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Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

***

No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Howard opens up on Harden, Rockets, Magic exit and more

HANG TIME BIG CITY — In a candid interview released today, Dwight Howard speaks freely about a number of topics relating to his career, his time with the Houston Rockets, as well as his future. While Howard says he hasn’t decided what to do this summer as far as his contract — Howard can opt out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent — a return to Houston doesn’t sound like a sure thing.

As the 30-year-old Howard tells ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan, there were times during last season when he felt “disinterested”…

Howard: “There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me. It left me thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for.'”

ESPN: What specifically are you referring to?

Howard: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”

According to ESPN, Houston GM Daryl Morey declined comment.

He also discussed his pairing with James Harden in Houston and how that relationship has gone since their first season together.

ESPN: What is your relationship with James Harden like?

Howard: “Before I got to Houston, I didn’t know him as a person. What made me really interested in James Harden was the way he attacked the basket when he was at OKC. He was the glue of the team, attacking, making plays, dunking. I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy could be special.’ When I hit free agency, I watched YouTube tapes of James for hours. I looked at us as a mini Shaq and Kobe. I was thinking, ‘Man, this could be a new life for both of us.’ And we had some good stretches together. Made it to the Conference finals last season.”

ESPN: Your relationship with Harden seems to have deteriorated along with the team’s performance this season. What happened?

Howard: “I don’t know. … I want to figure that out, too. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this season, what went wrong, and sometimes you can allow outside things to interrupt the circle. That probably happened with us.”

Before Houston, Howard was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he says things didn’t work out there in part because Howard and Kobe Bryant were in “different points of our careers.”

ESPN: Kobe also questioned your toughness when he urged you to come back and play through your shoulder injury.

Howard: “Kobe put some pressure on me. He said something like, ‘We don’t have time for Dwight to be hurt.’ The media is asking me, ‘Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’ When I first got there, I said to Kobe in front of the whole team, ‘The only way we win is if we put our egos aside and play together.’ I wanted to play with him. I don’t know if he didn’t want to play with me — if he felt I wasn’t a killer like him.”

ESPN: You could have signed a new deal to stay with the Lakers. Why didn’t you?

Howard: “I just felt like it wasn’t a team. I wanted a team. There were things that went on during the season that made me feel like I wasn’t a part of it, like the thing with Kobe and my shoulder. People were saying, ‘Dwight’s so strong, he’s Superman, he should play through it.’ It was a torn labrum. I should have had surgery, but I didn’t. I came back instead. I’ll never forget the game we played against the Celtics in Boston (on Feb. 7, 2013). I hadn’t practiced for a while — I had just been working on the treadmill. But I played in Boston. We got blown out. Coach (Mike D’Antoni) still had me in when we were down 30. After the game, I’m walking off the court and a Lakers fan throws his jersey and hits me in the face. It was my name on that jersey. I will never forget that the rest of my life.”

Howard also addresses the deterioration of his relationship in Orlando with former coach Stan Van Gundy, after the Magic made it to the 2009 NBA Finals…

ESPN: Did you ask management to fire Stan Van Gundy?

Howard: “The back story is that months before that, before the [2011] lockout, I had a conversation with Magic owner Rich DeVos. They flew me out on a private plane to Michigan. I was talking to him about how we could grow the team. When I first got to Orlando, he called us the Orlando “Tragic” and I hated it. I wanted to talk to him about how we could grow our team. I was saying, ‘Let’s have Magic cereal, Magic vitamins with our players’ faces on it so they can get to know our team.’ In the course of our conversation, we started talking about what’s going on with our team.”

ESPN: What did you say about Stan in that meeting?

Howard: “I told Rich the truth. I told him, ‘I love Stan. I think he’s done a great job, but I think he’s lost his voice in the locker room.’ It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I want Stan fired or else.’ I was never upset with Stan at any point. It wasn’t anything personal against Stan. He knows that. It’s just over the past couple of years I could see a lot of the guys had lost their faith in him.”

ESPN: How long before the public comments from Stan saying you wanted him gone was your meeting with DeVos?

Howard: “Oh, it was months before. In late June, just before the lockout.”

Morning shootaround — May 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng. Carroll injured in Game 5 | Hayward, Jazz were in ‘shock’ during Kobe’s finale | Report: Blazers, Stotts to talk extension | Crawford wants to stay with Clippers

No. 1: Injuries piling up for Raptors, Heat  Entering Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both teams were already without their starting centers. The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (knee) were both hurt in Game 3 and haven’t played since. Last night, both teams incurred injury again as Miami’s Luol Deng and Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll left the game early. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star has more on the injuries and what’s next:

Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll and Heat forward Luol Deng are the latest key players to have their statuses put in jeopardy, after each one suffered wrist injuries in the Raptors’ 99-91 Game 5 win.

