Posts Tagged ‘Mark Jackson’

Warriors make it seem like old times

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

LOS ANGELES – This is what it felt like a year ago, opening on the road against an opponent that rarely loses at home, unnerved by anxious moments, in the underdog role, Mark Jackson appearing firmly in control of the mood, major health concerns a rallying point.

The start of these Warriors playoffs seemed a lot like the last one, and good luck finding a bigger compliment. Yes, they cut to the chase in 2014 and lost Andrew Bogut to injury before the first round, as opposed to David Lee going down during Game 1 in 2013. And, sure, they won the opener at Staples Center this time, unlike Andre Miller cutting their heart out with a slow-speed driving layup in Denver to give the Nuggets the victory before eventually earning a split at Pepsi Center, but same difference.

Adversity? Bring it on.

A hole blown through the big-man rotation? Take your best shot.

Playing as No. 6 in the West against No. 3? Might as well.

For all the drama the Warriors would have preferred to avoid with a more-consistent regular season, for all the doubt that has built over Jackson’s future as coach, they bask in the underdog role. They don’t want it, but they respond to it.

A choppy end to the regular season — nothing more than a two-game win streak in nearly a month, home losses to the Nuggets, Knicks and Spurs minus Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili since March 22 — led right into the playoffs Saturday and the waiting Clippers.

And then a 109-105 Golden State victory.

As if it was that straightforward. The Warriors were DOA, falling behind 12-1, needing 4:22 for their first field goal and generally looking like they could not stand up to the challenge, then won in a building where the Clippers tied for the second-best home record in the league. Lee was enduring an individual meltdown, getting shots blocked, being sloppy with the ball, then in the second half was one of the keys to the comeback. Jermaine O’Neal, Bogut’s replacement as the starting center, made six of eight shots in the final two quarters.

The Warriors committed six turnovers in the fourth period, and 23 in all, while shooting 34.8 percent the final 12 minutes, and still won a playoff game on the road, with an obvious assist from Chris Paul being out of sync all day and Blake Griffin fouling out after 19 minutes. Golden State, the regular season of high expectations widely viewed as a disappointment and quickly arranging an exit from the playoffs, was transported back to needing to prove it belonged. It was like the old days.

“A lot, a lot,” forward Draymond Green said when asked if the 2014 start in L.A. reminded him of the 2013 start in Denver. “Coming in, we were the underdog. It was a 3-6 matchup. The only thing different is we let that game go in Denver and (the Nuggets) got Game 1. But at the end of the day, we come here to take care of business. We’re not coming in with the underdog mindset or with that mindset that we have nothing to lose. We feel like we’re just as good or better a basketball team as them and we’re going to continue to play like that and let the cards fall how they may.”

When the 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series was secured, ahead of Game 2 here Monday night, Klay Thompson spiked the ball into the court with a hard swing of his right arm. But mostly the Warriors exchanged high fives and walked calmly into the tunnel at one of the corners and down the hallway to the visitor’s locker room, showing no great emotion.

They acted like a team that still had everything to prove, not one that had done any proving. Perfect.

“I won’t say (we embraced the underdog role),” Jackson countered. “I will say that the lights are brightest. We won on the road last year in both rounds against two very good basketball teams (Denver and San Antonio). We know what we’re capable of doing. When you look at the makeup of this basketball team, individually and collectively they’re fighters. Top to bottom, we’ve got a bunch of guys that, the survey says, were not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be coaching. Got no experience. Stephen Curry’s supposed to be retired because of his ankle. David Lee was a loser. Jermaine O’Neal’s supposed to be finished. Harrison Barnes dropped in the draft. Klay Thompson, how can he be sitting with that talent at No. 11 in the draft? And then you look at Draymond Green. A gamer. A gamer. An absolute gamer. I thought Andre Iguodala again gave us great minutes and unfortunately fouled out. But it’s the makeup of this basketball team and I can continue to go on and on throughout my roster. It’s just a bunch of guys that just compete and fight.”

Jackson only oversold it by a multiple of 1,000. There was never talk Curry would retire, Lee was an All-Star before coming to Oakland and Barnes didn’t have a draft freefall. But point taken. The Warriors can reach a special emotional place and deliver in long-shot situations. They can still make it feel like last April in that way.

Warriors miss out on prime chance to keep moving forward

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Denver knocks off Golden State with a late Kenneth Faried jumper

OAKLAND – With the opportunity to make things easy on themselves for once and a chance to clinch a playoff spot against an injury-depleted, lottery-bound opponent (on the second night of a back-to-back, no less), the Warriors wouldn’t cooperate.

They handed it all back Thursday inside Oracle Arena, every comfort zone, every opening, every ideal scenario. The Warriors got hurt bad by Wilt Chamberlain — no, wait, that was Timofey (the Dream) Mozgov — but mostly brought the 100-99 loss to the Nuggets on themselves in an embarrassing loss that stands for more than a bad night.

Golden State is a better rebounding team than Denver, but not last night. They got drilled on the boards 63-38, with Mozgov grabbing 29 on his own — the most in the league this season — to go with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and three blocks. Golden State may have been without David Lee, but Denver was down three power forwards and centers, and besides, give up 29 to Bill Russell — check that, still Timofey (the Worm) Mozgov. Suddenly, this becomes about the heart of the healthy players, not Lee’s nerve inflammation that kept him out of the lineup.

Having been off since Sunday, and basically longer since no Warrior logged more than 31 minutes in a blowout win over the Jazz, the Warriors go run off the court … by the team that played Wednesday in Denver, got to their San Francisco hotel a little after 1 a.m. Thursday and won using eight players.

The team that trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second (Denver) showed toughness and determination while the group that might win 50 games (Golden State) showed there should be concern about the direction.

Because of everything that happened to Golden State with the playoffs so close, capped by Denver’s Kenneth Faried dropping in an eight-footer with five-tenths of a second remaining for the win, Thursday night wasn’t about Thursday night. With choppy times behind them and four games left in the season, the Warriors were in big-picture territory as a team surprisingly lacking focus and consistency as the postseason nears.

Or, maybe not.

“I won’t co-sign that,” coach Mark Jackson countered, disagreeing with the premise. “We lost a ballgame. I won’t say that the Houston Rockets are inconsistent with their focus. They lost to the Nuggets (Wednesday) night. Mozgov, Faried hurt us. We didn’t play well. We made mistakes. We lost a ballgame. I’m not concerned. It’s part of the process. You talk about the Spurs in a game (Thursday) that they don’t have to win, they go into Dallas, a team that’s at home and playing with a sense of urgency, and the Spurs win. It’s a mentality. They (the Spurs) didn’t just get it overnight. That’s the next step for us.”

But it’s not just the Denver game. The Warriors haven’t been dependable for weeks.

“We lost to a team that played desperate, out-worked us and hurt us on the boards,” Jackson said, dodging the issue.

