Posts Tagged ‘Marcin Gortat’

Five free agents that just can’t get away

Eric Bledsoe's potential departure from Phoenix would be a big blow to the franchise.

For the Suns to keep rising, they must re-sign the tough, spry Eric Bledsoe (left).

Most teams go into the free agency period saying they have every intention of hanging onto their players. They value them. They respect them. They’re ready to pony up and reward them. Truth is, in some cases, they can’t afford to let players that have become an integral part of the team and their identity walk out the door. It goes without saying that the Heat are all in to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So putting them aside, here’s the top handful of free agents that are just too valuable to let get away:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Knicks (unrestricted) — The new boss of Madison Square Garden Phil Jackson can keep trying to play hard ball and insist that Anthony accept less than a maximum level contract this season. But that truth is the Knicks need Anthony far more than he needs them. His options are many, from joining the Bulls or Rockets to try to lift them to the elite level, becoming another Hollywood star with the Lakers or even going to Miami to raise the temperature with the Heat. The Knicks’ options, if ‘Melo bolts, might include just leaving the ice down permanently at the Garden and letting the NHL Rangers play twice as many home games. Since LeBron has opted out this summer, the fantasy of chasing the game’s biggest name and best player will go back on hold in New York for another several years. The Knicks don’t have the assets to swing a deal for Kevin Love. They have a new coach in Derek Fisher. The declining Amar’e Stoudemire handcuffed the team further by deciding to opt in for $23.4 million. By keeping Anthony, the Knicks give fans a reason to show up or turn on the TV. Without him, they’re irrelevant.

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Suns (restricted) — Never mind that they picked up rookie Tyler Ennis on draft night. When he was healthy for 43 games last season, Bledsoe was a difference-maker and likely could have lifted Phoenix into the playoffs if he’d been around for the full season. Though there might be a few who’d question his durability, Bledsoe is a 24-year-old sheer talent with a very high upside. He and backcourt partner Goran Dragic can both slide over to play shooting guard. But it’s running the show as a 1 where Bledsoe has the potential to carry the Suns into the future and could even crack the All-Star lineup in a very crowded Western Conference backcourt race. General manager Ryan McDonough has vowed to match any offer that comes his way. Bledsoe needs to be the foundation on what the Suns are building in the desert.

Boris Diaw, Forward/Center, Spurs (unrestricted) — You almost never want to tell the Spurs that one individual not named Tim Duncan means so much, especially after they’ve just picked up championship No. 5 by demonstrating that the team concept can outshine superstars by a wide margin in The Finals. But the point-guard-in-a-big-man’s-body Diaw was a very large part of that accomplishment, shifting the balance of power in the series against the Heat when he moved into the starting lineup. There was a great deal of talk on Draft night that the Spurs got the next Diaw-type player in forward Kyle Anderson. But this is a team where the clock is ticking loud and the championship contending days for this bunch will come to an end in another year or two at the most. Anderson will be fine for the next generation, but the Spurs need their crafty passer, good rebounder and underrated defender to stick around in order to have a shot at hanging up banner No. 6.

Marcin Gortat, Center, Wizards (unrestricted) — Yes, the Wizards will have to overpay, but that’s just a fact of life when you’re talking about a big man. Especially when it’s a big man coming off a season of averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and anchoring the front court on a team that is built around guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Gortat is simply solid at both ends of the ball, helping with the efficiency of the offense and stepping up to the play the role of large body stopper at the other end of the floor. In short, he just fits. Plus, the 30-year-old gives Washington a veteran’s sense of perspective. If it comes down to a choice between Gortat and fellow free agent Trevor Ariza, it’s really no choice at all. While Ariza’s defense on the perimeter and streaky offense are nice to have around, the big man keeps everyone grounded and gives the Wizards credibility in the East.

Lance Stephenson, Guard, Pacers (unrestricted) — Was it the moment that he blew in LeBron’s ear? Or when he gave the King that little chuck on the chin? At some point during the Eastern Conference finals virtually everybody leaned in a little closer to the HDTV screen and asked: “What in the world is Lance thinking?” Of course, the answer might have been nothing at all. Surely, the Pacers will have to think long and hard about how far they’re willing to open the wallet for a 23-year-old with a crazy streak. But that’s just it — Stephenson is just 23 and if club president Larry Bird can eventually get through to a player who has been a personal favorite, this team finally reaches its potential. If they let Stephenson get away, the Pacers are giving up part of their identity, their edge and simply take a step back into the soft middle of the standings. Yes, he’s a risk. Yes, he’s going to be infuriating. But yes, Indiana has to keep him.

What can the Heat offer free agents?


VIDEO: Wade opts out

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now Chris Bosh have informed the Miami Heat that they will exercise the early termination options on their contracts, ending what were six-years deals after four seasons.

In addition, Udonis Haslem, has declined his $4.3 million player option.

Nine days ago, Pat Riley made it clear that he’d like his three All-Stars to take less money to help him retool the roster. On Tuesday, James put added pressure on Bosh and Wade by opting out of his deal. Now, it looks like things are falling into place and Riley will have the opportunity to upgrade the other two positions in his starting lineup.