The Raptors can close out the series with a win in Miami on Friday.

Deng told The Miami Herald that he hurt himself falling into a cameraman and that he left the game after the wrist swelled. He’s awaiting the results of a MRI to determine his fate.

Carroll is in the same boat, but fortunately he can paddle opposite of Deng. Carroll suffered a left wrist contusion when Miami point guard Goran Dragic stepped in front of him in the second half to try to take a charge.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey only repeated the team’s announcement on the injury to his top defensive player. “A left hand contusion. X-rays were negative and we’ll see how he is come next game,” the coach said. Carroll left immediately after the game to get further testing on his wrist. He left the court clutching it and appeared to be in a significant amount of pain.

On Wednesday, Dragic was just as physical, not shying away from any kind of contact regardless of his opponent’s size. He fell on Raptors backup centre Jason Thompson in the second quarter, with his knee appearing to hit Thompson in the breadbasket area.

“That’s how the playoffs are,” he said. “I think my back was turned if there was any retaliation. We’re just going to go hard and that’s our mentality of everyone sacrificing their body.”

Morning shootaround — May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard’s helpers were invaluable | Miami’s dark side without Whiteside | Lowry comes back for Raptors | Jackson ‘owes’ Knicks job to Rambis?

No. 1:  Lillard’s helpers were invaluable — First things first: Without a medical degree, can you nonetheless hazard a guess as to whether Golden State’s Stephen Curry will play in Game 4 of his team’s Western Conference semifinals series at Portland on Monday night? Even before we got any official updates from Curry, coach Steve Kerr or the Warriors’ crackerjack media staff, it seemed likely Curry would test his sprained right knee rather than risk seeing Golden State slip to even, 2-2, in the best-of-seven series. As for how Portland even got it to 2-1, there was Damian Lillard‘s 40-point performance and then there was the work of other Blazers, such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson. Those were the guys Draymond Green was moaning about, per Kevin Arnovitz‘s report for ESPN.com:

The way the Warriors saw it, they began to lose the game on the margins. Green sensed the Warriors could’ve effectively wrapped up the series in the first quarter had they only paid sufficient attention to the smaller details they generally master.

“That team — they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “You could just tell they were unsure about everything that they were doing in the first quarter. Then all of a sudden, like I said, you get a couple of offensive rebounds, hit a couple of shots, that’s when the crowd gets into it. That’s kind of what happened for them. I think right there in that first quarter, they felt like they were on the ropes and we didn’t really take advantage of that.”

When the Warriors ratcheted up their defense on Lillard after intermission, he just pitched the ball out to the likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson (who took over defensive duties on [Klay] Thompson) and Aminu, who were a combined 6-for-6 from distance heading into the fourth quarter. Lillard assisted on 18 Trail Blazers points in the third quarter and scored another five of his own, as Portland extended their lead to 93-80 after three quarters.

“[Lillard] getting 40 — that’s not going to beat us if we don’t let Aminu get 23, Crabbe off the bench get 10,” Green said. “If we cover those guys, Dame’s 40 doesn’t beat us. C.J. [McCollum]’s 22 really don’t beat us if we cover the other guys. I think a big part of that fell on me.”

It’s a shame for Green, who put on an individual shooting display of his own in the third quarter. “Draymond from long range” can be a touchy subject in Warriors World, but with the Trail Blazers begging him to shoot from distance, Green politely obliged — draining 5-of-6 3-point attempts in the third quarter and matching a career high for the game with eight total. He finished the game with 37 points, while Thompson added 35.

“All that’s cute,” Green said of his prolific offensive production. “I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight, and I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”

***

 No. 2: Miami’s dark side without Whiteside — If the result of Hassan Whiteside‘s MRI Sunday is as troubling as he and the Miami Heat fear, if he’s facing even the 2-3 week layoff that Curry has endured for Golden State since slipping on that wet part of the court against Houston, then the Heat are in a bad way. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald reminds us of young Whiteside’s value to that veteran club, his status as its X factor and the limitations it faces without him merely surviving the current series against Toronto, never mind a possible clash in the next round against Cleveland:

He was the one who, if channeled correctly, could lift this from a nice little squad to a fearsome one, a squad that could even scare the Cleveland Cavaliers should it come to that — since most teams to topple LeBron James in the playoffs have had at least two perimeter players who could make James work (which Miami has in [Luol] Deng and Justise Winslow) and a rim protector who could make him think. He was the unaccountable element, the one who might literally swat away a superior opponent, should he be energized, focused and disciplined for an extended stretch.

