Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Clippers’

Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? | Pacers’ George treading lightly | Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardware | NBA season in ‘twilight time?’

No. 1: Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? — It is considered bad form for a restaurant server or anyone else in the service industry, frankly, to flat-out ask for a tip. But it was OK in OKC for Russell Westbrook Friday night, his suggestion to the scorekeepers paying off in nice, round statistical fashion for yet another triple-double. No one here at Hang Time HQ is accusing Westbrook of lowering himself to Ricky Davis levels, and there often have been different interpretations applied to assists and rebounds (remember all the home-cooking accusations about Jazz great John Stockton‘s dimes in Salt Lake City games?). But Royce Young reported on Westbrook’s big numbers against Minnesota, then concluded that they were bonafide. Or at least justified:

The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That’s when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder’s official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.

“Tip?” he said, nodding his head. “Tip?”

A quick conference at the scorer’s table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).

The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.

So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?

“Uhh, no,” Westbrook said.

The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.

Because while an extra “10” in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that’s another feather in his cap. And we can’t act as if individual accolades don’t matter. It’s all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.

Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he’s doing for the Thunder, along with how he’s giving the ball away. It’s not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that’s barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It’s forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.

“I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said, unprompted. “It’s so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I’ll go back to the drawing board and take care of it.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ George treading lightly — Maybe Paul George had a late-night phone conversation with Derrick Rose. Maybe his anticipated return from the serious leg fractures suffered last August was a diversion all along, meant to take Indiana fans’ focus off its team’s struggles for most of this 2014-15 season. Or, most likely, George has seen the Pacers’ recent tear and move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the proverbial ain’t-broke object no longer in need of his fix. The Pacers’ All-Star wing player sounded a little conflicted Friday about making a comeback for what’s left of this season, less due to his own physical condition than to the team’s encouraging play of late. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reported on George’s quandary after the player’s weekly media chinwag:

“I’m on the fence,” he told reporters following Friday’s light workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They’ve come together. To shake up the chemistry and add another body, I don’t want to be that guy who destroys what these guys have going. And then there’s part of me who thinks I can definitely help turn these tough games into games we have fully under control.

“It’s difficult. It’s a difficult point right now…but we take it day to day.”

George still spoke optimistically of the physical improvement he’s made since breaking his leg on Aug. 1. He experiences some soreness “but I push through those days.” He’s worn an elastic sleeve on his right leg the past two days in practice because his leg feels better when he does, but he has no significant pain in the formerly broken leg.

George had thrown out a mid-March return as his goal during interviews over All-Star Weekend last month, but isn’t guessing at dates now. Coach Frank Vogel earlier in the week had nixed the possibility of him playing on Saturday, but nobody is saying yes or no to future dates. The Pacers’ first game next week is Monday at home against Toronto. They follow with road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, and then have a home game against Brooklyn on Saturday.

“Is there a chance you’ll play next week?” he was asked.

“I have no idea,” he said.

If and when he does return, George will come off the bench and play spot minutes. He likely would continue to play as a reserve, potentially strengthening a unit that’s already one of the best in the NBA.

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No. 3: Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardwareRudy Gobert, Utah’s blossoming 7-foot-2 French import, didn’t generate a lot of excitement when he first appeared on the NBA scene. As ProBasketballTalk.com’s Dan Feldman tells it, Gobert – despite remarkable size and wingspan, definite NBA attributes – was nursing a sore knee that hurt his performance in workouts. But whatever perceived lack of athleticism caused him to plummet to the bottom of the first round in the 2013 Draft, Gobert has more than made up for with his play lately. In fact, Feldman makes a case that the Jazz reserve big man could be a legit contender for multiple awards this spring:

Gobert is averaging 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In 11 starts since Utah traded Enes Kanter, Gobert’s averages have jumped to 10.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Jazz are 9-2 in that span, including wins over the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Spurs, Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets

If the 2013 draft were re-done – with consideration to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee and everyone else – Gobert makes a compelling case to go No. 1 overall.

Now, in his breakout season, Gobert is a legitimate contender for three awards – Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.

He might not win any, and two would be tough. Three would be unprecedented.

