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Posts Tagged ‘Memphis Grizzlies’

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Blogtable: Predicting the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOBlazers take down Kings in Sacramento

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the Western Conference? And which team is most at risk of missing the playoffs and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 5: Grizzlies
No. 6: Blazers
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Mavericks

I think the Jazz-Mavericks slotting will hinge on their game in Salt Lake City Monday. And I don’t think any of the four is in danger of missing the playoffs, because if there’s any justice in this silly association, the Houston Rockets need to suffer the same fate in the West that the disappointing Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards experience in the East. They’ve been playing with fool’s gold, kidding themselves that they had the makings of a title contender built around their version of a bearded Carmelo Anthony and the Big Tease.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

If the broken Grizzlies had built themselves one game less of a cushion, I might have said they were headed for one of the great swan drives since Greg Louganis retired. But a big win at home Tuesday night over the Bulls means they’ll only lose a spot and slip to sixth, moving the Blazers up into fifth, where they could even have a longshot upset chance in first round against the Clippers. I believe Houston at Dallas Wednesday night is the elimination game in the West. If the Rockets win, they hold tiebreaker over Utah and take seventh. If Mavs win, they’ll barely hang at No. 8. The loser is the odd man out of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Jazz

Memphis is heading in a bad direction, with enough reason for concern the last couple weeks or so that the Grizz might be fortunate to only drop one spot from the current standings. Obviously Dallas and Utah are both at risk of dropping out of the top eight. The Mavs are probably at a greater risk because the closing schedule is Rockets, Grizzlies, at Clippers at Jazz, Spurs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Rockets

The Mavericks have own four straight but that was a soft stretch. Their remaining games are all difficult and they close out in San Antonio, where the Spurs haven’t lost, although admittedly Dallas will likely see the B team.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Jazz
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Rockets

Another “who the heck knows” question. So much depends on Wednesday’s Houston-Dallas game, and you never know what version of the Rockets you’re going to get. I’ll guess that Portland wins out and finishes 45-37, while the other four teams in the mix finish tied at 42-40. That would leave Memphis as the odd team out, with a 4-7 record against the rest of the group. Of course, they would just need to win one of their last four games to avoid that fate (if I somehow correctly guessed the results of the other 17 games involving these teams).

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

“The Revenant” turned out to be a bad omen for the tormented Memphis Grizzlies: As ravaged as they’ve been by injuries, they’re unlikely to win any of their remaining five games against winning teams. And so everybody gets to move up. The unreliable Rockets (along with the Blazers) have a favorable schedule, which can enable them to jump two spots. Am I showing too much faith in them? Maybe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Grizzlies

I hate to say this, but I don’t think the Rockets are gonna make it. When they’re on, they can be a lot of fun, but when they aren’t clicking, they are a disaster. And I know Memphis is the five seed now, but they’ve lost six straight, have more players injured than healthy, and have a killer schedule down the stretch, including two games against the Warriors, plus games at the Clippers and Mavericks. If I’m Golden State and have the wins record locked up, would you rest guys the final game against Memphis if it guarantees facing them in the first round?

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Iverson, Yao, Shaq lead 2016 Hall of Fame class

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins | Report: Conley’s season likely over | Carroll gearing up for return | Kobe reflects on rescinded Paul trade | Scott: Young ‘not here with us, mentally’

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins — Don’t misunderstand Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, here. Yes, he would love to see his Warriors break the NBA single-season wins mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (which Kerr was a key role player on). But in a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Kerr clarified that he isn’t pushing the team for the record, but instead playing out the season in hopes of getting it while also trying to keep the squad healthy as the playoffs approach:

Steve Kerr, the one-time Chicago Bulls sharpshooter turned Golden State Warriors coach whose past and present are racing to the regular-season finish this week, is pushing back against the idea that he’s pushing his current team toward what could be a record 73-win campaign.

“We’re not really pushing for this,” Kerr, whose Warriors (69-8) must win four of their final five games to best the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls squad on which he played a pivotal part, told USA TODAY Sports after practice Monday. “All we’ve said is, ‘Yeah, it’d be nice to get. We’d like to get it.’

“But if I were pushing for it, I probably wouldn’t be resting (backup point guard) Shaun Livingston and (center Andrew) Bogut, and I’d be playing our starters more. We’re just playing it out. I don’t understand if people are going to say that we’re pushing for this. I don’t think that’s the right word to use. We’d like to get it, but we’re still resting people and trying to get us set up for the playoffs.”