The Heat knew how much it needed him, Erik Spoelstra above all. That’s why, for all the warts (in Whiteside’s game) and worries (about his contract) Spoelstra invested more personal time in the 26-year-old center than anyone else in the past eight years. That’s why, on the Friday night prior to Game 3, with so much else at stake, Spoelstra was at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, dining in a group with Whiteside and Bill Russell, aiming to expose Whiteside to the ultimate winner.

That’s why Dwyane Wade, as the team leader, while critical of Whiteside at times, also took opportunities to pump him up, even suggesting this could be a “Hall of Fame career.”

This wasn’t just a passing interest, after all. The Heat wants to make Whiteside a core component, wants to see his development all the way through, especially after improvements in foul shooting and screen-setting and — to a degree — composure, in the second half of this second Miami season. And perhaps, regardless of the severity of the injury, that will still occur; maybe, in the worst case, it comes at a reduced cost in free agency in this cruelest of businesses.

But, for this particular postseason, it’s hard to see how the Heat competes for much without Whiteside. Win this series? Maybe. Wade nearly saved them Saturday, with a remarkable 38-point performance, and Udonis Haslem was his usual spirited self while playing a season-high 22 minutes. Heat players generally believe the Raptors are beatable, though some were baffled about why movement was mostly taken out of the offensive plan for Game 3. And Toronto started making rollicking rim runs as soon as Whiteside went out.

Beat Cleveland?

That seems fantasy. Wade has gone above and beyond already, and everything he’s doing should be appreciated. But the Cavaliers are rolling now, 7-0 in the postseason, seeming past their regular season drama.

Whiteside was always the X-factor.

Now he may be X’d out.

***

No. 3:  Lowry comes back for Raptors — Playoff basketball means more than hard fouls, no easy layups and cherished possessions. It also means seeing the individual highs and lows of the participants, usually under the brightest and least forgiving lights. When things are going well – say, for LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge these days – those lights can make a guy shimmer like the star he is. But when things are not going so well – think Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry – every flaw gets uncovered and it’s the heat of the lights that matter more than the illumination. Lowry had been suffering through a postseason of personal torment, the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote, until the second half of the Raptors’ Game 3 at Miami Saturday:

[Finally], Kyle Lowry came back. Toronto had been waiting for him, and he came back. The Raptors were winning Game 3 against the Miami Heat, who had lost their monster centre, and then the Raptors lost their monster centre, like this was some kind of chess match, like they had exchanged queens. The Heat started rolling, and Dwyane Wade, the old Hall of Famer, rose to the moment. The Heat crowd, a laid-back crew, were singing along with Seven Nation Army, thundering. The Raptors were coming apart.

But Kyle Lowry came back. He had hit a three-pointer to start the half, and then another. Hmm. The 30-year-old points had missed 96 of his last 139 shots, had openly said it was messing with his head. In Game 1 he had tried to avoid shooting the ball altogether. In this game, with Toronto’s two all-stars flailing again, [Jonas] Valanciunas had become the centre of things. Lowry had four points in a quiet first half.
Then Valanciunas was gone. Lowry came back.

“That’s the Kyle I know,” said DeMar DeRozan.

“Kyle went back to being Kyle,” said head coach Dwane Casey.

“I don’t think we played him that poorly, either,” said Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

Lowry’s third quarter was revelation, a flashback, a return. He scored 15 points, and Wade exploded for 18, and the game was tied entering the fourth. The Heat run reached 32-13 and with 8:49 left Miami was up six, and the Raptors’ offence looked gummed in glue again. All season long the Raptors relied on Lowry in these situations: they’d be up two or three, tight game, and he’d hit a string of middle-finger shots to cinch it.

Two games earlier his teammates said he looked beaten. His old friend Goran Dragic said he was thinking too much. All that vanished into the afternoon air.

“He was hitting shots, he was happy,” said Patrick Patterson. “We just tried to do whatever possible to keep him happy. We tried to free up some room for him to create opportunities, and just keep feeding the monster. He was hitting shots, and he was keeping us in that game. When he was hitting the shots, he started calling more plays for himself. He was just feeling it, saying he wanted the ball.”

Did Lowry tell them he was feeling good, finally? That his shot was back in alignment, smooth and assured?

“He never does it,” said Patterson. “The Cleveland game (when Lowry scored a career-high 43), he didn’t did that. No matter how he’s feeling, he doesn’t let us know. He’s just playing within the moment.”

