Posts Tagged ‘Memphis Grizzlies’

Morning shootaround — April 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers falter down stretch in Game 5| Report: Thunder, Donovan open talks | Harden focused on bigger goals | Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for low price | Lillard’s speech inspires Blazers

No. 1: Clippers freeze up down stretch of Game 5 — Save for a Game 3 blowout in San Antonio, the Spurs-Clippers series has lived up to its billing as the best one of the first round. Each game has been a nail-biter and last night’s Game 5 was no different. Los Angeles had a solid shot at claiming a 3-2 lead, but some late blunders and bad plays late in the game puts them on the flip side of that status, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.

In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA’s championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic’s charge and skeptic’s claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.

The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan‘s goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin’s shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.

“At this point, it ain’t about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”

It didn’t help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.

While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.

For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs’ most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.

“They’re not going to panic, they’re not going to go away, you’re not going to knock them, you’re going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rives said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”

 


VIDEO: The Clippers discuss their Game 5 defeat

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Conley’s return fate waits 48 hours

With political scandals, they say, it’s not the act, it’s the cover-up. With sports injuries, it’s not the surgery, it’s the recovery. And that’s what Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley faces now.

Conley, who had successful facial surgery Monday in Memphis after being inadvertently elbowed by Portland’s C.J. McCollum Saturday in Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Trail Blazers first-round series, now must wait 48 hours for swelling to subside. Only then, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, will Conley and his team be able to assess his prospects for a possible return in these playoffs.

Conley already was scratched from Game 4 in Portland Monday, with the Grizzlies ahead 3-0 in the best-of-seven series. If it continues, Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday in Memphis, Game 6 Friday in Portland and a possible Game 7 Sunday back in Memphis.

Here is the essence of Wojnarowski’s report, citing league sources:

There are scenarios in which Conley could return in a possible Western Conference semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors, league sources said, but that’s uncertain until the healing process begins, the pain lessens and Conley can be fitted for a mask.

Twitter also provided bits of Conley-related info:

Stepping into the void again for Conley, particularly if backup Beno Udrih continues to be limited with an ankle sprain, could be second-year man Nick Calathes, who finished strong for the Grizzlies in Game 3.

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

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No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

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No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …

 

Morning shootaround — April 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo benched in Game 2 | Howard, Smith dominate Mavs | Batum sorry for anti-Spanish comment | Lowry suffers shin injury vs. Wizards

No. 1: Rondo benched as Mavs fall into 0-2 hole — As he did in Game 1, point guard Rajon Rondo started Game 2 last night against the Houston Rockets, but only logged 9 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s a low number for an otherwise healthy starter, and even lower when you consider all but 34 seconds of that stint came in the first half. Rondo was clearly disinterested in last night’s game as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle pulled him early in the first quarter for J.J. Barea and played Rondo a few more minutes in the second quarter. All of last night’s events, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, seem to point to Rondo and Carlisle parting ways permanently this summer:

Rajon Rondo looped around the media horde surrounding his stall late Tuesday night in the Toyota Center visitors’ locker room and darted into the trainer’s room.

A couple of minutes later, Rondo emerged with headphone buds in his ears and ignored the handful of reporters who attempted to ask him questions as he walked toward the arena’s exits, his eyes never shifting from straight ahead.

The whole scene didn’t last much longer than Rondo’s 34-second stint on the floor during the second half of the Dallas Mavericks’ 111-99 loss to the Houston Rockets, who will head up Interstate 45 with what seems like a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.

Actually, judging by his body language, Rondo looked like a dude just waiting for his inevitable divorce from Dallas to happen. Unless the seventh-seeded Mavs pull off a miracle, Rondo won’t have to wait much longer.

Did Rondo really even care about riding pine for most of the night?

“You have to ask him that question,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, not exactly offering a ringing endorsement for the four-time All-Star point guard the Mavs acquired from the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster December trade. “All I know right now is that we need everybody at their competitive best.

“This isn’t about one guy who did or didn’t play. This is about everybody pulling in the same direction for the organization. That’s what it’s about.”

Rondo certainly didn’t come close to his competitive best during the nine minutes, 55 seconds that he wasn’t on the bench during Game 2.

A little more than four minutes into the game, Rondo nonchalantly walked the ball up the floor, getting whistled for an absolutely ridiculous eight-second backcourt violation with the Rockets not even applying pressure. He was pulled for J.J. Barea 40 seconds later — after Rondo wandered aimlessly on defense to let Jason Terry hit a wide-open 3 — and Carlisle didn’t call for Rondo again until 5:30 remained in the second quarter.