Rumored targets for the Heat include point guard Kyle Lowry, forward Trevor Ariza and center Marcin Gortat. All have tools (ball-handling, defense, size) that would certainly help Miami. The idea of adding Carmelo Anthony seems far-fetched, but it all depends on how much money he’s willing to sacrifice, as well as how much Miami’s Big Three are willing to sacrifice.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that James is seeking a max contract, which would be a five-year deal worth about $120 million. So it would apparently be Bosh and Wade who would have to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted that Bosh is seeking a new five-year deal worth $15-16 million per year. Those two reports (as well as the assumption that Wade isn’t going to take less than Bosh) gives us the framework of the Heat’s salary math, with an expected salary cap of $63.2 million …

Heat salary math

Player 2014-15 Notes
1 James, LeBron $20,020,875 Cap hold
2 Bosh, Chris $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
3 Wade, Dwyane $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
4 Cole, Norris $2,038,206 Under contract
5 Andersen, Chris $915,243 Cap hold
6 Napier, Shabazz $1,032,200 Cap hold
7-11 Cap hold x 5 $2,536,680 Cap hold
TOTAL $52,630,161
Salary cap $63,200,000
Left for free agent $10,569,839 4-year deal for $45.1 million

1. James’ max contract would start at about $20.8 million. Since his cap hold (1.05 x last year’s salary) is a little less than that, the Heat would use that number until the other pieces are signed. Then they can go over the salary cap to re-sign James.

2 and 3. If Bosh and Wade both accept five-year deals worth $75 million ($15 million per year), those contracts would have starting salaries of just over $13 million.

4. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Heat are looking to unload Norris Cole. If they do that (and don’t get another player in return), his $2.0 million would be replaced by another rookie minimum cap hold (see 7-11) and they’d have an additional $1.5 million of cap space.

5. The Heat could renounce the rights to Chris Andersen, but he has just a vet’s minimum cap hold. Keeping that would allow them to sign him for much more after they’re back over the salary cap.

6. The Heat can pay Shabazz Napier 120 percent of the rookie scale for the No. 24 pick. As with James, better to keep the cap hold number until the other pieces are signed.

7-11. If you don’t have 12 guys on your roster, there is a rookie minimum cap hold ($507,336) for every slot that takes you up to 12. So, if we’re talking about James, Bosh, Wade, Cole, Andersen, Napier and one free agent, we need five minimum cap holds.

Additional note: In this scenario, the Heat have renounced their rights to Haslem, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, and Greg Oden, and have also waived Justin Hamilton (who has a non-guaranteed deal). It’s assumed that Haslem will get rewarded for opting out (with a long-term deal that pays him more than the $4.3 million he could have earned next season), and Allen is a critical piece in the rotation, but their cap holds ($8.2 million and $4.2 million) are too big to keep on the books.

After the Heat have gone over the cap, they can use the room exception (starting at $2.7 million) to bring one or more of those guys back (or add other free agents). It can be split among multiple players. After that, they’d have only minimum deals to offer players.

If all the above holds, the Heat could offer one free agent $45.1 million over four years ($11.3 million per year). If they are able to trade Cole, that would turn into $51.7 million over four years ($12.9 million per year).

That’s still about half of what Anthony could earn elsewhere. If he were to re-sign with the Knicks for the max, he’d get $129.1 million over five years ($25.8 per year). If he were to sign with a new team for the max, he’d get $95.9 million over four years ($24.0 million per year).

So Lowry, Ariza and Gortat are obviously more realistic options. If the Heat were to split their cap space among two free agents (assuming they traded Cole), they could offer them a total of about $13.5 million per year. Ariza and Gortat each made $7.7 million for the Wizards this past season, while Lowry made $6.2 million for the Raptors.

Both Gortat and Lowry will likely be offered raises from their current teams, who are both looking to keep the momentum going after returning to the postseason after long layoffs. With Martell Webster and Otto Porter on the roster, the Wizards might not fight hard for Ariza, but he could still get more than mid-level money elsewhere, as one of the better three-and-D guys in the league and still just 29 years old.

So there’s no clear starting-lineup upgrade for the Heat. But if James accepts less than the max or if Bosh and/or Wade accept less than $15 million per year, there’s more money to spend. And since they’re also offering a chance to play with the best player in the world for a championship on Biscayne Bay, they may not have to spend as much as other teams.

Morning Shootaround — June 23


VIDEO: Knicks.com takes a look back at Carmelo Anthony’s 2013-14 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ Anthony push | Report: Gay opts in with Kings | Report: Mavs to pursue Lakers’ Gasol, Wizards’ Gortat | Impossible choice now for ‘Melo | Report: Celts to view Embiid’s medical records

No. 1: Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ push for Anthony — Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose once famously said he doesn’t recruit players to join him in the Windy City. That policy may not apply to Rose’s coach, Tom Thibodeau. According to the Chicago Sun-TimesJoe Cowley, Thibodeau is doing a lot of research on Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, who recently announced he’ll be in this summer’s free-agency pool:

The Bulls’ push to acquire New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is heating up heading into NBA draft week, and perhaps no one wants his services more than coach Tom Thibodeau.

According to one of Anthony’s former coaches, Thibodeau has reached out to him and to several other coaches who have worked with Anthony with numerous calls.

‘‘I even told Tom that there may be days he will want to blow his own head off when it comes to Melo’s defense, but he keeps saying he knows he can make it work,’’ the coach said. ‘‘It’s not that Carmelo can’t play defense, it’s just how often. And he knows every trick in the book on getting around that.’’