***

No. 4: Jackson owes Knicks job to Rambis?Phil Jackson‘s affinity for the triangle offense that won his Chicago and Los Angeles teams a total of 11 NBA championships – even if that offense has had limited success when run by others whose rosters don’t include two Hall of Fame stars – is, at least, an understandable factor in how he might shape the New York Knicks’ search for a head coach. But Marc Berman of the New York Post cites a noted NBA author and relative Jackson insider when exploring a secondary, more deeply rooted reason for Jackson to stick with Kurt Rambis. It might have something to do with guilt and the employment history of Jackson and Rambis, Berman writes:

Phil Jackson may have cost Kurt Rambis a potentially promising head-coaching career back in 1999, back when they didn’t know each other.

Rambis was the hot, young Lakers assistant, coming off a cult-hero playing career in purple and gold during which he won four championships. Rambis passed over head-coaching offers from the Kings and Clippers, believing he had a bright future on the Lakers’ bench.

Indeed, Rambis took over for fired Del Harris in February of the 1999 lockout season as interim, with promises he would become the permanent guy.

Rambis closed with a 24-13 record, lost in the second round to the eventual champion Spurs, but had plans to smooth a frosty partnership between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, his new Staples Center and expensive skyboxes set to debut, changed his mind once Jackson expressed interest. Buss felt he needed a marquee name. Rambis was removed from the staff completely, demoted to broadcaster and, according to the controversial biography “Mindgames,” conducting arena tours.

According to the 2002 biography, Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, who didn’t know Phil Jackson from Andrew Jackson, was furious. Jeanie had been close friends for years with Rambis’ wife, Linda, since the 1980s.

“Mindgames” cited Rambis as “discouraged, confused and bitter.’’ Two years later, in 2001, at Jeanie’s behest, Jackson promoted Rambis to his staff, demoting triangle legend Tex Winter. But Rambis’ head-coaching career never took off.

Jackson’s current Knicks coaching search has been ongoing for 3 ½ weeks, with indications he is leaning toward Rambis. Is Jackson, who won five titles in L.A., making up for 1999?

Knicks general manager Steve Mills reached out to newly freed former Pacers coach Frank Vogel. But it might take a striking turn for Jackson, at his Montana think tank, to hire Vogel.

Roland Lazenby, the “Mindgames” author who is out with a new book on Kobe Bryant in August, said he believes Rambis will be the guy and explained a move that would not go over well with fans on social media.

If Jackson is making up for 1999, it’s in his subconscious.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami isn’t the only conference semifinalist sweating out a big man’s injury; Toronto’s fate might swing on Jonas Valanciunas‘ sprained ankle. … With Dave Joerger out, the Memphis Grizzlies can talk about stability if they like, but it’s a concept with which they’ve had very little experience, writes Geoff Calkins in Memphis. … Joerger was scheduled to spend at least part of his Sunday in Sacramento being interviewed for the vacant Kings coaching job. Though circumstances suggest he’ll likely end up getting hired, there are other candidates in play, at least for appearances sake. … Maurice Harkless and his sore hip might be out of Portland’s rotation for Game 4 . … Acquiring Channing Frye was a bold and expensive move at the trade deadline for the Cavaliers, but it has the look of a difference-maker for Cleveland in its NBA title quest. … Here’s one more look at Howard Garfinkel, the grass-roots basketball legend who died Saturday, as well as some appreciative tweets from fellows whose professional lives he touched. …

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Morning shootaround — April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff path | Durant: Cuban ‘an idiot’ for Westbrook comments | How bad is Curry’s injury? | Lakers hope to find new coach quickly

No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:

Chris Paul knew.

The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.

Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.

There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.

Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.

The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).

L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.

 …

“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”

Starting right away.

“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

And, according to ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:

“He’s done.”

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors await word on Curry | Scott fulfills role in L.A. | DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ | Jackson: Penalize refs for blown calls

No. 1: Warriors await word on Curry’s MRI — After a regular season that set a new mark in NBA history (73 wins) and seemed to set a trail for another championship run, the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes may hinge on the news they receive later today. Star guard Stephen Curry took a spill in yesterday’s Game 4 win against the Houston Rockets and was diagnosed with a sprained right knee. He left the game and did not return and now, as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group writes, the Warriors wait with baited breath about what happens next:

A sprained right knee is the initial diagnosis for Curry after the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead by beating Houston 121-94 on Sunday. Warriors players, coaches and management fear worse news might come. Not solely because of what it would mean for the Warriors’ chances at another title. But also because they can’t stand that Curry has to go through this.

He had been fighting to return to action from a sprained right ankle. He wanted desperately to get back on the court with his guys after missing Games 2 and 3. His ankle looked fine Sunday as he changed directions suddenly to split defenders and drove inside the lane without hesitation.