The two games before this were very encouraging, a 130-102 trouncing of the Jazz on Sunday and the 102-69 light workout against the Kings on Friday. That was the look of a team ready for the playoffs.

But immediately before?

A loss at San Antonio, no shame considering the opponent and the circumstances of the second night of a back-to-back.

A win at Dallas.

A loss at home to the Knicks.

A win over the Grizzlies in Oakland.

A loss to the Spurs at Oracle Arena with San Antonio finishing a back-to-back and sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

And before that was three wins in a row preceded by two losses in a row.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our focus,” said Draymond Green, Thursday’s starting power forward. “Nobody was complaining about our focus the last two games, when we punched everybody by 40. We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing against a team like that who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, and those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night. We had a chance to put them away. We didn’t and they came back to bite us.”

That was right after Stephen Curry was asked if he was worried about the backslide, the Warriors’ direction with the postseason so close, and answered, “I’m not concerned about that at all. It’s not going to waiver our confidence when it comes to what’s going to happen when we get to the playoffs. But we’ve got learn these lessons. It’s as simple as that. You can’t take off possessions, you can’t take off quarters and expect to just turn it on when you need it. For us to close out these last four games and to win a playoff series, we’re going to need every ounce of effort, energy, focus and execution going forward.”

“This is a pretty veteran team,” a reporter pointed out. “Wouldn’t you guys have learned that lesson long ago?”

“You would think so,” Curry said. “But we fought down the stretch. Obviously Faried made a great play. We probably wouldn’t be talking like this if he misses that shot. But you put yourself in that situation, you’ve got to deal with the consequences. That’s what’s going on right now.”

That’s just the pain of what happened Thursday night, though. Until the Warriors show otherwise, there’s actually a lot more going on than that.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew sees the Warriors as a still-dangerous playoff squad

Warriors make another change to coaching staff

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Warriors rout the Kings, sweeping the season series

Adding another layer of scrutiny at a time they desperately need stability, the Warriors fired third-year assistant coach Darren Erman on Saturday for “a violation of company policy,” the second change to the coaching staff in 12 days.

Unlike re-assigning assistant Brian Scalabrine to the D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., though, there was no indication the Erman decision was connected to coach Mark Jackson. General manager Bob Myers said, according to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, that Erman’s termination was not a basketball decision and that Erman “had committed a serious violation” that Myers would not reveal.

A move that ordinarily would draw little attention became new speculation about the direction of the team because of the timing, so soon after another assistant, Scalabrine, was removed from the bench because of issues with Jackson. And all of that would be easier to overlook if the Warriors had better footing than sixth place in the Western Conference, at 47-29 having already matched last season’s win total but also just two games ahead of Phoenix and Memphis in a tie for No. 9 and the lottery.

The Warriors have not recorded two wins in a row since beating the Trail Blazers, Magic and Bucks on March 16-20. Then came six consecutive games of back and forth — losing to the Spurs, beating the Grizzlies, losing to the Knicks, beating the Mavericks, losing to the Spurs, beating the Kings — and the Scalabrine decision. Jackson, already under pressure from owner Joe Lacob to deliver more than improvement in the regular-season win total, has been followed the entire way by public speculation about his job future.

That will be decided by how happy Lacob is with the playoff outcome, not on the basis of Jackson’s relationship with assistant coaches. Even if the Erman firing has nothing to do with Jackson, it adds to the perception problem and becomes another potential distraction as the playoffs fast approach.

“This is not the norm,” Jackson said in the BANG story. “That’s OK because really in both decisions, the right decisions were made. You move forward. To me, I think it’s a great time for us as a team and an organization. To still be standing, this isn’t new. It’s new to you guys. It’s not new to us. So to still be standing, still winning and still in our right minds says a lot about this culture.

“A great pastor said, ‘You cannot fix the foundation in the middle of a storm. It’s too late then’. The foundation has been laid, and it’s going to hold up. There’s no question about that. I love that line.”

Myers’ comments Saturday included the obligatory vote of confidence for Jackson.

“We believe that Mark is fully capable, and we’re confident in his ability to keep going in the right direction, keep propelling us like he has all year, and we believe that he’s going to continue to be successful like he has been,” the GM said. “We believe in his ability the rest of the way.”

Warriors stand together in huge OT win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Golden State guts out big overtime win in Dallas

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.

Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

“When he dunked it, I was a second slow, almost the same identical play,” O’Neal said. “This time, I’m understanding where I need to be and Klay [Thompson] did a great job on making him pick up his dribble and really it was just perfect timing. It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it. I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that [goaltending].”

The victory, achieved in front of Warriors owner Joe Lacob — who is taking in the road tripdulled the pain of Sunday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. That defeat came on the heels of another dramatic victory, this time against a Memphis team that, like Dallas, is trying to not just make the playoffs but had the sixth-seeded (and David Lee-less) Warriors within their sights.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

This one carried tremendous importance for the Mavs. They were just 4-3 heading into their final game of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. All three losses came down to the wire, two in overtime. This was one they simply had to have, but couldn’t get against a team that came in lacking frontcourt starters Lee and Bogut.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about the Mavs’ tough loss at home to the Warriors

“Heartbreaker,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who did all he could with 33 points and 11 rebounds.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”

Said Curry on the heels of his second last-second game-winner against Dallas this season: “We understand that we lost some games that we should have won, but we don’t listen to any noise outside our locker room. For us, we understand we still control our own destiny. If we take care of our business we’ll be fine. So if we shut out all that noise, it’ll be the best situation for us.”

As the Warriors cleared out of the cramped visiting locker room, O’Neal, 35, hadn’t finished saying his piece, hadn’t finished putting this season, expected to be his final one, in perspective for himself, his team and everybody who follows it.

“So many people around us are trying to tear us apart,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never seen, even in your own town, so much adversity and so much negativity around a team that’s really striving to do special things. It baffles you a little bit, but it says a lot about our head coach, our staff, an organization that really supports us and keeps us in open arms. And it says a lot about these guys in this locker room who aren’t willing to let negativity tear us apart.

“We’re going to continue to try to learn and be a better team, continue to learn from our mistakes and I think tonight showed that we have a  lot of character on this team. We don’t have a lot of extended playoff experience, but we’re learning and we’re learning on the fly, and we’re fighting.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our coach, we’re fighting for our city, we’re fighting for our organization.”


VIDEO: The Warriors bask in their big win in Dallas

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

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 injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Kidd has come a long way in a few months


VIDEO: Jason Kidd talks with Rachel Nichols about his growth process as an NBA coach

BROOKLYN – Jason Kidd‘s coaching career began a little like his playing career ended.

As a player, he missed his last 18 shots. As a coach, he lost 21 of his first 31 games with the most expensive roster in NBA history. He was fined $50,000 for purposely spilling a drink so that his assistant coach could draw up a play. Through December, the Brooklyn Nets were below-average on both ends of the floor and were particularly brutal defensively.