That the Bulls are in full-court-press mode on Anthony comes as no surprise, considering center Joakim Noah courted him during All-Star weekend in February and continued the recruitment throughout the second half of the season.

And it would seem Noah isn’t alone. Point guard Derrick Rose reportedly has gotten involved, too, and Thibodeau has used back channels to let Anthony know his addition could mean big things for everyone involved.

‘‘There’s no question [the Bulls] would be better with [Anthony], with or without his defensive inconsistencies,’’ the coach said. ‘‘As I told Tom: ‘You’re in the East, Tom. Remember, you’re in the East.’ “

The question, though, is how does a deal for Anthony get done? Multiple media outlets have reported a sign-and-trade that includes the expiring contract of forward Carlos Boozer is the favored route, especially with the Knicks preparing for Anthony to announce Monday that he will opt out of his current deal.

Such a scenario likely would involve the Bulls sending at least one of their first-round picks — No. 16 or No. 19 — to the Knicks, who are in rebuilding mode and need to start with a point guard.

There are also reports the Bulls might be willing to deal another draft pick in pursuit of Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, which means they’re serious about pursuing a championship now.

The Bulls’ offseason aggressiveness isn’t shocking to anyone around the league. At the NBA Finals last week, several sources indicated general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson were ‘‘looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take’’ to make the Bulls a contender.

(more…)

Five teams LeBron should, but won’t consider

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley discusses the Big 3 staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Even before Pat Riley went all Clint Eastwood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” – during his entertaining Thursday news conference, my money was on LeBron James understanding that island hopping for titles on the backs of fans’ emotions isn’t a good look. And so he will ultimately keep gunning for not three, not four, not five … in sun-kissed South Florida.

Of course, Dan Gilbert never dreamed LeBron would dump his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did. So until he says otherwise, there is always a chance The Chosen One will think his work is done here and seek a new hoops metropolis to conquer.

It certainly would be unprecedented, the most dominant player in the game packing his bags yet again, and this time after leading his last franchise to four consecutive Finals and two championships. Who in the history of the game has ever done that?

And yet, there’s something devilishly fascinating about that very prospect.

Could LeBron lift a third team to the NBA Finals? Could he win a third title? A fourth, a fifth?

And for which team would he play?

Forget the Knicks, that move would have to wait until the summer of 2015 when New York has cap space. The Lakers? Always a possibility, but how rewarding would it really be to hang a 17th championship banner in Staples Center all the while being Kobe Bryant‘s personal valet to a sixth ring and even him up with Michael Jordan?

I’ve got five teams — three in the East and two in the West — that LeBron could vault to instant contender. Three of the five franchises have never won an NBA title, and of the other two, neither has won one since 1983. So LeBron would be a sight for sore eyes, and a boon for business in any one of these locales.

I call this list, The Teams LeBron Should, But Won’t Consider.

His desire should be to stay in the Eastern Conference because it’s just a whole lot easier to get through the East than the brutally competitive West. Plus, with the Heat instantly weakened, the path to the East crown would truly be wide open. So here are my five:

1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards’ finances are in as good as shape as the Wizards’ backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as a dynamic duo. Washington needs to re-sign center Marcin Gortat to reproduce a front line with Nene. Add LeBron — who would come in as the elder statesman to the Wizards’ rising stars, so there’s no adjustment period as to who is the alpha dog (assuming Wall can handle it) like there was initially in Miami with Dwyane Wade – to this starting lineup and dare I call them Eastern Conference favorites.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Don’t laugh. And, hey, if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony really want to team up, here’s their spot. There’s so little money on the books that Philly could sign both stars and still have enough left over to add some pretty good role players. These two could come in as the big brothers and lead one of the great youth movements of our time. Think about it, the Sixers already have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel is ready to roll after sitting out all of last season. With the third pick in next week’s Draft, they’ll add another high-caliber youngster, maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Then there’s consummate pro Thaddeus Young. Sounding good isn’t it?

3. Toronto Raptors: General manager Masai Ujiri has already overseen a couple minor miracles in shedding the salaries of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, so what’s one more? The books still aren’t as clear as in Philly, but it can work. Re-signing Kyle Lowry might be out the window, but how about Greivis Vasquez, budding, young star DeMar DeRozan, LeBron, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? I’m pretty sure coach Dwane Casey would be good with it.

4. Phoenix Suns: Imagine LeBron driving and then trying to decide if he should kick it out to Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye or maybe Gerald Green. Imagine LeBron sprinting for fast-break dunks with a perimeter defense that includes himself and the dogged Bledsoe, and a team that stamped itself as one of the great hustling squads of last season. If we thought the old Steve Nash-Mike D’Antonio Suns teams were fun, whoa, this one could fly off the charts.

5. New Orleans Pelicans: There’s some work, not a ton, to be done on the payroll side, and there’s some tradable commodities despite multi-year deals in place (i.e. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon) and nothing should be viewed as impossible when it comes to pairing LeBron with Anthony Davis, right? Greatest inside-out duo since Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal? This pairing has devastation written all over it. New Orleans would never be the same.

However, we all know that no one backs down from a challenge issued by Clint Eastwood.

Wizards’ Wall catches up to series

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Wizards and Pacers meet for a crucial Game 6 tonight

WASHINGTON – Every coach’s fear in the playoffs is that, if a series lasts long enough, talent will out.