He was clearly rusty. He shot 2 for 9, missing six of his seven 3-point attempts. He had five turnovers. But it seemed he was over the injury.

But just before the half, running back on defense, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court and lost his feet from under him, his legs awkwardly splitting as if he was just learning how to ice skate. He immediately grabbed his right knee then got up and limped hurriedly to the locker room.

We can guess what happened in that locker room. Curry fought to play. He demanded a chance to at least try. He probably knew his day was over. Maybe his series. Maybe his season. But his heart wouldn’t accept his brain’s understanding.

When Curry was told he couldn’t play before the start of the third quarter, he doubled over in tears in front of the Warriors bench. The frustration and disappointment was too much to bear. Coach Steve Kerr rubbed the back of his star player while Draymond Green barked instructions to his friend.

Every bone in Curry’s body wanted to play but his ligaments overruled them. His ailing right knee wasn’t going to allow him to play. His crushed spirit wouldn’t wait for the privacy of the locker room.

“Get out of here,” Green told Curry. “Don’t let them see you like this. Don’t let them see you cry. We will hold you down. We got this. We will win this for you.”

Last year, in Game 4 at Houston, Curry was flipped midair and landed on his head. He ended up returning to that game. He tried his best to do the same in Game 4 on Sunday.

He tried to gut out his sprained ankle in Game 1, talking team management and the athletic trainers into re-taping him and letting him play. But he could barely move on the court and Kerr sat him down.

And now — after all the rehab and pleading and praying — he was back in the same spot with a new injury. Hoping his sheer will was the ointment his knee needed. Pining for his competitive drive to put his ailing knee in its place.

Curry was the last Warrior to emerge from the locker room and immediately took a seat on the bench. He had a brace on his right knee and a depressed look on his face. He sat on the bench and stared before heading into the warmup fray and get a few shots up.

Before long, he was coming back to the bench, where Warriors head performance therapist Chelsea Lane gave him the bad news. Going back in was not an option.

But before Curry could head to the locker room and get treatment on his knee, he had to get some treatment on his heart. Because in that moment, he couldn’t take it.

“To see a guy like that, Steph go down,” Marreese Speights said. “He never gets emotional. He always keeps his composure. To see him like that, we felt his heart.”

***

No. 2:  Ultimately, Scott filed his role in Lakerland — As was first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by our David Aldridge and the team itself, Byron Scott is out as Los Angeles Lakers coach. While that move is likely met with some celebration by a large portion of Lakers fans, Scott’s time in Los Angeles was — in a unique sense — successful in that he did what he was asked to do for this era of the franchise. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has been around the team long enough to know exactly what the Scott era in L.A. was all about:

But the minute Kobe Bryant walked out of Staples Center for the last time, Scott’s services were no longer needed, his job essentially ceased to exist, he became an instant antique.

The Lakers really had no choice but to fire him, which they did on Sunday in a move that should come with a thank-you note.

They needed someone to guide the team through the turbulent end of the Bryant era, and Scott did exactly that.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.

Scott was hired to say goodbye to Bryant, and to rudely greet the future, and . . . to win? Seriously? Winning realistically was never part of the deal, and Lakers management even admitted as much earlier this season. It was decided that the team was going to cling to Bryant’s fading glow for as long as it lasted, celebrate that glow, bask in that glow, and everything else was shadows.

What did the Lakers expect? If they wanted only to win, two years ago they would have hired someone from outside the Lakers family who would not have flinched at benching Bryant for long stretches while he was statistically the worst player in the NBA. They would have hired someone who would have devised the entire offense around the three kids and played them big minutes and let them run the show without any concern for monitoring growing pains.

That’s not what they wanted. The old-school Scott was what they wanted. A buddy to Bryant and an unwavering tough guy with everyone else was what they wanted, and that’s what they got.

Now they’ve fired him for it, and, strangely, it all makes sense.

For the first time in years, the Lakers finally have the salary cap space to get dramatically better. For the first time in exactly 20 years, they can remodel the team with an entirely different culture.

This new world needs a new leader, and it couldn’t be Byron Scott.

He did his job, he lost his job. No apologies, no blame, era ended.

***

No. 3: Raptors’ DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ — During the regular season, Toronto Raptors All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both ranked in the top 15 in scoring. Through four games of these playoffs, neither player can claim such an honor as Lowry is 26th in scoring and DeRozan is 40th. The Indiana’s defensive length and gameplan has made life rough for Toronto’s stars and changes are likely in order for how they will attack the Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday night (6 ET, TNT). CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has more on the state of the Raptors:

Lowry was fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in the regular season, and he is 5-for-27 in the series. DeRozan was second in the NBA in free throws made, and he’s gone 11-for-15 in the series, failing to get to the line at all in the Raptors’ two losses.