Just six players have won two of the major player awards – Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player – in the same season:

Darrell Armstrong, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999
Hakeem Olajuwon, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994
Michael Jordan, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1988
Alvin Robertson, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1986
Wes Unseld, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1969
Wilt Chamberlain, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1960

***

No. 4: NBA season in ‘twilight time?’ — Certainly there’s churning and jostling for playoff position taking place within the East and West conferences. But on a macro level, we know who most of the playoff teams are likely to be, same as we know who most of the lottery teams are this spring. That’s why longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler suggests in the L.A. Daily News that the 82-game schedule is too long, leading to this stretch of March and April where the NCAA game grabs basketball’s spotlight and even swipes Charles Barkley:

Most good teams are resting stars, easing injured players back in — this makes two weeks in a row that the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is expected back — and otherwise lying in the weeds.

All that remains is securing the final playoff slots.

Three teams are vying for the last West slot: New Orleans (just got Anthony Davis back) Oklahoma City (soon to get Kevin Durant back) and Phoenix (unfortunately not getting anyone back).

Then there’s the East dogfight for No. 7 and 8 among the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Celtics and Nets. Two will get in even if they’re on pace to win 39-37-36-35-33, respectively.

That makes 13 teams assured of playoff slots with eight more aspiring to, even if five are in the farcical East race.

Lining the bottom of the cage are the seven marking time until the lottery (Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Magic, Kings, Nuggets).

That leaves the Jazz and Detroit, another team of comers that started late. The Pistons’ problem didn’t turn out to be paying Josh Smith $30 million to leave, but waiting until they were 5-23.

That’s all there is — with five weeks until the playoffs. In other words, thank heavens for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I’d say the NBA season is a little on the long side.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Hassan Whiteside felt bad enough to phone up Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to offer an apology. And after what Olynyk said to Whiteside, the Heat center felt even worse. … The Raptors broke through for their second victory in three weeks and old-school Charles Oakley was there to witness it – and sneer at today’s lack of physicality the way Oak does. … The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Blake Griffin, whom they hope to get back as soon as Sunday vs. Houston. They’ve also gone 42-24 without Spencer Hawes, essentially. … It’s impossible to separate Eric Gordon‘s recent swell shooting from the New Orleans guard’s recent swell health. …

Morning shootaround — March 12


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers: Griffin ‘very close’ to return | Presti shoots down Durant trade talk | Gores backs Van Gundy’s vision for Pistons

No. 1: Rivers says Griffin ‘close’ to return — The Los Angeles Clippers have played the last 14 games without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin as he recovers from a staph infection. The team has held things together nicely in his stead, though, going 9-5 during that stretch thanks in large part to the play of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But there is apparently some good news on the horizon, writes Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Griffin is nearing a return:

The last time Rivers spoke to the media before his team played in Oklahoma City, he delivered the brutal news that the team would be without Griffin for some time because of a staph infection.

Wednesday, about 41/2 weeks later, Rivers stood outside of the same locker room, in front of the same backdrop, and said almost the exact opposite.

“I think Blake is very close,” Rivers said.

Rivers has referred to Griffin as “close” in the past week, but Wednesday was his first use of “very,” and he left it open as to whether Griffin would be with the team Friday when it plays Dallas.

Griffin was not with the team in Oklahoma City, and when Rivers was asked why, he went to that modifier again.

“Because he wasn’t very close enough. He didn’t come because he wasn’t ready yet,” Rivers said. “We’d rather for him to stay back and get his workouts in.”

And while it’s “very” now, team officials still expect the earliest Griffin would return to be Sunday against Houston.


VIDEO: Chris Paul guides the Clippers to a big win in OKC

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh hospitalized for lung tests | Bucks add more wingspan | Buyer’s remorse on Rondo? | Wolves: Not buying buyouts

No. 1: Bosh hospitalized for lung tests — The genuine surprise and excitement over the Miami Heat’s acquisition of Phoenix guard Goran Dragic had fans in South Florida focused on what might be some renewed postseason ambitions. But those good vibes got undercut later Thursday with the news that veteran forward Chris Bosh had been admitted to a local hospital to underdog testing of his lungs. Here are details from the Miami Herald:

Bosh was “under the weather” on Wednesday when he reported to practice, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and team trainers sent Bosh to see a doctor. He did not attend practice Thursday and was instead admitted to the hospital.