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted an scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) since the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

The turnaround coincided with a seemingly sudden lineup change that created a new defensive identity. The Nets went from a bad team on Dec. 31 (when they were thumped by the San Antonio Spurs) to a good one two nights later (when they won in Oklahoma City).

But the players will tell you that they just needed time to get healthy and get to know one another. Deron Williams missed 11 of the team’s first 20 games, Andrei Kirilenko missed 26 of the first 30, and Brook Lopez missed nine of the first 24 before being lost for the season on Dec. 20. The Nets’ projected $82 million starting lineup played a total of 90 minutes together.

So, yeah, they needed some time to hit their stride. So did Kidd.

During the Nets’ episode of Real Training Camp in October, Kidd  was barely heard from. He was mostly on the sidelines as his assistants — like Lawrence Frank here – ran practice.

Kidd should have known when he hired Frank that he would look to take charge. That’s who Frank is. And Kidd, in hindsight, probably could have found a way to tone down his fiery assistant. Instead, as the losing mounted, the two knocked heads and in early December, Kidd kicked him off the bench.

It was a key moment in Kidd’s development as a coach.  Once his lead assistant was gone, he had no choice but to find his own voice.

Finding his way


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Jason Kidd during the Nets-Spurs game

“Everybody has to know who’s in charge,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said back in January. “And that’s the head coach. He’s the one calling the shots. I’ve never seen any one of the Pips try to lead. That’s Gladys’ role. Let Gladys be Gladys.”

In Brooklyn, Gladys is singing stronger than ever.

“He wasn’t being involved as much [in training camp],” Kirilenko said of Kidd recently. “He was watching more and observing. Now, he’s involved more and he’s talking more.”

Observing Kidd at one recent shootaround, Nets general manager Billy King said to assistant GM Frank Zanin, “From November to now, it’s night and day. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Kidd will tell you that he and the team grew together, that it took “everybody” to get through those first two months. King believes the improvement started with the coach.

“I think he developed the group,” King told NBA.com, “by spending time talking to individual players and the players as a group. I think he molded them to become a group and be one, rather than be individuals. It comes from sharing the basketball, being accountable.

“And that was him from the beginning. He challenged the guys to share the basketball, to sacrifice for each other.”

After a loss in Boston earlier this month, Kidd looked at the box score and didn’t lament that the Nets shot 4-for-30 from 3-point range, but that their shot distribution was unbalanced. Only four times this season has a Net attempted more than 20 shots in a game, and two of those games went to overtime. Only the Jazz (two) have fewer games of a player taking 20 or more shots. Fourteen teams have 20 or more.

Though five guys are getting paid like stars, it’s a team thing in Brooklyn. Ask Kidd about how a particular player impacted a game and he’d rather talk about the group. Ask him about himself and he probably won’t give you an answer at all (though he did say last week that he never regretted his choice to become a coach just days after retiring).

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” he said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.”

Relying on ‘instincts’


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Nets improved play

When the Nets were looking for a coach last summer, Kidd told ownership, “We need a leader.” They suggested Kidd and, after an interview, King bought in and sought advice from his college coach.

“Don’t put him in a coaching box,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told King. “Let his instincts take over and he’ll be fine.”

Indeed, there’s probably more Jason Kidd in the coach than coach in Kidd. Or maybe he’s been a coach all along. Those who have watched the New York Knicks the last two seasons would certainly make that argument.

As the best point guard of the last 20 years, Kidd has had his teammates’ respect from Day 1. Now, he’s the closest thing the NBA has had to a player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.

“I look at him as the head coach,” Joe Johnson said. “But then I still look at him as a good friend. It’s almost like he’s still a player.”

The respect that players have for Kidd can go a long way. He hasn’t been afraid to bench one or more of his high-priced stars for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Now that his team has found its identity, he has a feel for what is working and what isn’t.

Orchestrating a successful season


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explains the Nets’ path to finding their identity

“From my seat [a few feet away from the bench], I get to see him orchestrate, from offense to defense,” King said. “He’s telling guys where to go and changing plays on the fly.”

And Kidd’s knowledge of what his team needs goes beyond his in-game decisions. Shaun Livingston was his choice for the back-up point guard spot last summer, a decision that has worked out brilliantly. In February, Kidd believed that his team could handle the addition of Jason Collins, and he was right on that one, too.

“The thing that really has struck me is his attention to detail as a rookie coach,” King said, “like player minutes to rotations to sticking with the bench longer than some other people would as a rookie coach. I think he’s managed players’ minutes to try to keep them as fresh as possible. A lot of times, as a rookie coach, they don’t, because they got to keep their best players out there to win that game.”

As a player, Kidd was usually the smartest guy on the floor. As a coach, he’s allowing his basketball mind to flourish.

“There are several teammates who I’ve played with where you can see that they just think the game, and their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Collins said. “J-Kidd was always that way as a teammate. Now, it’s turned into the Xs and Os.”

Kidd knows he still has a long way to go. Asked how comfortable he’s become as a coach, he replied, “I’m still working at it. There’s no comfort level here.”

The playoffs will be another huge test. Given that the Nets, overall, have fallen short of expectations, there are better Coach of the Year candidates. Kidd is still making questionable decisions, like intentionally fouling with the Nets up four points in the final seconds against Toronto earlier this month.

But considering how quickly he has developed and how well he’s recovered from his early growing pains, it’s clear that the Nets have found themselves a winner.

“He’s not going to do something just to be average at it,” King said. “He wants to be great at whatever he does, whether it’s golf, coaching, playing, he wants to be great at it. That’s the approach he took from Day 1 here.”

Back to that early-season criticism of Kidd: When he was hired, there was a consensus among observers that he would need some time to adjust to his new role. In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened in November and December.

Since then? Well, at this point, it would be nice to hear from Beck’s scout again.

“It’s a marathon,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about the NBA season. You can be judged on the first game, but the ones who know best, you’re not judged until the end.”

He was speaking of his team. But he might well have been talking about himself.


VIDEO:
Rod Boone of Newsday talks about the Nets’ recent surge in play

Morning Shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers, Heat a true playoff atmosphere | Players noticing Jackson-front office discord? | Gasol (vertigo) will miss L.A.’s road trip | Popovich pinpoints Mills’ emergence

No. 1: Pacers, Heat provide a tasty playoff preview — If you somehow managed to miss last night’s Heat-Pacers showdown from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana, do yourself a favor and catch the game on League Pass this morning. It’s OK, we’ll wait till you’re done … so, now that that’s out of the way, you had to leave that game feeling like most of us did — when can the playoffs start already? Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene last night in Indy and has more from the classic, modern-day rivalry we all saw last night:

Surely, Washington and Detroit would understand. Same with Cleveland and Milwaukee and the other teams on the Indiana Pacers’ and Miami Heat’s schedules over the short term.If the NHL could shut down for a few weeks to accommodate the Winter Olympics, the NBA and its member teams no doubt would oblige by staging the Eastern Conference finals now, wouldn’t they?