“We just stink right now,” DeRozan said Sunday.

Lowry said that he simply has “got to shoot the shots better.” He has said similar things all series. If only it was that easy.

“Every time I’m coming off there are two or three guys there,” DeRozan said. “They are doing a great job of sitting in and bringing help consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that Indiana deserves credit, but Lowry and DeRozan have just not been at their best. When it comes to DeRozan, Casey said that a change in approach might be necessary.

“He may have to be a facilitator,” Casey said. “He’s our leading scorer, he’s gotta take the shots that are there, but in other situations, where they’re taking him out, he understand that [he has to] move the ball.”

Without calling out DeRozan specifically, Casey said that was not what happened in Saturday’s embarrassing 100-83 loss. He wants the Raptors to be more patient and purposeful.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people,” Casey said. “Everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side.”

DeRozan’s difficulties are particularly alarming. At his best, it looks like he can get 20 points in his sleep. Against Indiana, his typical smooth glides to the basket have largely been replaced by awkward, forced jumpers. The most obvious sign of his development is how comfortable he has become handling the ball, surveying the defense and making smart plays. The most obvious sign of his need for improvement is how he’s handled playoff pressure.

Over the years, DeRozan has often talked about the game slowing down for him. He studies film obsessively and has seen every type of defense imaginable. Against Paul George and the Pacers, though, he seems a beat or two behind. The same is true for Lowry, who is usually relentless with the ball but has had trouble finding openings to attack.

“Me and DeMar, we talked,” Lowry said. “They’re playing defense on us and rushing us into things, making us speed up our shots, and the shots that we normally take with patience, we’re taking a little bit — if it takes us 0.9 seconds to usually shoot ’em, we’re shooting them in 0.4.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not upset at how I’m playing,” Lowry said. “But I’ve got to be positive. At the end of the day my teammates bank on me to be positive and lead these guys, and that’s what I’m going to do no matter how I’m shooting the ball.”

After three games, it appeared that the Raptors had solved Indiana. After four, an upset once again feels possible. If Toronto can just take care of the ball and take advantage of it depth, Lowry and DeRozan don’t have to be superstars to advance to the second round. They just have to be more like themselves.

“We are not the players who we are in this league for no reason,” DeRozan said. “We all go through some type of lows in our career at some point. You can’t complain when the playoffs come. You can’t do that. You got to be able to take it on the chin and understand we got to figure it out.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks after Toronto’s practice on Sunday

***

No. 4: Pistons’ Jackson wants ‘consequences’ for referees — The Pistons’ playoff run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, but Detroit didn’t go down easy. Trailing 100-98 with 10 seconds left, the Pistons stopped the Cavs and got the ball in the hands of guard Reggie Jackson. He tried to work past Cavs guard Kyrie Irving but could not and took a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim. Afterward, Jackson was upset about what he believes was a missed call and sounded off on NBA officiating, writes Aaron McCann of MLive.com:

This series ended the same way it began, with the Detroit Pistons complaining about officiating.

This time it was Reggie Jackson’s turn.

The Pistons point guard missed a potential game-winning 3-point basket at the buzzer of Detroit’s 100-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrapping a four-game sweep for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but felt like a foul should have been called on Kyrie Irving.

“We got a stop with no timeouts, Kyrie decided to pick up early and prevent me from taking a good shot,” Jackson said. “I tried to find a good look, and, uh …”

That’s when Jackson let it rip.

Upset over a no-call, one that perhaps could have been called on a bump from Irving before Jackson pulled up from 26 feet, he said NBA officials need a system in place to hold them responsible.

“Fines, suspensions, being fired,” Jackson said. “The same thing that happens to us. Make bad plays or questionable (calls), you’re not really being productive to the sport. They should have consequences, just like the players. That’s about (all) I’m going to say on that.”

The Pistons trailed by one at half, erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit and stayed within grasp most of the way in the fourth.

But it like their previous three cracks at the Cavs, they could never get over the hump. A Jackson runner in the lane with 8:33 remaining pulled Detroit within a point – the closest it would get to extending the series another game.

“It pisses you off,” Jackson said. “To hear it’s not your time, not your moment, It can go one of two ways. When you think you’ve played well enough, you can take it as inside-outside sources. You all can take that for whatever you want to take it as.

“Those sources, it kind of seems like it’s not made for you to necessarily win. You’ve got to find a way to run through the wall – get over the hump.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the NBA after Game 1 for criticizing officials, said he’ll let the league weigh in.

The NBA reviews the final two minutes of all games decided by five points or fewer. A report is expected Monday.