Initial tests on Bosh, 30, were inconclusive, according to a team spokesman. An independent source confirmed for the Miami Herald that the initial tests were on Bosh’s lungs.

While in New York over the weekend for the All-Star Game, Bosh complained of pain in his side near his rib cage. He then traveled to Haiti during Carnival with his wife, Adrienne, and Dwyane Wade and Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union.

Asked on Thursday after practice whether Bosh was sick in Haiti, Wade said, “I don’t know if he was sick. I’m not a doctor. I just know he wasn’t feeling good. He wasn’t coughing or throwing up, but he just wasn’t feeling good. So I don’t know when it happened. It could have happened in New York.”

Although Bosh noted discomfort in his side last Friday, he appeared healthy. On Saturday, he won the All-Star Shooting Stars competition at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and on Sunday, Bosh played 11 minutes in the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Karl agrees to 4-year deal with Kings | Report: Stoudemire, Knicks begin buyout talks | Report: Kanter wants Jazz to trade him | Rivers miffed over Jordan’s All-Star snub

No. 1: Report: Karl agrees to 4-year deal with Kings The Sacramento Bee first broke the news yesterday afternoon that the Sacramento Kings will hire George Karl as their new coach after the All-Star Game break. More details have emerged on the Karl-Kings union, courtesy of Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, on the length of the deal and Karl’s marching orders for the rest of this season:

George Karl has reached agreement on a four-year contract worth nearly $15 million to become coach of the Sacramento Kings, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Sacramento plans to make a formal announcement soon.

The deal will include a $1.5 million buyout provision on the $5 million owed Karl in the final year of the contract, a source told Yahoo Sports.

Karl will earn $1.25 million for the rest of the 2014-15 season, which will begin with his Kings debut after the All-Star break on Feb. 20 against Golden State. Karl is set to earn $3.25 million in 2015-16 and $5 million per season in the final two years of the deal, a source said.

After owner Vivek Ranadive insisted on the firing of ex-coach Michael Malone, the Kings struggled under interim coach Tyrone Corbin and turned toward Karl in the past week. Corbin plans to leave the organization and will not be a part of Karl’s staff for the rest of the season, a source said.

Karl’s directive will be to reach the immensely talented, but combustible 7-foot center DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins made the Western Conference All-Star reserves, averaging 23.8 points and 12.4 rebounds a game this season.

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro informed Corbin on Friday that the organization planned to conduct an immediate search for a new coach.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins talks about his goals for the rest of the season

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Blogtable: Thankful for a break

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: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: Blake Griffin is expected to miss at least a few weeks as he recovers from surgery

> It’s an extended All-Star break this season, with most teams getting at least 7-8 days off between games. Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s easy to look at teams’ records over their past 10 games or so and point to the one(s) limping into the break at 3-7 or 2-8. But there’s no assurance stepping away from the court will fix anything. My answer is Sacramento – the Kings look like they’ll have a new, permanent coach in George Karl, clearing their air and bringing changes for what’s left of this regular season. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Rockets and Clippers in the Western Conference can use the break just to keep the clock ticking on the rehab times of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. But the Rockets have demonstrated all season that they’re still capable of riding James Harden to wins and DeAndre Jordan showed the good things that can happen when he stepped up Monday night. But the team that could benefit most is Miami. The time off will help Dwyane Wade’s hamstring recover and to make sure Hassan Whiteside’s ankle is 100 percent. The Heat will need them both healthy for the stretch drive if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers and Trail Blazers come to mind first. Not because they have hit a bad stretch, although that too, but because of the prominent injuries. Blake Griffin may be back soon and LaMarcus Aldridge gets a few days to rest his injury, too. Being able to heal without missing a game for a week or so is a help. That would be the case anyway, but especially in the cage match that is the Western Conference standings.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers. They just finished up a tough Grammy road trip and when they return from the break, 11 of their next 14 games are against teams with winning records. Oh, and did I mention Blake Griffin needs perhaps three weeks to heal from elbow surgery? Done, then. Doc Rivers needs this time to help them regroup, find a system to use in Griffin’s absence, and also to study who might become available at or after the trade deadline to improve the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWith a lot of guys picking up injuries in the last couple of weeks, there are a lot of teams that could use the break to reduce the number of games those guys miss. And obviously, the most important of those guys is Blake Griffin, not only because he’s a great player, but because the Clippers’ bench is so awful. He’s still going to miss a lot of games after the break, but every little bit helps and seven days off is seven days closer to Griffin’s eventual return.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe rest that comes with this extended All-Star break will be enjoyed by all 30 teams. But no one needs the time to fine tune things more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need to take a deep breath before making their second half playoff charge. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need a little practice time with Mitch McGary, the Thunder’s second-half X-factor, and they need to make sure they get everyone the needed time to recharge their batteries for what is going to be an absolutely wild ride to the finish.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere must be a dozen title and/or playoff contenders who are going to benefit. But I’m going to focus on the Thunder, who are fighting with the Pelicans and Suns for the final playoff spot and can use these extra days to renew the health of Kevin Durant.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogUm, all of them? Honestly, I can’t think of a team that doesn’t need a break, except for maybe Atlanta and Golden State, who have been so hot they may not want to disrupt their rhythm. I guess one team that may appreciate a rest more than most is Oklahoma City, which faces an uphill task the rest of the way as they try to fight their way not only toward finally getting everyone healthy but also up and into the postseason. And unlike most teams on the outside looking in, the Thunder will the hunted not the hunters, so they’ll have to do this with a target on their backs. Rest up, Thunder. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich gets win No. 1,000 | Anthony aggravates knee injury | Jordan making noise for Clippers

