quickly broken up by a Clippers official who led Griffin to the adjacent news conference room.

O’Neal, 35, had dressed and was waiting outside the Clippers’ locker room to talk to Griffin.

Griffin, who was walking to the news conference room to take questions from reporters, could be heard telling O’Neal to “leave that s— on the court” before the two were separated and briefly shook hands.

With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, O’Neal got a technical foul as he walked toward the Clippers’ bench and continued talking to Griffin before O’Neal’s teammates and officials directed him back to the Warriors’ bench.

Griffin did not care to discuss his conversations with O’Neal when later taking questions.

“Nah,” he said. “That’s between me and him.”


VIDEO: The Clippers best the Warriors at Staples Center

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No. 4: Kings’ Thomas opens up about NBA journey – The Sacramento Kings, as has been the case the last few seasons, find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference pile and looking to another NBA Draft to try and build a winner. There is some talent on the current roster, though, starting with big man DeMarcus Cousins, swingman Rudy Gay and perhaps the most little-known star of the Kings, point guard Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive playmaker sat down with SBNation.com’s James Herbert to talk about his NBA path, dealing with losing in Sacramento and much more:

Everybody knows your dad was a Laker fan, but you were in Seattle. How did that work? Were you a Laker fan?

I was a little brainwashed. My dad’s from LA, so growing up in his house, I was a Laker fan. But I loved the Sonics, I loved Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. The Glove and the Reign Man, those were my two favorite players. But growing up, like I said, I was in a Laker household and got brainwashed. My favorite player is Kobe Bryant. I like the Lakers.

It sucks. I mean, it doesn’t suck I got drafted by the Kings, but that’s their biggest rival, so you gotta watch what you say about the Lakers around Sacramento.

Lots of guards in this league have trouble finishing at the rim. What is it that allows you to be able to finish so much better than a lot of guys who are 6 and 7 inches taller than you?

I think it’s just a skill. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always been short, so it’s not like I’m making adjustments. It’s just something I’ve learned to do since I was a little boy. I’m always going in there and finishing around the giants. It’s something that I gotta do as a small guard, though. Like, I gotta be able to finish around them and make adjustments and things like that. But it’s definitely a skill.

I mean, people ask me that a lot and I can’t really tell ‘em how I do it. I just go in there and try to make adjustments in the air and get away from the shot blockers.

One thing I definitely do, I go in there with no fear. If I do get my shot blocked, I feel like you’re supposed to do that and I’ma get back up and do it again.

I’ve never seen an interview with you where you haven’t been smiling and friendly, but you’ve had a lot of losing in your career. Is it harder than we think or is it easy for you to stay positive?

It’s hard. ‘Cause I’m not used to losing. And in my whole career in the NBA, I’ve lost. It’s tough ‘cause I’m a winner, I’ve come from winning, I’ve always been a winner.

But at the same time, when you go out there and give it your all each and every night, you got to go home and you can’t dwell on those moments. If you know that you gave it 110 percent, then that’s all you can give. And it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport like tennis or something where you can really win on your own. You can’t. Everybody has to be together.

We’re trying to turn this around and if we just keep working and become a more consistent team, I think we can get more wins and turn it around.


VIDEO: The Seattle area still holds a special heart for Isaiah Thomas

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the concept of “tanking” yesterday and Thunder GM Sam Presti, did, too … New Bobcats guard Gary Neal was benched for last night’s game in Washington over an “internal team matter” … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, a former player for Phil Jackson, thinks Jackson’s move to N.Y. is a good thing … Don’t look now, but Amir Johnson might go down as one of the greatest Raptors ever … Kings forward Jason Thompson has gone from starter to reserve and is trying to deal with the demotion

ICYMI of the Night: So many great moments from so many games, but this morning, we’re riding with Mike Conley‘s buzzer-beating shot to sink the Pelicans and cap the Grizzlies’ big comeback win…


VIDEO: Mike Conley sinks the Pelicans with a clutch floater