“Or you guys can comment on that,” Van Gundy said. “You guys saw the game as much as I did. You’ve all got DVRs – you can watch and comment on it. You want me to comment on it so I can spend another $25,000.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has ‘no hesitation’ in giving All-Star center Andre Drummond a max contract extension this summer … Meet the Golden State Warriors’ oldest fan, a 106-year-old woman named “Sweetie” … Great story on the man who watches the body language of the Indiana Pacers … The Memphis Grizzlies kept on grinding to the bitter end … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is becoming a surprising clutch performer … For the record, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren’t interested in any kind of on-court dramatics … ICYMI, the Sioux Falls Skyforce are up 1-0 in the NBA D-League Finals …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 235) Playoff Time!

HANG TIME BIG CITY — I was sitting on the couch the other night, tuned in to the postseason, when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. Tuesday? Wednesday? It couldn’t be Monday, could it?

Welcome to the playoffs!

It’s that time of year, when every moment matters, when every game is must-see-tv. And the Hang Time Podcast crew has been on the ground from coast to coast checking out games, which was a great jumping off point for today’s podcast. 

But first, just as we began taping we found out about the tragic death of Prince, an artist we all grew up listening to and enjoying, and we had plenty of stories to tell as we paid our respects.

Once we got around to talking hoops, we went from the Thunder (and the Mavs) Dance Party to Atlanta’s impressive start, from the hot hot heat Miami has brought over the first two games to the Warriors and how long they should let Curry recuperate. We even talked about the Knicks and Lakers, and how those legendary franchises are moving forward without playoff participation.

Check out all that and more on Episode 235 of The Hang Time Podcast … Playoff Time!

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

***


VIDEO: Thunder/Mavs Game 2 All-Access

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team picks?

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: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOKia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

> It’s awards time. Name your 2015-16 All-Rookie first team.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns is a no-brainer lock for Kia Rookie of the Year and looks like a cornerstone, franchise-level talent. Porzingis was sensational the first half of the season for the Knicks and displayed an all-around game that augers very well for his future. He not only could score and shoot from multiple places on the floor, he stuck his nose in there and rebounded quite well. Okafor was a one-dimensional offensive player, but displayed the low post skills that made him such a desirable Lottery pick. He’ll have to really dedicate himself to getting in better shape and giving a better effort defensively in future years, but there’s a lot to work with there. Mudiay (and fellow rookie Nikola Jokic) looks like a keeper in Denver and a solid point guard of the future. Winslow was outstanding at the defensive end for Miami and stepped in right away to play big minutes when the Heat was decimated by injury.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns already was pushing for consideration as an all-NBA center on my ballot, and Timberwolves fans are understandably nervous — after years of letdowns and washouts — that so much has gone so right with this kid. I liked Porzingis from the first game I saw him play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and his demeanor kicks his potential to another level. Jokic and Booker managed to develop nicely in difficult situations and Winslow struck me as a no-nonsense, mature rookie even before he benefited from all those mature Miami vets. In a bumper crop of newbies, I had guys like Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Utah’s Trey Lyles in my next five, with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Miami’s Josh Richardson slipping in the rankings only for lack of game appearances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Does anybody need to justify KAT? He’s been the Kia Rookie of the Year since opening night. Porzingis has faded down the stretch, but showed all he needed to justify being the No. 4 pick and a foundational piece if the Knicks ever get around to rebuilding correctly. Jokic has been a double-double machine in Denver while playing low minutes. Booker came on in the second half to show star potential and now gives the perennially rebuilding Suns reason to get better by dealing away one of their other guards. Winslow was a solid defender right from the start and has shown steady improvement in his shooting to make him the first-round pick the Heat wanted.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

Towns, Porzingis and Jokic should be automatics to underline what was expected to be and then turned out to be an unusually good year for rookie big men. Along those lines, I will be interested to see the real outcome — after the real vote, not the NBA.com brilliance — for Jahlil Okafor in particular. He was one of the three or four best rookies when he played, but the season-ending knee injury after 53 appearances will almost certainly cost him. How much is the question.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

Admittedly, the last two on this list helped themselves in the final two months of the season, while there are two tough omissions: Nikola Jokic and Justise Winslow. Towns and Booker have the most star quality of the bunch.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

It was a great rookie class in regard to production, potential and depth. Towns is already one of the best centers in the league and will be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor for a long time. Porzingis tore up whatever timeline we had for him and looks like he, too, will be an impact player on both ends. Jokic is a skilled big in the mold of Marc Gasol, Booker was the Suns’ best player when Eric Bledsoe got hurt, and Winslow was one of the best wing defenders in the Eastern Conference and helped unlock the Heat’s successful small-ball lineups before Chris Bosh‘s absence forced them to play that way full-time. Jahlil Okafor had the numbers to earn consideration, but was a disaster defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