That is, for all the crafty strategies and flawless execution and tireless effort devoted to stopping or containing an opponent’s strength or star, and however effective it might be through three, four or five games, what’s behind that particular greatness will bubble to the surface in time. The great ones – teams or players – adjust and re-adjust, and in time refuse to be denied. (It cuts both ways, of course, but you know coaches, mostly worrying about the other guys.)

That’s how the Indiana Pacers ought to be thinking about Washington’s John Wall at the moment, as they try to close out their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Wall spent most of the first four games stymied by the Pacers’ defensive attention in the halfcourt, their diligence in getting back to slow the Wizards’ pace and his own shooting. But in the Game 5 victory Tuesday that staved off his team’s elimination, Wall scored 27 points (17 in the third quarter on 6-of-8 shooting) and served as triggerman for a road-resuscitated Washington attack.

The fourth-year point guard, an All-Star reserve this year, had carried the weight of the Wizards’ 3-1 deficit through the first four games, taking heat for his 11.5 ppg and 31.4 field-goal percentage. The inexperience at which he, backcourt mate Bradley Beal and coach Randy Wittman had scoffed looked real and very much in play. Wall was starting to withdraw and sound defeated. “It’s definitely tough and frustrating,” Wall said, after a Game 4 finish Sunday in which he passed up a game-tying shot. “I’ve been as aggressive as I can be.”

Or so Wall thought. Then Wittman pulled him aside Tuesday morning in Indianapolis and gave him license to play “like a wild man.” Teammates such as center Marcin Gortat noticed Wall’s retreat personally and made sure to pick him up.

“John was a little bit different [Tuesday],” Gortat said late that evening, after a career night of his own (31 points, 16 rebounds). “For the first time in 102 or 103 games we’ve had this season, he didn’t want to talk to anybody. … He didn’t rap before the game, he didn’t laugh before the game.”

Gortat had seen all sorts of folks assure Wall he would play better in Game 5. Gortat didn’t make hang his support on that, though.

“When the 25th person approached him, it was me, and he was like, ‘I don’t want to hear [anymore].’ I was like, ‘No, John, there’s just one thing I want to tell you: I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it’s gonna go. I’m with you,’ ” Gortat said.

“We can’t put pressure on a guy who plays for the first time in his life in the playoffs. He’s whatever, 23 years old. You can’t just blame the kid for everything. Every time our team loses, we blame him. I understand he’s a leader, he’s the head of the snake. But there’s another 12 guys on the team, there’s another six, seven coaches. We can’t do this kid like that.”

Wall played as if unshackled. He got a pair of layups in the early minutes and helped rev the offense to 13 fast-break points while building a 45-38 lead. But it was more than that – the Wizards only scored four points on the break in the second half, yet outscored the Pacers 57-41. It was a pace thing, in Wittman’s view, all flow and timing while maxing out what was available in the 24-second clock. Even the fat rebounding edge (62-23) can partly be attributed to the rhythm with which Washington played, with Wall conducting.

“He gets the ball moving from side to side and we get bodies moving and the ball moving,” Wittman said. “We are not a team that can iso or a team that can do a two-man game. We have to have five guys moving and I thought he was the spark behind that.”

At this late stage of the series, with Wall’s confidence replenished, that will not be easy. The Pacers’ best bet? Stay in front of him as much as possible and funnel penetration toward 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert. Even if it means going under screens, anyone’s best chance against Wall’s wild-man speed is to make him a shooter. Otherwise he gets defenders on their heels, first physically and then mentally.

Beyond that, only a quirky shakiness that settles into Washington’s game at the Verizon Center might help. He’s been one of the Wizards who, all season, has performed better on the road than at home.

But this series may have lasted long enough to cure that ill, too.

24-Second thoughts — May 13

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards stayed alive

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Quick Change is my favorite halftime act at NBA games.

Has been for years.

And they will be until something or someone comes along to dethrone them …

They are also our honorary moniker for tonight’s action, because things do indeed change quickly in the conference semifinals. Just ask Roy Hibbert.

Game 5s for both the Pacers and Wizards and later on the Thunder and Clippers will show us exactly how all four teams react to the quick change that has come in their respective series.

Things changed so quickly in both the last time we saw them all on the floor, with both the Clippers and Pacers rallying back from huge deficits to win Game 4s on Sunday.

This very easily could have a been a night for closeouts. The Pacers have that chance, up 3-1 and playing on their home floor. The Thunder, of course, are deadlocked at 2-2 after the Clippers’ miraculous Game 4 comeback.

So while it’s win-or-go-home night in Indy for John Wall and his Wizards …

The Clippers and Thunder are guaranteed to go at it again, no matter what happens tonight.

Get your popcorn ready …

24 – Unbelievably sloppy start for the Pacers and especially the Wizards (seven turnovers in the first quarter), and yet they still lead after the first. It helps when your big man, Marcin Gortat, is working harder than anyone else on the floor during that span (11 points, six rebounds, one steal, one block and 12 hustle plays).

23 – Wait a minute, Luis Scola time! A 10-0 Indiana run gives the home team 27-25 lead …

22 – The Wizards are not playing like a team in the midst of their defining moment. So careless with the rock. Playing like it’s a preseason game …

21 – Hey, guess who’s on his way bizzzack to the bench (and more)?