At this point, Carlisle really has no motivation to massage Rondo’s ego. They won’t be together much longer before they reach a mutual decision to part ways this summer, when Rondo enters free agency. Carlisle can only care about giving Dallas its best chance to pull off an upset in this series, and the overwhelming evidence from the first two games is that Rondo isn’t part of the solution.

But Carlisle gave Rondo one more chance to prove he deserved minutes with Dallas’ season on the line. Rondo responded by committing two dumb fouls on James Harden and picking up a technical for holding and shoving the Rockets’ MVP candidate after the first whistle, the basketball savant packing all that stupidity into 34 embarrassing seconds of action.

Playoff Rondo? Puh-leeeeese.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no postgame fireworks between Carlisle and Rondo, multiple sources told ESPNDallas.com. The coach and point guard had infamous expletive-laced exchanges on Feb. 24, the first occurring during a timeout after Rondo walked the ball up the floor and ignored Carlisle’s play call midway through the third quarter, the second coming in the locker room after Rondo watched the rest of the Mavs’ comeback win over the Toronto Raptors from the bench.

In this instance, however, Carlisle simply called the team together in the middle of the locker room and said a few quick words. Rondo and Carlisle didn’t say a word to each other.

There was no outright hostility. Just a lot of awkwardness.

Rondo had a heck of a view from the bench, where he appeared to watch with as little interest as anyone in the rocking arena. He barely moved during the second half, getting on his feet only to offer halfhearted daps to teammates during timeouts.

Rondo’s warm-up shirt read “WE ARE ONE,” the Mavs’ slogan this postseason. His face definitely didn’t convey the same message.

“I’m sure it’s a difficult situation for him,” said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, who has had a trying season as a leader of a chemistry-challenged team. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there. Sometimes matchups and all that other stuff, you never know what’s going on.

“But we’ve got to all stay in this thing together. It’s the only way we’re going to have a chance.”

UPDATE: Per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Rondo will be done in Dallas as long as Carlisle is back as coach:

When Rondo realized his run with the Celtics was over this year, he planned to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports. He expected a maximum contract. Once Dallas made the trade, he was open to re-signing with the Mavericks – only there are no max contract offers for Rondo on the market. Not in Dallas, nor Los Angeles. He’s played his way out of that payday – not just this year, but since that terrible ACL injury two years ago.

Everything’s pushing Rondo closer to his inevitable free-agent fleeing to the Lakers this summer. As long as the coach is back, Rondo’s gone, sources told Yahoo Sports. The parting could be mutual.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses the Rajon Rondo situation

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Numbers preview: Blazers-Grizzlies


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Grizzlies – Blazers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers are two teams that looked like legit contenders at one point or another this season.

The Grizzlies held the second best record in the Western Conference and third best mark in the NBA for most of the year. The Blazers had a top-five defense through March 15 and were one of a few select teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But both teams suffered injuries late in the season that derailed their quest for the 2 or 3 seed. Portland lost Wesley Matthews for the season to a torn Achilles on March 5. Memphis was without Tony Allen (calf strain) for its last nine games and also dealt with foot and ankle injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Appropriately, these two teams have found each other in the 4-5 matchup. Portland is the 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division, but Memphis will have home-court advantage (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the FedEx Forum) because it finished with a better record.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Grizzlies-Blazers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

Pace: 96.5 (13)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 101.4 (10)
NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Pace: 94.2 (26)
OffRtg: 103.1 (13)
DefRtg: 99.9 (4)
NetRtg: +3.1 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
Pace: 94.5
POR OffRtg: 98.6 (18th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 108.8 (4th vs. POR)

Matchup notes:

Foot sprain ominous for Memphis’ Conley

Those pained expressions among the Memphis Grizzlies when Marc Gasol was whistled for a foul on his potentially game-saving block of Utah’s Gordon Hayward Friday night?

Those might be nothing compared to the Grizzlies’ reactions if Mike Conley‘s right foot sprain gets any more serious.

At the moment, the Memphis point guard and the team’s medical staff are only talking about shutting him down for what’s left of the regular season. But since that amounts to just three games and as few as seven days before the Grizzlies have to open the playoffs, it sounds a little ominous already. The Memphis Commercial Appeal‘s report provided details from Salt Lake City after the victory (yes, Hayward missed the third of three free throws, failing to push the game into overtime):

Conley said the injury feels like he’s constantly walking on a golf ball. There is inflammation and swelling above the plantar fasciitis, making it so Conley can’t put much pressure on his right foot or run and jump effectively.