This one – Pacers 84, Heat 83 – was that special. And raggedy. And nasty. And hot.

There were grimaces and grumbles in the visitors’ dressing room afterward, smiles and a couple of exhales over on the home team’s side, and for a night – portending, soon enough, a fortnight – all was right with the NBA world.

Not all right in the sense that Miami lost and, with it, an opportunity to squeeze the Pacers a little harder in that chase for the East’s No. 1 seed. But all right in the way storm clouds over both teams got shoved aside by the sun burst of playoff-worthy basketball from all involved.

Emotions ran hot, as evidenced by the dueling technical fouls on Lance Stephenson and Dwyane Wade for barking close in the third quarter. Later, both were gone, done in by their respective fatal flaws: Stephenson’s immaturity and Wade’s assorted ailments.

Physically, this was May, not March. James, one of the league’s brawniest players, was in the thick of it. On one play, he got dragged down by Indiana big man Ian Mahinmi. It was reviewed as a flagrant foul but recast as a shooting foul. Next, he was whacked hard by Luis Scola, his recently broken nose taking impact. It too was reviewed as a flagrant but recast as a common foul.

How perfect was this stuff? There had been no handshakes before the game, no chit-chat or fraternity hugs. There certainly won’t be any next time, not now, not after the bodies spent sprawling and the blood spilled Wednesday.

But best of all, as West saw it, Indiana matched Miami in rugged play and giving as good as they got. With the game in their gym, they felt they had a solid chance to stay even on the whistles.

“They’re a tough team and psychologically, against most teams, they have the edge,” West said. “They have the best player in the game. Wade and Bosh are Hall of Fame guys. They’ve got that pedigree, their entire organization. You understand what you’re gonna get.”

Better than that, fans of both teams and the league in general understand what they’re gonna get when these two teams meet again. And, soon enough, again and again and again.


VIDEO: Hibbert, George power Indy’s big win over Miami

***

No. 2: Players noticing Warriors’ discord? — As we mentioned in this space yesterday, the Warriors were on the verge of reassigning assistant coach Brian Scalabrine at the behest of coach Mark Jackson. That move went through yesterday as Scalabrine was sent down to Golden State’s NBA D-League affiliate, but a bigger issue may be bubbling to the forefront. One point brought up in the Scalabrine demotion was the notion that Jackson clashed with his former assistant, current Kings coach Michael Malone, last season. Both Malone and Jackson denied that talk, but as Marcus Thompson of the Mercury News points out, players are noticing the rifts between Jackson and the front office:

Stephen Curry’s comments may not have been surprising. But I get the feeling they were calculated.

“I love coach and everything he’s about,” Curry told reporters after practice on Wednesday.

This new drama related to Mark Jackson demoting Brian Scalabrine is the latest example of a trend some players have noticed – management may not be so high on Jackson. Curry is clearly one of them, perhaps the most important. And his unabashed support of Jackson is undoubtedly a message.

Once again, Warriors management has decided not to publicly support Jackson. That trend isn’t lost on a few players who staunchly supports their coach. A few players expressed the dismay at the lack of favor Jackson has despite the success he’s enjoyed the last two seasons. They see that Jackson simply had the final of his year picked up and was not given his extension. They took note when co-owner Joe Lacob told Tim Kawakami he was disappointed and had some concerns about Jackson. And while Jackson has been constantly under attack, they’ve noticed no one has come out to Jackson’s defense.

Now that the Bay is abuzz about this Scalabrine news, and questioning Jackson, management has chosen to stay quiet.

Multiple players have told me they get the sense Jackson could end up leaving – whether it is by Jackson’s choice or management’s. Whether these divisive undercurrents are problematic remains to be seen. It may even help, if they play harder for him if they feel their coach is under appreciated. Or, what if the message from management starts to filter into the pysche of the players? Will they invest as much in a coach they might see is on his way out or that management doesn’t want around?


VIDEO: Steph Curry and Mark Jackson talk after Wednesday’s practice

***

No. 3: Lakers’ Gasol (vertigo) to miss two more gamesPau Gasol hasn’t suited up for the L.A. Lakers since he played 19 minutes in a 103-94 victory over the Orlando Magic on March 23. Since then, Gasol has been dealing with issues related to his bout with vertigo and will not be traveling with the team on their two-game road trip to Milwaukee and Minnesota, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Pau Gasol, still suffering from symptoms related to his bout of vertigo over the weekend, did not travel with the Los Angeles Lakers when they left for their two-game trip through Milwaukee and Minnesota on Wednesday, according to the team.

Gasol visited ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. John Rehm and it was determined to keep Gasol back in Los Angeles for rest and recovery. The 13-year veteran is not expected to meet the team by taking a commercial flight later in the week.

Gasol is officially being listed as day to day, although he has not been cleared for basketball activities after leaving Sunday’s 103-94 win over the Orlando Magic because of dizziness and nausea and spending the night in the hospital after receiving three liters of fluids through an IV.

Gasol is expected to visit Dr. Rehm on a daily basis to monitor his progress.

Chris Kaman, who started at center and put up 13 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 127-96 rout of the New York Knicks on Tuesday, is expected to continue to fill in for Gasol with the first unit.

***

No. 4: Popovich pinpoints Mills’ emergence – When San Antonio’s All-Star point guard Tony Parker was deemed out indefinitely in mid-February due to his myriad of injuries, some might have been concerned about the Spurs’ ability to win without him. But as has been the San Antonio way for years now, another player plugged into Parker’s spot and kept things humming along. That player? Backup guard Patty Mills, who played in 58 games last season, averaging 11.3 mpg, 5.1 ppg and 1.1 apg. This season, he’s emerged as Parker’s No. 1 backup and is averaging 9.8 ppg and 1.8 apg in 18.4 mpg. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News points out that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich credits Mills’ efforts to trim down for his rise in production:

Leave it to Gregg Popovich to sum up the reason for Patty Mills’ breakout season in crystal-clear terms. Or more specifically, why Mills struggled to secure a consistent role during his first four NBA seasons:

“He was a little fat ass. He had too much junk in the trunk. His decision making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape. He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions. He did all those things better and he earned it. He’s been real important to us, obviously.”