#CantWait

20 – Wizards outworking the Pacers big time in the second quarter and pushed their lead to 10 (45-35). Hard to figure these Pacers out. No killer instinct on close-out night is a strange sign. Wizards fighting for their playoff lives, however, is what you love to see …

19 – Gortat and Co. destroying the Pacers on the glass!

18 – QUICK CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!

17 – BBQ Pierogi Alert … it’s a dumpling Shaq, not a sausage. Underdog, put that on a T-shirt!

16 – It’s a make or miss league and right now, John Wall is making ‘em. Seventeen and counting for the Wizards’ All-Star PG …

Meanwhile, the Pacers are doing it again …

Or better yet, Gortat is doing it to them …

15 – Freud couldn’t figure these Pacers out …

14 – Marcin The Machine!

13 – Welp!


VIDEO: Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling with Anderson Cooper

12 – Looks like the winner of the Early Game 4 Hangover Sweepstakes goes to …

11 – Stan Van Gundy coaching the Pistons makes plenty of sense. His front-office credentials, however …

10 – No hometown love for Blake Griffin, not five games into this series …

9 – Thunder rolling right now, with CP3 out of the mix with the two fouls …

8 – But BG stayed hot and J.J. Redick kept the Clippers in front at the half. Impressive stuff from the road warriors in this series once again …

7 – Amen!

6 – Officials in this night-cap are taking a bigger beating in the social media universe than even the Pacers …

5 – @JCrossover  is the master of the and-1

4 – KD needs to go ahead and join that kid’s framily, anything to escape this shooting nightmare tonight  …

3 – Oof!

2 – Huge box out and rebound of a BG miss on the second of two free throws leads to a CP3 dagger with 49.2 seconds left. Clippers hanging on to a 104-97 lead. Serge Ibaka failed to box Big Baby out properly. Crucial mistake in a game filled with them for the home team … if only KD and Russ weren’t there to rescue your bacon in the final minute. #giventhawaygame4takethawaygame5

1 – Good luck trying to make sense of this finish … CRAZY!


VIDEO: The wild Game 5 finish sees the Thunder serve up revenge for Game 4

Fun gone, Pacers cannot stand success

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gortat’s big game helps Wizards beat Pacers, stay alive

INDIANAPOLIS – As they lick their wounds again and assure themselves, again, that they’ll be all right, the Indiana Pacers might be revealing what their biggest problem is in this Eastern Conference semifinal series and perhaps has been for a while.

They aren’t fearful of the Washington Wizards. They aren’t overmatched or intimidated, and they certainly aren’t taking the Wizards lightly.

The Pacers are jealous of the Wizards.

Oh, to be younger and inexperienced and unencumbered by expectations. To be the underdogs – ahh! – who had the ability to surprise and overachieve and feel good with each little victory, regardless even of the outcome of games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were that team.

With the Miami Heat grabbing all the attention from The Decision of July 2010 going forward, with the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose playing peek-a-boo as regular-season heroes and a legit but hobbled contender, it wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were the Wizards.

On the rise. playing with abandon. Making names and reputations for themselves, with little or no anxiety over disappointing someone. That’s the Indiana team that earned all the respect and preseason predictions heading into 2013-14, that’s the Indiana team that had all the fun.

But that Indiana team is gone forever, erased by the Pacers’ success through the first four months (46-13 through March 2) and weighed down ever since by the expectations, knee-deep praise and dealing with the shift from chasers to chased.

You scoff? Who had more fun in Game 5 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the on-the-brink Wizards or the three-games-to-win-one Pacers? The game was a rout, with Washington leading by as much as 30 while pounding their hosts in all sorts of NSFW ways on the glass.

Nearly tripling the other guys in total rebounds (62-23)? Whoa. Wizards coach Randy Wittman paused and admitted he never had seen anything like that. For much of the night, Marcin (The Dream) Gortat had as many boards as the whole Indiana team. The upstarts wound up with nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pacers grabbed defensively (19).

Gortat attacked Indiana from the start like he sensed their vulnerability, the tentativeness that has hovered over the East’s No. 1 seed since March. He tossed in hook shots, threw down dunks, mixed in a turnaround or two from the baselines and growled loudly enough that Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi sought cover.

But frankly, they had company on a Pacers squad that, lately, might not say boo if you took their jerseys, their dogs and their parking spaces. If Larry Bird wasn’t sick to his stomach watching his team’s performance Tuesday, then the smirking assassin everyone remembers from his Boston Celtics days either has been lobotomized or gelded.

“It’s everything: Shocking. Disappointing,” said forward Paul George, who would have had to ring up another 39 to keep his team in this one. He didn’t, scoring 15.

“We’re better than that. No way we should allow a team on our floor to outrebound us by 40. Regardless of if we’re playing a team full of 7-footers. That’s unacceptable.”

It was, in short, the kind of performance a bunch of newbies might be permitted to have – not far off Washington’s 63-point mess in Game 3 – but not the big, bad leaders of the East.

“Not when you’re a group that’s been together for a while,” George said, agreeing. “Not with a group that, like us, has been together, been through so much. A lot of adversity. It should be easy to treat a game like it’s a win-or-go-home game, especially when you have the opportunity to close them out. We’ve done it before in other series, where we took care of business when we needed to. So it’s no excuse for this one.”

No excuses, just explanations. Gortat having the night of his life, banging and scoring enough for both himself and the barely visible Nene. Wittman had his players pressure up defensively this time, exploiting Indiana’s unreliable ball handlers and, more important, dialing up the game’s pace to more than walk-it-up.