And if they happen to break the Bulls’ mark, Kerr will be as elated as anyone. No matter what Luc Longley has to say about it.

“He had a great line,” said a smiling Kerr, whose Warriors host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday before facing the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies twice apiece in the final four games. “He said ‘You know, you haven’t thought this through obviously.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Your coaching legacy is already established. You won a championship, so people are going to know down the road that you were a good coach. But as a player, you were mediocre at best. So if you break this record and you don’t have that record as a player, nobody’s ever going to remember you as a player, so what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Are you talking about you or me, Luc?’ He said, ‘both.’”

This week, in fact, former Bulls star Scottie Pippen said the 1995-96 team would sweep the Warriors in a playoff series. Pippen even detailed his own part in the hypothetical clash, saying he would hold Stephen Curry below 20 points a game with his length, athleticism and physicality. To that charge, Kerr decided not to push back.

“(What Pippen said) doesn’t bother me,” said Kerr, who had three titles with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. “Every player out there who is connected to that team is going to be asked that question, and my response is always the same. The rules are so different, and the game is so different. We take 30 threes a game, or more, but the defensive rules are totally different in terms of illegal defense.

“With the old illegal defense rules, we would’ve had a hard time guarding the post. But now we can flood the strong side in a pseudo-zone. Back then you could hand-check, now you can’t hand-check. It’s hard to make a comparison if you’re really looking at it objectively, so I don’t even bother.”


VIDEO: Curry, Kerr talk after Thursday’s practice

***

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

***

 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

***

No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

***

No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

20160318_west_sos

Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

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Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

***

No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

***

No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

***

No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Morning shootaround — Feb. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets had steep asking price for Howard | Forman: Gasol a ‘core’ part of Bulls | Celtics may soon buyout Lee | Grizzlies gamble at deadline

No. 1: Report: Rockets were asking for a lot for Howard — Trade deadline day has come and gone without any of the bigger names — Dwight HowardKevin LoveBlake Griffin, et al — going anywhere. Howard’s name was thrown around a bunch as the deadline grew closer and closer, but him actually leaving Houston was held up by the Rockets’ steep asking price for him, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

League sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets engaged in trade talks with numerous teams once they began aggressively shopping Howard right before the start of the All-Star break.

Sources said that the Rockets talked about potential Howard deals in recent days with a list of teams including Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and, most recently, Milwaukee. Sources say Houston, however, told several teams that it wasn’t prepared to trade Howard without receiving at least one frontline player and a future first-round draft pick in return.

The Rockets took a similar approach with young power forward Donatas Motiejunas and managed to extricate a first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons for Motiejunas in the one trade they did complete on deadline day.

But interested teams were unwilling to pay such a premium for Howard, at least in part because Howard, who turned 30 in December, can become a free agent July 1.

“Many teams called expressing great interest in trading for Dwight,” Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, told ESPN.com on Thursday night. “The obvious stumbling block to a trade was how could a team justify giving up important assets for a player who was about to become a free agent in a few short months?

“Not surprisingly, as the deadline approached, several teams called stating they had worked out the trade parameters with Houston for a Dwight deal but were not prepared to give up their assets unless Dwight agreed to opt into the last year of his contract and forego free agency. Dwight declined.”

Fegan refused to discuss specific teams that made pitches for Howard, but sources told ESPN.com that the Bucks were one of those teams.

The Bucks and Rockets did exchange some trade proposals, sources said, but Milwaukee made it clear that it wouldn’t go through with any deal for Howard unless he opted into the final season of his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $23.3 million in 2016-17.

Howard earns $22.3 million this season in the third year of his four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets and has made it clear he intends to bypass Year 4 to return to the open market.


VIDEO: Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff talks after Thursday’s practice

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Five takeaways from the deadline

VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard may opt for a new address over the summer

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The 2016 trade deadline came and went rather quietly. Dwight Howard is still in Houston, Jeff Teague is still in Atlanta, and Ryan Anderson is still in New Orleans. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love were never going anywhere.

But some deals – two on Tuesday and 10 on Thursday – were made at the deadline. And a couple of them involved title contenders, though none were moves that will make a major impact.

Here are five takeaways from a deadline day that didn’t exactly alter the NBA landscape…

Stay tuned for the summer

This summer was already set to be a big one. With revenue and the salary cap rising, almost every team in the league will have cap space and most will have enough to sign at least one max-level player. The list of 2016 free agents includes Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Mike Conley, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal, as well as LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Howard (if they decline their player options).