The difference in Mills’ physique was immediately noticeable at training camp. Mills has put his new-found abs and endurance to good use, averaging 9.8 points in a career-high 18.5 minutes. Coming on 40.8-percent accuracy, Mills has more than doubled his previous career high for 3-pointers to 111. For the stat geeks, his 18.4 Player Efficiency Rating — 15.0 is average — is also a career-high, while his plus 3.2 Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus ranks 21st in the entire NBA.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rajon Rondo will serve as a guest TV analyst for the Celtics on March 31 … Wolves president Flip Saunders might be coach shopping at the NCAA TournamentThaddeus Young, aka “Grandfather” on the Sixers, has embraced his role as leader of the young, struggling squad … New Knicks boss Phil Jackson is apparently a fan of combo guard Iman ShumpertMike Brown got his 300th win as Cavaliers coach last night …

ICYMI of the Night: Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters had himself quite a game last night against the Raptors and nailed this pretty little layup, too …


VIDEO: Dion Waiters sinks the crafty reverse layup against Toronto

Morning Shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook unsure if he’ll be on minutes limit | Report: Warriors to reassign Scalabrine | Aldridge hopes to play Thursday | Izzo quells Pistons talk | Kaman not happy with his role in Lakerland

No. 1: Westbrook unsure if he’ll face minutes limit in playoffs — It is understandable that the Oklahoma City Thunder would want to be careful with how much star guard Russell Westbrook plays as the season winds down. After all, Westbrook has had three knee surgeries within the last eight months and OKC knows it needs him healthy to make any kind of serious run at The Finals. As our Jeff Caplan reported last night, though, Westbrook says he’s unsure if he’ll be on a minutes/time limit once the playoffs get rolling:

Russell Westbrook returned to action Tuesday night for the first time since his knee scare four nights earlier in Toronto. He remains on a minutes restriction, up to 32 a game, a precaution he’s not yet sure will be lifted once the playoffs start in little more than three weeks.“I’m not sure,” Westbrook said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Mavericks. “Once I talk to the doctors, the coaches and the people I I need to talk to about that, then we’ll figure it out.”

“I feel great, but it ain’t about this year,” Westbrook said. “I’m 25 years old, you know? It’s not all about right now. You got to think about the future. I can’t just think about what’s going on right now. I’m still young, I’m trying to play as long as I can.”

Westbrook’s knee nightmare started 11 months ago in the first round of the playoffs when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley careened into him, tearing the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee and ending his season. He underwent surgery to repair the meniscus days later and then required two subsequent, and unexpected arthroscopic procedures, one coming days before the start of training camp and another two days after he put up a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day.

The latest setback kept him out until Feb. 20. Tuesday’s 129-118 overtime loss to the Mavs was the first time since his return that he logged more than 31 minutes. He played 33, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks, in order to adhere to the minutes restriction, sat Westbrook for the first 2:57 of overtime. OKC fell behind 120-113 before he checked in.

Westbrook has averaged 26.3 minutes in the 12 games he played prior to Tuesday night. His career average is 34.0 mpg and he averaged 38.4 mpg in the 2011-12 playoffs when OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. Along with the minutes restriction, which has been bumped up from 25-26 minutes initially to 30-32, Westbrook will continue to be held out of one game of back-to-back situations.

That leaves Westbrook available for eight of the Thunder’s final 11 games. OKC wraps up the regular season on April 16 and will open the first round at home that weekend. How the team will handle his minutes at that point, Brooks said, is not yet a significant part of the discussion.

“I haven’t really focused on a lot of that because there’s plenty of time for us to talk about that,” Brooks said. “We’re just focusing on what we have in place and that’s just the regular season. We’ve had some small discussions about what we’re going to do moving forward, but right now we haven’t really locked up anything.”

“It’s just my mindset, how I think, how I get myself going,” Westbrook said. “I just think to myself, go out and try to compete, that’s it, go out and help my team win. I know when I’m on the floor my only thing is go out and play hard and try to win.”

Since his return after the All-Star break, he’s averaged 21.0 points, 7.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds. His shooting percentages — 45.2 overall and 41.3 from beyond the arc — are higher than his overall shooting percentages.

“I mean, I’ve been confident,” Westbrook said. “The training staff and the rehab that I’ve done has put me in a great spot to be able to come out and perform at a high level, how I want to perform. So I have confidence in my knee; just have to go out there and play and let the rest take care of itself.”


VIDEO: The Mavs win an OT thriller against the Thunder

***

No. 2: Report: Warriors to reassign Scalabrine — A fan favorite during his playing days in New Jersey, Boston and Chicago, Brian Scalabrine has transitioned into a burgeoning coaching career in the NBA now. As a assistant coach in his first year on the Warriors’ staff, Scalabrine is working toward his long-term goal of becoming an NBA coach. His journey, however, may face a slight detour, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, as the Warriors are expected to move Scalabrine into another role at the behest of coach Mark Jackson:

In what’s become an increasingly dysfunctional atmosphere, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson has forced a reassignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ownership and management have been strong advocates of Scalabrine and his performance on the job, sources told Yahoo Sports. Nevertheless, Warriors officials decided that as long as Jackson is the head coach, he’ll have control of his coaching staff.

It is immediately unclear what kind of a role to which the Warriors will transition Scalabrine, but management has no intention of letting him leave the organization, sources said.

Over the past two years, Jackson’s difficulty with managing his coaching staff and creating a functional work environment has developed into one of the issues that threatens his future on the job, league sources said.

Scalabrine, who joined the staff in July, was Jackson’s choice as an assistant coach. For two straight years, Jackson has had issues with assistant coaches that he hired. Michael Malone and Jackson would go weeks without speaking to each other a year ago, league sources said. Malone left Golden State to become the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Jackson, in his third year at the helm of the Warriors, has one year left on his contract, but has come under increased scrutiny within the organization for how he has run the team and worked on the job. There have been no conversations about an extension for Jackson – nor are they expected to take place, sources said.

***

No. 3: Sliding Blazers hope to have Aldridge back Thursday — As our Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in a post you may have missed, the Blazers’ reliance on 3-pointers that fueled their early success may be their undoing now. While that may or may not be true, one thing that’s hurting Portland’s chances at winning is LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence from the starting lineup. Aldridge has missed the Blazers’ last seven games with a back contusion, but told CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes he hopes to play Thursday night in Atlanta:

The Portland Trail Blazers sunk to a new low when they got outplayed and outworked by the Orlando Magic, resulting in an embarrassing 95-85 loss Tuesday night in the Amway Center.“It’s probably the lowest point as far as being inconsistent, but it’s also the toughest,” Damian Lillard said postgame. “It’s getting down to that point where it’s time to make that push and get in the playoffs…We just got to tightened up and get it done.”

The Trail Blazers have shot 40 percent or lower in their last three games. Their lack of focus and energy level is clearly noticeable. On the defensive end, well, that continues to be a concern.

They need a savior, badly. And one may be on its way.

Slouched in his locker room stall after the game was a defeated-looking LaMarcus Aldridge who has sat out the team’s last seven games as he deals with a nagging back contusion. He looked helpless, wishing he could help his team.

The power forward spoke to members of the media for a few minutes and provided a ray of hope for the organization and the fan base.