There also is a notion that Conley could miss the Grizzlies’ final three regular-season games – something Conley hoping isn’t the case.

“I don’t want to shut down. I’d like to be playing and in a rhythm going into the playoffs as opposed to sitting,” Conley said. “But I’ve had a bad little stretch with injuries. I don’t know what the smart thing to do is but I’m going to do the right thing for myself and the team.”

Conley suffered the injury Wednesday during the Grizzlies’ blowout win over New Orleans. Unlike with his ankles, wrist, neck and back, Conley felt the pain in his foot without experiencing any contact.

He took a routine step on the court and immediately sensed pain. Conley actually played the second and third quarters of that game hurting.

“Once I’m able to walk and put pressure on my feet, and run and cut without hesitating I can play,” Conley said. “(Friday) I couldn’t really jump or put any pressure on my foot. In a day’s time, you never know. I’m just going to see what it’s like (Saturday).”

Meanwhile, he’s back to wearing a walking boot. Conley receives ice and electric stimulus as regular treatments.

In West mix, home-court advantage not necessarily a big deal


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Discussing Stephen Curry and the Warriors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just six days left in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture isn’t very clear. Four teams are tied with 53 wins and could each finish second, third, fifth or sixth in the conference.

20150410_west_standings

Thursday’s loss at Golden State put the Portland Trail Blazers two games behind the rest of the group. The fourth seed is theirs thanks to their Northwest Division title, but they’re likely to be on the road to start the first round.

Three of the other four teams will have home-court advantage. The 2 seed will host the Dallas Mavericks. The 3 seed will host the 6 seed. And the 5 seed will likely host the Blazers.

But how much does home-court advantage matter?

Since the league went to seven-game series in the first round in 2003, only 37 of 180 series (21 percent) have gone to seven games. And in only three of those series did the home team win all seven games. So in 177 of the 180, the winning team won at least one game on the road.

The home team won 28 of the 37 Game 7s. And going back to 1948, the home team has won 80 percent of the 119 Game 7s in NBA history. That seems like a daunting figure for any team that starts and ends a series on the road.

But the home team is often the much better team. The home-court advantage doesn’t show up as much when you’re looking at two teams that are evenly matched.

There have been 62 series (all rounds) since 2003 that were played between teams that were within *four games of each other in the regular season. And the team with home-court advantage has won only 29 (47 percent) of those 62 series.

*Or within three games in the 2011-12, lockout-shortened season.

20150410_within_4

Furthermore, 13 of those 62 series have gone to seven games, and eight of the 13 Game 7s (including each of the last three – see below) were won by the road team.

Last three Game 7s between teams that were within four wins of each other in the regular season:
— Brooklyn (road) over Toronto in 2014
— Chicago (road) over Brooklyn in 2013
— Clippers (road) over Memphis in 2012

If you go all the way back, the home team has won 30 of the 44 (68 percent) of Game 7s played between teams that were within *four wins of each other in the regular season. That’s a high percentage, but not as drastic as the 80 percent for all Game 7s. There are plenty of recent examples of good teams overcoming those odds and, as noted already, most series don’t get to Game 7.

*Adjusted for shorter seasons in the 50s and 60s.

This year, we could see three first round series played between teams that finish within four wins of each other: the 3-6 and 4-5 series in the West, along with the 4-5 series in the East (with Chicago, Toronto and Washington in the mix).

There’s no reason why those teams wouldn’t want home-court advantage. But in recent series played between equally good teams, it hasn’t proven to be a difference-maker.

It’s the Warriors and everybody else in the Western Conference


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Are the Rockets legit contenders?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With 13 days and 105 games left in the regular season, things are starting to clear up a bit.

The only two teams that are locked into their playoff position are the two No. 1 seeds, Atlanta and Golden State. And while the Cavs seem to have the 2 seed locked up and the Wizards would have a tough time climbing out of fifth, Eastern Conference matchups are generally in flux.

The Raptors and Bulls are currently tied for the 3 seed. The Bucks got a couple of big wins last week, but still have some work to do to hold onto sixth. And the 7 and 8 seeds are still very much up for grabs. Both Brooklyn and Boston have tough remaining schedules and Miami just lost Dwyane Wade again.