And then there was John Wall, Washington’s point guard who had sputtered through most of the first four games. He is kind of a one-man Indiana in terms of his career arc and the expectations heaped upon him now, four years in with an $80 million contract, All-Star acclaim and impatience among Wizards fans for something beyond individual achievements.

Gortat spoke after the game of the shell into which Wall had retreated all day Tuesday, no rapping, no laughing, hardly any words. Wittman did what he could to try to shake him loose from it.

“John was down on himself a little bit this morning,” the Wizards coach said. “I told him, the point where he’s getting in his career, he’s an All-Star and now he’s in the second round of the playoffs for the first time, that ‘you have to have a thick skin. You have to forget quickly and you have to move on.’

“I told him I wanted him to come out tonight and just play like a wild man. ‘If you have 20 turnovers, you have 20 turnovers. I want you, though, energizing our guys, racing the ball up and down the floor, defensively getting after it,’ and he did that.”

Wall played with an abandon the Pacers, however much they once had it, lost around the time our clocks sprung forward. He finished with 27 points – 17 in the game-breaking 31-14 third quarter, when he topped the Pacers by his lonesome – and was woofing by the end.

Wall had more fun, and a sense of relief and rebirth, than the entire Indiana squad. Over on the other side, George was trying to explain, and maybe sell, what had gone on with his team at the absolute worst time. And you could sense some longing for the days when he and the Pacers were the ones trying to make their bones.

They’re at the other end of the expectations now.

“We get too happy. We get too happy,” Paul said. “We don’t carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we feel like, because we’re starting to play a little better, that things are just going to get right. We don’t bring that edge, that these are must-win games.”

The Pacers claimed they tried to play Tuesday as if they were facing a Game 7. They failed, instead inching closer to a real one.

24-Second thoughts — May 7

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert clears the air after his monster night in the Pacers’ Game 2 win over the Wizards

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — He’s all anyone wanted to talk about today, the big man from Washington D.C.

And I’m not talking about Kevin Durant, crowned as the KIA MVP Tuesday and beloved around the world after his acceptance speech went viral in the minutes and hours after the ceremony.

No, I’m talking about Indiana Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert.

We’ve dissected his performance in this postseason a million different way in just two weeks. Will he bounce back tonight and find his way? Or do we get more of the zeros across the board from him?

We shall see …

24 – Yes, I’m cheating right now. But I always like to see what my man Serge Ibaka is wearing to the arena. And I’ve got to give it up, this cat has some style …

OK, back to Game 1 Wizards @ Pacers …

23 – This has to be considered a good sign. A little closer to the basket maybe big fella?

22 – This Mark Jackson-Warriors saga is not going to fade into the background folks. Not with Jackson wasting little time in telling his version of how things came apart (via our NBA TV colleagues Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg on SiriusXM NBA Radio). It’s deep stuff, much deeper than anyone probably expected so soon after Jackson was fired. Speaking of soon, the Warriors reportedly did not waste any time trying to locate Jackson’s successor. TNT’s Steve Kerr is that man. The only question that remains is will he go with the Warriors or the Knicks? If it’s the Warriors he’ll have to win over a roster that worked its tail off for Jackson …

21 – You wonder how the Pacers’ faithful will respond tonight. Will they make the place unbearable for the Wizards. Will they throw back to their Market Square Arena days when …

20 – If inspiration is what Hibbert was looking for, he might have found it in his college coach John Thompson III. JTIII sat courtside, giving the big fella the same looks he did when he helped mold him into a player at Georgetown. It worked. Hibbert started the game with a 5-0 solo run and sparked the Pacers early as they took an early 13-5 start …

19 – Marcin Gortat is not impressed with Hibbert’s work. In fact, he’s ready to stake his claim to the title of the best big man in this series. And with Nene (who’d also like to run for that best big man office) in the locker room after injuring his left ankle and Hibbert on the bench after that hot start, Gortat might have a solid case.

He’s certainly got the best dunk, so far, of the game.

Here comes Nene …

Hibbert still hot, he’s got 11 points with a little more than five minutes to play before halftime  …

18 – Spit the seeds out. The more I watch these two teams play, the more convinced I am the Wizards, and not the Pacers, are simply the better team. For all the work Hibbert did in the first half, the Pacers had to abandon their usual ways and make it a point to involve the biggest man on the floor. It’s a desperate recipe Pacers coach Frank Vogel is working from and I’m not sure it’s going to work in this game or this series. The Wizards, meanwhile, are playing the same way they have all season and just flowing (and up 45-43 at the half) …

– dispatch from LA: Clippers coach Doc Rivers working the crowd during his pregame media availability session. Don’t poke the MVP bear Doc …

17 — These signs of life from the Pacers are encouraging. Glimpses of the team we thought they were at 33-8 are suddenly popping up on both ends of the floor. Hibbert’s been fantastic (24 points through the third quarter). Paul George (six points) has to have a big fourth quarter for the Pacers to pull away. But he can’t shake Trevor Ariza

16 – When you’re bad it can get nasty, but when you’re good …

15 – If the Pacers hold on here, Hibbert’s trip to the interview room could be epic …

14 — Big fella balled out, to the tune of 28 (on 10-for-13 shooting), nine and two blocks. And the Pacers win. All of this after that fishing trip with PGeorge and GHill … Tied at 1-1 headed to D.C.