“I say I’m trying to go no matter what [against Atlanta on Thursday] but if I look good enough to play [in Wednesday’s workout], then I’m going to play,” he said. “It’s up to the medical staff.”

Center Robin Lopez didn’t hold back about how he feels about Aldridge’s contribution to the team.

“We need L.A.,” Lopez said. “In order for us to be at our best, he has to be on the court with us. He’s our leader.”

Aldridge says he’s been getting better each passing day. The Trail Blazers are 3-4 since he took that hard fall in San Antonio on Mar. 12. He admitted that he didn’t think it would take this long. He wanted to play tonight, but the pain was too severe when he tried to run.

The eight-year vet was asked if a return on Thursday has anything to do with the team losing, and he replied saying it factors into it, though he reiterated that it’s ultimately the call of the team’s medical staff.

“It (losing) makes me want to play even worse, yes it does,” Aldridge answered in frustration. “But it’s not about me, it’s about the medical staff and them saying I can play. I’ve been wanting to play but obviously if you can’t move, you can’t play.”

Wednesday’s practice will be the first time since the injury that he’ll experience some body contact and try to go all out.


VIDEO:
Blazers coach Terry Stotts talks about Portland’s loss in Orlando

***

No. 4: Michigan State’s Izzo quiets NBA talk – As most NBA observers know, the Detroit Pistons are in a state of unrest in many ways. They fired coach Maurice Cheeks just 50 games into this season in a move that owner Tom Gores recently told the Detroit Free Press that he felt good about in retrospect. General manager Joe Dumars is thought to be on thin ice and could lose his job this offseason and Gores might have an eye on a local name — Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo — as the man to steer the Pistons in a winning direction. However, Izzo, in an interview with ESPN yesterday, seems fairly content in East Lansing, Mich.:

Tom Izzo has a message for the NBA should it come calling again: He’s still happy in college.

“There’s been so many rumors over the years,” the Michigan State coach said on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Tuesday. “I look at people I used to recruit against years ago [that] said that I’d be gone, but I’m still here and some of those schools have had three different coaches.

“I’ve always said I’d never say never to anything because you never know what it brings. But I got so much more work to do here. I have a great president, a great AD and a football coach that I really get along [with]. So this is a pretty good place for me right now. We’re in a pretty good spot. Program’s in pretty good shape.

“Ain’t broke, so why fix it?”

Izzo’s comments come after a USA Today report stated the Detroit Pistons, enduring another disappointing campaign, could make a play for Izzo after this season.

The Pistons are expected to be in the market for a new coach. Maurice Cheeks was fired during the season, and interim coach John Loyer likely won’t be back.

Izzo said after Tuesday’s practice that he hasn’t talked to the Pistons or Detroit owner Tom Gores, adding that he has never met Gores, a Michigan State graduate.

“I swear to you, I have not talked to one soul from the Pistons,” Izzo said.

Izzo, 59, flirted with the NBA in the past, nearly taking the Cleveland Cavaliers’ job in 2010. He is 467-186 in 19 seasons, and his teams have reached six Final Fours. The Spartans have made the NCAA tournament 17 consecutive seasons and won the title in 1999-2000.

***

No. 5: Kaman unhappy in Lakerland, sounds off — Center Chris Kaman, a former All-Star, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Part of his struggles can be attributed to a foot injury that cost him to miss several patches of the Lakers’ first 69 games. But Kaman also hasn’t been happy with how he’s been used by coach Mike D’Antoni and expressed his frustration to the media before last night’s victory over the visiting New York Knicks:

Chris Kaman can’t wait until his miserable season with the Los Angeles Lakers finally ends.

Until then, he’s just trying to salvage something out of this wrong turn in his basketball career.

Kaman was the Lakers’ starting center Tuesday night against the New York Knicks with Pau Gasol sidelined by vertigo, but it was his first game action in March. The former All-Star 7-footer had watched the previous 10 games from the sidelines, unable to carve out any role in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system.

“It’s been a long season,” Kaman said. “I can’t wait until it’s over, I’ll tell you that.”

Kaman, an 11-year NBA veteran, called it the most frustrating season of his career “by far. Tenfold.”

Although he is averaging 9.9 points per game when he plays, Kaman is at career lows in rebounds (5.6) and minutes per game (18.4).

Kaman’s frustration has been palpable since shortly after he signed a one-year deal with the Lakers as a free agent in July. He appeared in just 34 of the Lakers’ first 69 games this season, with a foot injury hindering him much less than his inability to click with Los Angeles’ coaching staff.

“I was surprised the way we started the first preseason game,” Kaman said of his inability to crack D’Antoni’s rotation. “My bad on my part not doing due diligence enough to look into (D’Antoni’s) style of play.”

Kaman said he hadn’t spoken to D’Antoni since the Lakers were in Portland on March 3. The center doesn’t necessarily think that’s weird, but he leaves little doubt he doesn’t sync with D’Antoni’s style of coaching or management.

“I’m not at peace about it,” Kaman added. “I’m (ticked) about it, but I can’t control it. … It’s tough, but the best thing to do is play and try to stay positive and finish on a strong note.”

After spending his first eight NBA seasons with the Clippers, who made him the sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Kaman was traded to the New Orleans Hornets for one season.

He was similarly frustrated last season after signing with the Dallas Mavericks, struggling to get off coach Rick Carlisle‘s bench and chafing at his lack of involvement. He also missed time with a concussion.

Kaman said he can’t stay in game shape without playing in any games, and he expected to be rusty in his first game back. His foot injury is nothing that would prevent him from playing, and he’s still hoping he’ll get some time on court in the Lakers’ final 12 games of what’s likely to be the franchise’s worst season since moving to Los Angeles.

Kaman, who turns 32 next month, said he’ll “just do my job, make this go as quick as possible, and go from there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Feels like we’ve heard this from Kobe Bryant before, but he told the New Yorker that Shaquille O’Neal was “lazy” …Spurs forward Matt Bonner will miss the next two weeks with a calf strain … Cavaliers forward Luol Deng doesn’t like not being in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 … Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke says Utah fans are being ‘selfish’ when they root for the Jazz to lose to increase their Draft lottery chancesChris Bosh opened up on “The Dan Le Batard Show” on South Florida radio about his nickname, his best friends on the team and more

ICYMI of the Night: Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters had himself quite a game last night against the Raptors and nailed this pretty little layup, too …


VIDEO: Dion Waiters sinks the crafty reverse layup against Toronto

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A “defining moment” for the Heat | Warriors talk it out | Lillard becomes a leader | Beal goes down in Wizards’ win | Lakers can move on without Jackson

No. 1: A “defining moment” for the Heat — When they won their first six games after the All-Star break, we thought the Miami Heat had flipped the switch in preparation for the playoffs. But they’ve since lost five of their last six, falling to the below-.500 Denver Nuggets at home on Friday. There’s still a month left in the regular season, but LeBron James believes this is a “defining moment” for the champs, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes:

This shrine of basketball on Biscayne Bay hasn’t known tedium for some time, but a little bit of that stuff has crept into the cracks of the hardwood in recent days. The Heat (44-19) has lost five of its past six games and is 3-5 in March.

