No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:
For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.
The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.
Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.
While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.
Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.
No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:
“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”
James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.
“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”
James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.
No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:
After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”
The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.
Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.
But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.
Which is where the Lakers come in.
Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.
“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”
While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.
While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.
A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.
Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.
No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:
“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.
Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.
Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.
Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.
Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.
“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”
The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.
No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:
If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.
The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.
But that might be too obvious.
There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.
There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.
An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.
And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.
That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injury … Vince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with Dallas … Kevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil Jackson … Shane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this season … Dirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.