13 – Sorry, but I couldn’t help it. Just one more …


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hands over the MVP hardware to Kevin Durant

Quick hug for Moms (Wanda Pratt)

12 – Best way for the Thunder to deal with Chris Paul? Send him to the bench with those early fouls. Russell Westbrook in attack mode from the start …

Someone forgot to tell J.J. Redick

11 – The MVP with 17 points in the first quarter, one point shy of his playoff career-high for a quarter. You had to know he was going to come out smoking after all that’s gone on the past 24-plus hours and the stars (Jay-Z in OKC) turning up in OKC for the show …

10 – Ah, another night Chesapeake Energy Arena wondering who’s going to show up, Good Russ or Bad Russ? So far, so Good …

9 – There’s a lot of bad acting and flat-out trickery going on tonight. Cp3, Westbrook and even the MVP getting in on the fun. The officials can’t win, whether they blow the whistles or not someone is going to be furious with them. And everybody sees it through their own lens …

8 – The definition of an MVP …

7 – Lights go down just before halftime. Weather related? Still have to finish these finals 27 seconds and change, right …

6 – Westbrook with the quick hands on defense and in the passing lanes. He’s finishing at the rim (the nasty where Blake Griffin didn’t even bother jumping) and turning things upside down for the Clippers, who can’t scramble fast enough to cover on the defensive end.

5 – Things spiraling dangerously out of control right now for the Clippers. Westbrook doing his #forceofnature thing right now, too. Wicked!

On the flip side, Blake has been alarmingly disengaged tonight.  So you knew this was coming …

4 – The biggest game changer for the Thunder tonight wasn’t just Westbrook going off, or even Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins turning into factors. It was Steven Adams adding the physical thump needed for the Thunder to make sure this series goes to Los Angeles tied up at 1-1.

3 – Leave it up to Westbrook to crash (in a good way, though) Durant’s MVP party. The rest of the world doesn’t get how they co-exist. But they make it work … #chasingadoubletripledouble #neverhappenedbefore …

– Still hasn’t happened. Westbrook got his (although with a controversial 10th assist), while the MVP went to the bench one assist shy of the triple-double.

2 – It’s been that kind of night for CP3! And Doc has to know it’s “turrible” …

1 – The MVP, RussWest and the Thunder finish the business in style …


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s exclamation point dunk for Wednesday’s Game 2 win over the Clippers

Wizards flex rare road-court advantage

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside Randy Wittman’s huddle in the Wizards’ Game 1 win in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – In their development as a young, formidable NBA team, the Washington Wizards’ preternatural ability to win road games is like putting their socks and shoes on before pulling on their pants.

It seems so out of order.

A tradition built from vapor, too. The Wizards were 22-19 on the road this season, tied for the league’s eighth-best mark (their 22-19 home record ranked only 18th). That was a remarkable leap considering Washington was 7-34 a year ago, 9-24 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and 3-38 the season before that.

This trend has only intensified lately: The Wizards are the first team to win their first four road playoff games, all against higher-seeded opponents, since the New Jersey Nets managed it in 1984. They knocked off the Bulls in five games by winning all three at Chicago’s United Center. Then they grabbed the series opener Monday against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Traditionally in this league, teams on the rise learn to take care of business at home, then aim for .500 as they grow and build.

“Winning on the road’s a belief,” coach Randy Wittman said before his team’s practice Tuesday at the University of Indianapolis. “You’ve got to believe you’re going to go into any gym … and if we do things the way we’re capable of doing, we’re gonna win. A lot of times before [this season], you could play your best game and not have a chance to win.”

Wittman may be right in touting the intangibles involved in winning on the other guys’ courts because statistically, there is scant evidence to explain the success. Washington scored a little more on the road (101.0 vs. 100.3) but defended worse (100.5 vs. 98.3) than at home. Its differentials in rebounding, assists and shooting percentages showed little impact.

Individually, point guard John Wall averaged 3.4 ppg less on the road, with a 41.2 FG% that drooped from his 45.3 at home. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal showed some notable gains away from Verizon Center: 3.4 ppg and a bump from 39.8 percent shooting to 43.6 percent on the road. His offensive rating jumped from 97.0 to 106 in the NBA’s other buildings.

Forward Trevor Ariza also bumped up, by 2.9 ppg and with an offensive rating of 114 compared to 108 at home. He shot significantly better, inside and outside the arc.

Then again, winning as often on the road as at home doesn’t require big shifts in production; it mostly asks that a team’s performance doesn’t drop off in hostile environments. That’s where Washington has been notable – so much so, it was the only team in the league in 2013-14 that didn’t have a worse record on the road than at home.

“Your guess is as good as mine. But I think we like playing against other crowds,” Beal said. “We were the total opposite last year. I think we come out a lot more focused. We’ve bought in. On the road we’re not worried about too many distractions – it’s just us.”

Center Marcin Gortat has talked of this occasionally this season – a tendency not only to be distracted by the demands of daily life when playing in D.C., but to relax and expect more help from a crowd at Verizon Center that tends to be more wait-and-see. Some think that Wall and others focus too much at home on entertaining and rousing Wizards fans, compared to just sticking it to the throngs in the other arenas.