“A tough loss at home, and we just have to figure it out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not the way this streak started. Sometimes, it just happens to you in this league where things turn and moment changes and you find yourself in a hole you feel like you can’t get out of. Obviously, we’ll be able to get out of it. When? We don’t know.”

Said James: “We’ve been here before. It has been a while, but we’ve been here before, and this moment will either define our season or end our season. … We always have one defining moment, and this is it right here for us.”

***

No. 2: Warriors talk it out — The Heat weren’t the only good team to suffer an embarrassing loss at home on Friday. The Golden State Warriors gave up 68 points across the second and third quarters in a 103-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s not acceptable for a team that has mostly won with defense this season. So the Dubs aired it out in a post-game meeting, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News writes:

Mark Jackson took extra, extra time to come out to speak to the media and spoke about as harshly as he has allowed himself to during his Warriors tenure–so the mood was clearly a little different.

Why? This season has been built on defense, and the Warriors built a huge early lead and then got shredded by a bad Cleveland team, which is just about what Jackson said.

Then, after Jackson’s presser, maybe 30 minutes after the game ended, the locker room was opened to the media and players were noticeably still talking to each other – not at all heatedly, but with nods and solemn expressions.

One player stood out – Stephen Curry was still in uniform and walked up to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bogut and David Lee (among others) and had long one-on-one discussions in the locker room corridors.

***

No. 3: Lillard becomes a leader — Speaking of locker room meetings, the Blazers had one after Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio, their fourth straight. And it started with Damian Lillard, who doesn’t want to settle for having just played hard. He wants results and Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes that the point guard’s speech may have been a turning point for the Blazers:

“Hold on,” Lillard said.

And from there, a passionate, pointed and spontaneous flow of emotions and leadership came from Lillard. His interjection, and subsequent soliloquy, sparked a team meeting. The players and coaches want the details of the meeting to stay in house, but Lillard said the essence of his speech was that it was up to the players, not the coaches, to step up in crunch time, and to not accept the “we competed hard” as a pacifier for losing.

“He took control,” said Dorell Wright, who is in his 10th NBA season. “It was a big step for him.”

Added Wesley Matthews: “It showed he’s grown. He’s one of those guys who has always led by example, and he put it on himself. He was tired of losing so he voiced his opinion. It was good.”

***

No. 4: Beal goes down in Wizards’ win — The Washington Wizards came back from six down in the final 65 seconds of regulation to win in Orlando on Friday. But Bradley Beal turned his right ankle in overtime, meaning that the win may cost the Wizards in the long run. They play a big game against the Nets – with whom they’re tied in the standings – in Washington on Saturday. Michael Lee of the Washington Post had the story from Orlando:

The night didn’t end without a brief scare. On the next possession, Beal forced rookie Victor Oladipo (15 points) into missing a driving layup and rolled his right ankle when he landed. Beal hit the floor, weeping in the hardwood, thinking that he had broken his ankle, as his concerned teammates gathered around him. Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. eventually had to carry Beal to the locker room but he walked out of the arena on his own power.

“I was just hoping it wasn’t broken. That’s always a player’s first instinct — hope and pray it’s nothing too too serious and fortunately, it was only a sprain,” Beal said. “We just keep going, keep attacking. You’re not always going to stay hot all the time. You’re not going to make all your shots. For us to get this win up underneath us is a great feeling.”

***

No. 5: Lakers can move on without Jackson — It’s been almost three years since Phil Jackson left the Los Angeles Lakers, but only now can the franchise finally have some closure. Lakers fans may still want Phil, but he was never going to get what he wanted (full control) in L.A. Ramona Shelburne has a good read on the Jackson story from the Lakers’ perspective:

Over the past three years, he’s been neither coach nor consultant. His fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is the one still receiving Laker paychecks, not him. But in his absence, Jackson’s presence has only grown larger among the Lakers and their fans. By remaining in the shadows, his enormous shadow has hung over the franchise. The “We want Phil” chants still ring out at Staples Center from time to time.

People got used to it that way. It was comforting to know Jackson was still there, close by. Just a tweet away. That also made it hard for other things to grow, but it was better than the alternative.

When legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, Jackson was still the one subsuming that patriarchal role in this very strange, dysfunctional saga. The Lakers and their fans never really had to stare into the abyss in front of them.

Now they do. That it took a full week for Jackson to formally sign on as the Knicks president after word of their serious mutual interest leaked only prolonged the torture for Laker fans.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a response to an Op-Ed by agent Jeff Schwartz, Chris Paul detailed the NBPA’s search for a new executive director … In an up-and-down season, Jonas Valanciunas had a big night against the Grizzlies … Nikola Pekovic couldn’t play through ankle pain on FridayThe Nets have signed Jason Collins for the remainder of the season … and O.J. Mayo is out of the Bucks’ rotation.

ICYMI of The Night: Lillard backed up his words, scoring 27 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter) in Friday’s win in New Orleans:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

Bazemore hopes to stick with Lakers, learn from Bryant


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore gets loose for a nice dunk against the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tiny Kelford, N.C., is a place where kids still play basketball outdoors on patches of dirt. Fortunately for Kent Bazemore, outside the three-bedroom, two-bath, single-wide trailer he grew up in with his mom, dad and younger brother, a concrete slab sat vacant. It was big enough so that if you put up a basketball goal at each end it would suffice quite nicely as a full-length basketball court, and a magnet for kids throughout rural Bertie County.

Thank goodness for that slab because Glynis Bazemore was dead set against her two young boys, Kent and WyKevin, going off to play basketball one block over at the park where they’d be out of her sight.

So she brought the park home.

“I’d have a yard full of guys on a Saturday on up until a Sunday afternoon because, understand you had to go to church,” Glynis said. “After that they would play basketball until the sun went down.”

The single pole with a light bright enough to play through dusk turned the Bazemore home into something of a rustic Rucker Park from the time Kent was an absurdly tall and skinny 10-year-old until he graduated from Bertie High School, a gangly, 6-foot-5 playmaker overlooked by every major Division I program.

“We had one [basketball] goal that went in and then the kids from our neighborhood, we put up some money, gave it to my mom, she drove like 30 minutes away, got us another basket and so we got another one at the other end and we would go at it,” Bazemore told NBA.com during a recent telephone interview.