No. 1: Popovich rolls into the NBA history books — If you missed it last night (or this morning), the San Antonio Spurs topped the Indiana Pacers. That, in and of itself, isn’t much news. But that win gave Spurs coach Gregg Popovich his 1,000th as San Antonio’s coach and made him just the ninth coach in NBA history to reach that many career victories. Our Fran Blinebury chronicles how Popovich’s way has morphed into the “Spurs Way”, which has made San Antonio a model NBA franchise:

We all know what it’s about,” he told reporters last week, “and when it happens I’ll say something about it. Obviously, you have to be around a while to do that. It’s not going to happen if you’re not in that situation. You’ve got to have an organization that’s allowed you to be there a long time and shown a lot of patience in letting you grow, that kind of thing. Obviously you have to have players that go and win games, because I haven’t scored many points or gotten many rebounds that I remember because I wasn’t in the league.

“It’s a combination of all those things to get any kind of a goal like that realized. So it will give me some pause and make me think about it. Like, ‘What the hell am I still doing this for?’ probably.”

Perhaps because, in the process, he’s become a world-wide seeker of talent, full-on proponent of breaking down international barriers, gospel-spreader of the global game, larger-than-life character for the gruff demeanor and, oh by the way, a five-time NBA champion.

After the Spurs took apart the star-fueled Heat to win the 2014 NBA title with a combination of ball movement, shooting and voracious defense that was part clinic and part work of art, the funnel cloud of activity that is Manu Ginobili said, “We play this way because it is how Pop wants us to play.”

It is the how that has been most impressive since he took over as coach in December 1996 and steadily turned one of the league’s smallest markets into what is generally regarded as the model franchise.

It is often noted that Popovich’s historic stack of wins would not be quite so tall without Duncan providing the stoic, resolute backbone for the Spurs since 1997, most often by Popovich himself.

There was, of course, that first decade of Duncan’s career when he was able to overpower and overwhelm opponents with his package of fundamentally sound skills.

But would Duncan be making preparing for his 15th NBA All-Star Game appearance and gearing up as the cornerstone of another playoff contending team as his 39th birthday nears if Popovich hadn’t so carefully managed and rationed his minutes?

From the time the Spurs won their fourth championship in 2007 until No. 5 swept in last season, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all were showing the effects of time. Yet Popovich milked the most from their abilities by sticking to his philosophical guns, even if it meant fines from the commissioner’s office or disdain from TV executives when he sat out his stars. He set an NBA record by not having a single player average 30 minutes per game last season, in the process developing a deep, productive bench and then turned them all loose, along with the young tsunami that is Kawhi Leonard to swamp Miami’s Big Three. His way has now become a league standard.


VIDEO: Brent Barry reflects on how Gregg Popovich affected his career and life

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Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.