“When I played in Portland, we weren’t a good home team but we were dominant on the road,” guard Martell Webster said. “We play for each other on the road – same as at home – but I guess you feel a little more complacent and comfortable at home. On the road, there’s more of a sense of urgency and guys understanding that the odds are stacked against us. For us, that was comfortable. We enjoyed doing that.”

Said veteran forward Al Harrington, who rarely has seen this trend in his stops with seven different franchises: “I don’t know if it’s because we’re away from our families and stuff where guys can really lock in. But this is a great group where nobody goes out the night before games. Guys take it very serious, that next game.

“There’s no curfew. We could do whatever we want to do, but these young guys choose to stay in. I think that’s the biggest difference – we come out on the road with so much energy, so much focus.”


VIDEO: Wizards grab early advantage with Game 1 win in Indianapolis

Pacers backed Hibbert out of loyalty, need big man’s reset now

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive the first-round series between the Pacers and Hawks

INDIANAPOLIS – Nene, the one-name Wizard, is playing at the moment like an All-Star. Marcin Gortat was invaluable to Washington’s rise to the postseason and push past the Chicago Bulls in the first round.

And the Indiana Pacers almost couldn’t be happier to face them.

It’s rare when any NBA team welcomes an opponent that has formidable big men on its roster, but in the Pacers’ case, that means center Roy Hibbert gets to come out and play. Indiana’s league-leading defense was built around its 7-foot-2 tower in the middle. Its offense hums best when Hibbert is available for putbacks, short jump shots and his toy box of little flips and hooks. So the matchup with the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1, and the mismatch it brought for Hibbert, was a problem that became an issue and nearly festered into a situation.

The Hawks spread the floor and hoist 3-pointers more than any other team in the playoffs – actually, that should be hoisted since Indiana did put them down in seven games. But that series went to the max in part because Hibbert was so ineffective chasing Atlanta’s Pero Antic or Paul Millsap out to 3-point range. It took the bigger man out of his comfort zone defensively and often left him harmlessly in the DMZ between the restricted area and the arc. He doesn’t have the game or the role in Indiana’s attack to punish the Hawks at the other end in a heavy dose of post-ups. Ultimately, he wound up on the bench, his confidence seemingly bottomed out.

Hibbert’s effectiveness had waned late in the regular season, too, so the criticism already coming his way intensified. There rarely is anywhere for a guy his size to hide, but this was way worse, his struggles played out and picked at in the glare of network TV coverage.

Throughout, though, the Pacers had his back.

“They never felt like I was in any sort of danger of not playing,” Hibbert said Sunday, a little agitated as a small group of reporters asked him about his struggles. “We didn’t really listen to or cater to any of the stuff that was being said on the outside. So as far as all that goes, that was whatever people wanted to say.”

Hibbert’s teammates and coaches knew all about the Xs & Os that meant he would be less effective against Atlanta. They also know his sensitive nature and how it might hurt him, not contributing and then taking heat publicly for that.

And they view Hibbert as a friend and a brother. That meant staying loyal and supportive was vital well beyond self-interest in their playoff ambitions.

“All of it was loyalty,” All-Star wing Paul George said. “We’re loyal to each and every one of our guys here. Roy Hibbert is a big brother, someone who’s been in my corner when things weren’t going well for me. I was always in his ear, always in his corner, telling him to stay confidence and ‘Don’t allow anything to creep into your mind.’

“He’s been an All-Star two times now. It’s not like he’s some average player – he’s a big-time player for us. It was just a tough moment. You’re not making shots and … Roy’s a guy who likes to be active on social media. So I think a lot of it got to him. But he’s got to just be above that.”

Forward David West said: “More than anything, we’re a better basketball team when he’s engaged and he’s playing well and he’s being productive, and when he’s on the floor. It was about making sure he didn’t get too low – we knew he was down on himself and disappointed he couldn’t contribute the way he wanted to.”

West knows how fragile any player’s confidence can be, especially someone like Hibbert who isn’t gifted with the sort of superior athletic ability to which he can turn to create, on talent alone, some positive moments for himself. Hibbert without confidence might as well be sitting in the stands.

“It’s hard to recover [confidence],” West said. “I think that’s human nature. But with him, everybody was encouraging. He was just trying to work hisself out of what he was in, and before Game 5, before Game 6, it was just the same message [from teammates]. ‘You’re going to have the best game of the series for us.’ And then he came through [in Game 7].”

Hibbert took five shots in the first quarter and made four of them. He blocked two shots in the second and, as the misfiring Hawks scrambled for offense wherever they could find it, had three more swats after halftime. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds and five blocks in 31 minutes, after averaging 4.0 points, 3.2 boards, 0.7 blocks and 20.3 minutes in the first six games, while shooting 30.3 percent.

Now Hibbert gets to battle with Nene, a terrific athlete with a mid-range game that keeps him five or six feet inside the 3-point line. Gortat is a traditional center who is at his best inside.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Sunday he saw no extra spring in Hibbert’s step, either from the Game 7 performance or the sense now of being more needed. But now at least, any frustration the center feels likely will come on the court, not from being the fork at a soup kitchen.

“I’ve seen him go through struggles in the past,” Vogel said, “and he usually comes out of it at some point, usually quicker than he did this time. I’m not saying he’s out of it, but … when you see a guy play well, you know he’s capable of doing it. He’s doing the right things, he’s putting in the work. Usually that sort of thing turns around.”

When Hibbert turns around, he’ll see a bunch of Pacers behind him. They have his back.