A Feb. 19 trade has elevated him from a towel-waving bench-warmer with the Golden State Warriors to a productive rotation player with his favorite team as a child, the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It got really popular. Other kids would drive from other parts of the county and kids would take like 25-minute drives, they were bringing their own groups of 4-on-4,” Bazemore said. “We would have tournaments all day. A lot of nights you go home with big scars on your legs, falling on your hip on the cement and you had to play through it, you just kept playing. It’s amazing how I’m able to still walk now going through the things I’ve been through playing in good, old Kelford, North Carolina.”

Childhood dream realized in L.A.

In star-studded L.A., Bazemore, a free-agent-to-be, is getting a golden chance to audition for the Lakers as well as every other NBA club. An exuberant, high-motor, blue-collar gym rat, Bazemore went undrafted in 2012, one year after earning National Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior at Old Dominion, where he graduated with two degrees ( criminal justice and human services). He wants to stick with the Lakers long term and relishes the possibility to play alongside his favorite childhood player-turned-teammate, Kobe Bryant, regardless of the growing tales of the superstar’s grating, overly demanding ways.

“Shoot, that would be a dream come true, and with the track record he has, the body of work he has, I would be all ears,” Bazemore said. “For a guy who’s been through everything he’s been through, playing half of his life in this league, winning multiple championships, why not listen? If I got to go against him every day, I know I’m not cheating myself, so I would look forward to it. In all honesty, I don’t think he’s that tough to play with. If he demands a lot, he just wants to be great. You can’t really knock that.”

Bazemore’s camp believes if he continues to contribute as he has in his first 10 games, the struggling Lakers, seeking to rebuild their roster and needing inexpensive, athletic players around Bryant next season, will make the $1.1 million qualifying offer this summer. That would make Bazemore, 24, a restricted free agent and allow L.A. to match any team’s offer. With no qualifying offer, Bazemore becomes an unrestricted free agent.

“The Lakers, I think,” said Calvin Moore, Bazemore’s former coach at Bertie High School, “found a diamond just like Old Dominion did.”

In logging nearly 30 minutes a game in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s free-wheeling offense, the southpaw Bazemore is averaging 14.6 ppg on 45.9 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He’s started eight games and recorded career highs of 15, 17 and 23 points in each of his first three games, the latter coming against Indiana when he went toe-to-toe with Paul George, even frustrating the All-Star into 2-for-11 shooting in the first half of a game the Pacers eventually won. Nonetheless, Bazemore’s presence, and his impressive wing span, were duly noted.

Moore sends many texts to his best and always hardest-working player from what were gritty BHS basketball teams filled mostly with football players. During the Pacers game, he couldn’t stop messaging Bazemore. At halftime, he cautioned Bazemore to be alert for George’s adjustments even though he knew Bazemore wouldn’t see the texts until after the game.

“That’s one of the things from high school: You’re going to play defense, some things are non-negotiable,” Moore said. “He just took it and ran with it and I think he can do the same thing for any team he plays with in the league.”

Bazemore honed craft in Golden State


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore’s passionate support on the bench was a hallmark of his Golden State days

The Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks

Kent Bazemore deeply valued his 2012 Summer League experience.

In 44 games with Golden State this season, Bazemore averaged 6.1 mpg and 2.1 ppg. The Warriors swapped Bazemore’s potential for the need-it-now veteran reliability of point guard Steve Blake. Bazemore said he holds no grudges and praised Golden State’s ownership and management for inviting him onto their Summer League team in 2012 and then signing him to a two-year contract. He thanked the Warriors’ coaching staff, saying “they were all out for my best interests” and blamed himself for the need for a trade by not being ready to assume the backup point guard role.

“Steve Blake is a great fit for them because I’m not your prototypical point guard and we experimented with that,” Bazemore said. “That’s my fault if you ask me. I wasn’t ready to take on that role. They gave me every opportunity to show that.”

Over the last season and a half, Bazemore put in lengthy hours with Warriors assistant coach Joe Boylan. The two formed a partnership and a friendship, and Bazemore said he will reunite with Boylan this summer to train. He wants to work on playing lower with the ball so smaller guards can’t crowd his 6-foot-5 frame. (Boylan couldn’t comment on this story because Warriors coach Mark Jackson does not allow his assistants to speak to the media in-season.)

“The thing with this league is you create relationships far beyond basketball,” Bazemore said. “For me, playing right now, he’s [Boylan] probably the happiest guy on earth. I would turn 45 minute-workouts into 2 ½-hour workouts just trying to make six shots from one spot when I first got to Golden State and he’d be the one chasing down all those rebounds.

“As time went on I got a lot better, the workouts got shorter and there were days where I would breeze through them. But we would always work hard; show up early, leave late.”

Lessons from home still ring true

The foundation of which started with those scrapes and bruises on the cement court, but mostly from the ground rules set by and the constant encouragement from his mom. She worked three jobs for years up until only last month, finally deciding to give up the school-bus route as well as being a short-order cook at her brother-in-law’s restaurant, Bazemore’s Country Kitchen, which Kent swears serves the best food in Bertie county, population 20,000. She still has her job of the last 20 years, though: teacher’s assistant at the local elementary school.

She instilled in Kent and WyKevin, a junior forward and third-leading scorer for Winston-Salem State University, humbleness and accountability, demanding nothing lower than a B in every class or no basketball.

She still texts both boys Bible scriptures and positive notes before every game they play. She still lives in the same house in Kelford where she watches every one of Kent’s games on NBA League Pass, despite many 10:30 p.m. ET tipoffs. Even through all those Warriors games where her son didn’t play, she never went to bed before 1:45 a.m., after Kent would reply to her postgame texts.

“I would text him I love him, you done good,” Glynis said. “I don’t care if he got 24 seconds.”

When the Warriors played at Charlotte, about a four-hour drive from Bertie County, the Bazemores’ church pastor organized a field trip for the Feb. 4 game. They took two buses that included some 40 kids from all over the county. Before they left, Bazemore sent money to his mom so they could all eat along on the way at Golden Corral. At the game, Bazemore signed autographs and took pictures with every person that came on those buses. He got in the game for 1 minute, 58 seconds.

“That’s where he gets his humbleness from because he knows his struggles, he knows what’s got him there and he knows what it takes to stay where he’s at,” Glynis said. “And just looking at him out there now, being with the Lakers, just being able to get that opportunity means a lot. That’s all he wanted was the opportunity, and I know he has put the work in.”

Bazemore’s sudden outburst, combined with his size and upside, will assuredly earn him a contract next season. Whether it’s with L.A. or elsewhere is irrelevant. For Bazemore, it’s the natural extension of what he’s always done: working to beat the odds.

“Coming out of high school I had this big chip on my shoulder,” Bazemore said. “I would drool at the chance to get to play these teams that overlooked me and try to destroy them. But one thing they don’t put on draft boards, one thing they don’t say about kids coming out [of high school] is how hard they work and how successful they want to be.

“That’s one thing you can’t really measure in a kid.”


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks after he signed his first contract with the Warriors