KAT should be a unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year winner for the job he’s done all season in Minnesota. Porzingis showed enough flashes to project as a future All-Star in New York, provided he continues to develop his frame and game. Okhafor’s off-court issues stained what was an otherwise solid first year. Booker and Mudiay could both see All-Star nods in the future. Booker looked like a long-lost Splash Brother the second half of the season and Mudiay played beyond his years from the start. Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson are my sixth and seventh men. They could easily have been in that first five had they been Drafted into situations that required them to play larger roles.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philaelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

 

Towns has a chance to be the NBA’s best player in a few years. Porzingis could join Chauncey Billups as the best teammate to ever play with Carmelo Anthony. Turner, who went No. 11, may turn out to rank among the three best players in the Draft. The disappointment is D’Angelo Russell, who may yet be a star. Amid this terrific class he has, in Year One at least, been a relative disappointment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Filled out my ballot yesterday, and that’s the order I submitted to the NBA.  No surprises, I don’t think, other than maybe Jokic, who has mostly stayed under the radar but has been rather productive. For me the two toughest omissions were Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, who was basically thrown out there from the start of the season and competed all season, and Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who has impressed me all season, but particularly the last few weeks as he’s played an increasingly larger role for the Suns.

Morning shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready for shot at No. 73 | Kobe’s finale is here | Report: Wittman likely done in Washington | Rockets not sweating final gamePistons’ Jackson: ‘I want to go and fight Goliath’

No. 1: Warriors ready for their shot at 73 A mere 48 minutes (and a victory, of course) is all that stands between the Golden State Warriors and a place all their own in NBA history. A win tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (10:30 ET, ESPN) gives the Warriors a 73-win season, surpassing the 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The players on the team understand the weight of the moment ahead and while they somewhat wish they had wrapped this goal up sooner, they are nonetheless excited about tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

“We have an opportunity to do something that no one has done,” Stephen Curry said. “So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we’ve accomplished something as a group that’s never been done before, that’s remarkable.

“We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job.”

Finishing the job means beating Memphis on Wednesday for what would be the Warriors’ 73rd win of the season, a mark not accomplished in NBA history and a standard that might not again be touched.

No team had won 70 games before the Bulls won 72 in 1995-96, and no team had threatened their record in the two decades since then — until this season.

“It would have been cool to take care of the games we were supposed to take care of and have it already out of the way, but the way this thing has played out, to be at home and have one shot it, it’s pretty amazing,” power forward Draymond Green said.

“It’s there for us now, so we’re going to try to get it, but the end-all, be-all for me is the championship ring,” center Andrew Bogut said. “That record, I don’t think it’s going to get broken again, but you never know. Five or 10 years down the track, that record could be broken.

“The records in 2015 and 2016 that say ‘champions’ won’t be. That’ll never change.”

The Warriors have juggled their attention between setting a seemingly immortal regular-season record and defending their championship all season. They finally decided that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Even during Tuesday’s practice, one that head coach Steve Kerr missed for a doctor’s appointment, the record was not mentioned. Instead, the Warriors watched video and drilled fundamentals.

“Our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship until this game is over,” lead assistant coach Luke Walton said.

Green has been more outspoken than anyone about his desire to chase the record.

On Monday, he decided to reward three high schoolers with the chance to witness history by giving each of them a pair of tickets to the game. He’s not worried about his gesture looking like a prediction of victory or becoming bulletin-board material.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point. The whole world is talking about it now,” Green said. “… It’s everywhere. There’s nowhere to hide from it now. …

“I’m definitely not predicting a loss.”

As for the Grizzlies, they have no intention of rolling over and taking a loss. ESPN.com has more here:

“They’re chasing history,” Memphis forward Matt Barnes said after the Grizzlies’ 110-84 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. “We have a chance to interrupt history. Playing in Golden State, I know how alive that crowd is going to be, and I’m going to be very excited to be part of that game.”

Coach David Joerger said he expects the Grizzlies to rise to the occasion against the Warriors.

“It’s for history, baby,” Joerger said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

The injury-riddled Grizzlies have fought for their playoff hopes for the past two months but are in free fall, having lost nine of their past 10 games and three in a row. With Tuesday’s defeat, they dropped into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Yeah, the emotional tank is a little bit empty right now,” Joerger said.

“You also know that sitting out there 24 hours you’ve got a chance to be the answer on every Trivial Pursuit card for the next 75 years. We’ll see what we’re going to do with that tomorrow.”

***

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