But cap space can also be used to absorb players via trade without having to send out salary, and the opportunity will be there for teams to unload players in July.

So if the Hawks want to hand the reigns to Dennis Schroder, they could shop Teague (who still has one more year left on his contract) again in the summer. There definitely will be multiple teams looking for a starting point guard at that point, and Conley is the only one on the list above.

Brooklyn is another team that could decide to be a seller in July. Sean Marks was hired as the Nets’ new general manager less than five hours before the deadline, so he didn’t have much time to make a decision on Thaddeus Young (who was reportedly in demand) and Brook Lopez. Both of those guys have two guaranteed years left on their contracts and Marks could look to move them this summer if he wants to go for a slower and more organic rebuild.

The Cavs and Clippers will take one more shot at a championship with Love and Griffin. And if either team falls short again (at least one of them will), other teams will come calling, wondering if Cleveland and L.A. are ready to try something different.

All that cap space may have also kept teams from trading multiple assets for players – like Anderson, Al Horford and Howard – they could lose to free agency (or sign away from the teams they’re still on) in the summer.

Playoff push in the East

The three teams that made the most impactful moves are currently sitting in the eighth, ninth and tenth spots in the Eastern Conference.

On Tuesday, the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets (27-26) traded for Courtney Lee, while the Detroit Pistons (27-27) got Tobias Harris from Orlando. On Thursday, Detroit gave up their first round pick for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton, and the Washington Wizards (23-28) traded for malcontent Markieff Morris.

There was some risk involved in those last two deals. Motiejunas has played just 14 games this season, dealing with back problems. He was a key to the Rockets’ success last season, but might not be ready to help the Pistons get over the hump. Morris, meanwhile, fought with a teammate (Archie Goodwin) just last week and has actually shot worse this season (effective field goal percentage of 42.2 percent) than one of the guys – Kris Humphries (47.8 percent) – he was traded for.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the fifth-place Miami Heat from the ninth-place Pistons with 28 or 29 games to go. So the opportunity is there for both Charlotte and Detroit to move up into a position where they don’t have to face Cleveland in the first round. The Wizards have a lot more work to do, but also seem to have more pressure on them to make something of this season.

All about the bottom line

The No. 1 concern for the Heat right now is Chris Bosh, and if the All-Star isn’t going to be available down the stretch, Miami could fall out of the playoff picture for a second straight year.

But whether they’re going to the playoffs or not, the Heat had some fiscal issues to deal with. And team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg used three trades in the last three days to unload fringe salary and get under the luxury tax line.

Miami was one of *two teams that was subject to repeater tax levels this season. While other teams over the tax line pay $1.50 of tax for every dollar they’re over the line, the Heat were going to pay $2.50. So before Tuesday, Miami had a tax bill of more than $25 million. But the three trades they made (sending Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes and Brian Roberts out) got them under the tax line. Now, they’ll get some of the luxury tax paid out by the remaining tax paying teams (like Cleveland and Oklahoma City).

* Brooklyn was the other, but got under the tax line with its buyout of Deron Williams and a couple of minor moves in July.

Two contenders get bench help

The Cavs and Thunder also lightened their tax bills with moves that were seemingly more about the fringe of their rotation. Cleveland swapped Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye, whose shooting should complement LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, traded D.J. Augustin (who had lost his back-up point guard spot to Cameron Payne) for Randy Foye.

Foye has shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range this season, but he gives the Thunder more depth in the backcourt with Andre Roberson out, another option when Dion Waiters isn’t shooting well, and a little more flexibility in regard to playing small against a team like the Golden State Warriors.

It’s hard to believe, though, that either of those moves will make much of a difference against the champs or the San Antonio Spurs.

Trash or treasure?

A trade that got in just before the buzzer was a swap of disappointing reserves on Western Conference playoff teams. Of course, if you paid attention to what they did at their previous stops, you can’t say that Jeff Green and Lance Stephenson were all that disappointing in Memphis and L.A., respectively.

Green gives the Clippers a little more stability, but it’s hard to believe that he moves the needle for a team that has played at a level below the three best teams in the West. The Grizzlies’ season is seemingly on the brink with Marc Gasol suffering a broken foot before the break, but they’ll take a shot with a roster that now includes a plethora of interesting characters and a lot of small ball, featuring Zach Randolph at center.

Green has an expiring contract and Stephenson has a team option for next season, so the only long-term risk is with the Clippers sending a first round pick to Memphis.


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