The Western Conference is a little more clear. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are in a tight race for the No. 2 seed. The Portland Trail Blazers need just one win (or a Thunder loss) to clinch the Northwest Division and a top-four seed. The Dallas Mavericks would have a tough time moving out of the 7 seed and the 8 seed is down to just two teams (Oklahoma City and New Orleans).

That clarity allows us to start looking at potential matchups and where we might find an upset or two.

The Warriors’ first victim

20150403_gsw_okc-nop

Overall, the Warriors are 20-4 against teams 2-9 in the West. Andrew Bogut missed each of the last three losses, which took place in December and January. The only time they lost to a good West team with Bogut in uniform was Nov. 11.

Statistically, the Warriors the best team we’ve seen since the 1995-96 Bulls and the best team in the league by a wide margin. At this point, it’s fair to ask if, in predicting the NBA championship, you would pick the Warriors or the field.

The Pelicans have the tie-breaker, but the Thunder have a 1 1/2 game lead and an easier remaining schedule. New Orleans plays five of their final eight games on the road (three of seven for OKC) and six against teams over .500 (four for OKC).

Serge Ibaka‘s return would make the Thunder a stronger opponent, but there’s nothing to suggest that the Dubs wouldn’t win their first series in four or five games.

Hosting the Mavs

20150403_dal_hou-mem

Though Dirk Nowitzki had a couple of rough shooting nights in Houston, all four Mavs-Rockets meetings have been within five points in the last five minutes.

Dallas’ games against Memphis haven’t been as close, in part because the Mavs haven’t been able to slow down the Grizzlies’ bigs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to average 39.5 points on 55 percent shooting in the four games.

The 3-6 scrum

20150403_3-6

The Rockets and Spurs play each other twice next week, while the Grizzlies and Clippers each have one more meeting.

The Blazers would probably prefer to see the Grizzlies stay in the 2-3 spots, rather than fall into fifth. But that’s the only 4-0 sweep within this group.

So, while both Houston and Memphis should be gunning for the 2 seed, everybody else should be prepared for a competitive first round series.

The playoffs are 15 days away and they’re going to be great, even if the Warriors look like the clear favorite.

Morning Shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 21

Aldridge re-injures hand in loss to Grizz | Pacers on the brink? | Steve Nash’s retirement felt hardest in Phoenix | Grizz move Green to bench

No. 1: Portland’s nightmare road trip — When it rains, it pours. After surviving an early-season injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to survive and become title contenders. But then Wesley Matthews went down for the season with a torn Achilles, and though they vowed to carry on without Matthews, the Blazers have had what they call a “nightmare” road trip. Now, with Nicolas Batum and Aldridge battling injuries, as Joe Freeman writes in The Oregonian, the Blazers may have reached their toughest point of the season:

A five-game trip that started with so much promise went from bad to worse on Saturday night as the Blazers not only lost 97-86 to the Memphis Grizzlies, but also lost two more key players to injuries.

If you’re counting, the Blazers have four players — three starters and their top backup big man — dealing with varying levels of injuries. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also happen to be in the middle of a four-game losing streak, the longest of the season. That impressive victory over the Toronto Raptors was only seven days ago, but it feels like seven months.

How might one describe that five-game trip?

“A nightmare,” Aldridge said.

And his health is reason No. 1 for that harsh reality. Aldridge injured his left hand — the same body part that already features a torn thumb ligament — with 4:37 left in the first quarter against the Grizzlies, when Tony Allen smacked it as he lunged for a steal.

On the play, Aldridge collected a pass from Damian Lillard just above the left elbow and drove toward the hoop. Zach Randolph charged from the middle and Allen blitzed from the left, reaching at Aldridge with his left hand to dislodge the ball, smacking Aldridge’s hand in the process. The four-time All-Star instantly winced and cupped his left hand with his right, a sight that no doubt sent a shiver across Rip City considering he has played with a bum left thumb since Jan. 24.

He played the rest of the  quarter and gave it a go in the second for six minutes, but did not play after halftime, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The good news? The results of in-game X-rays were negative. The bad news? After the game, Aldridge’s hand was swollen, in pain and he said he could not bend it.

“It didn’t exactly go the way we planned,” center Robin Lopez said of the Blazers’ five-game trip.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Blazers (44-24) actually held their own in the second half against the second-best team in the Western Conference. Less than 24 hours after an embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic, the shorthanded Blazers trimmed an 18-point Memphis lead down to seven in the fourth quarter, causing 17,898 at the FedExForum squirm in their seats down the stretch. With Dorell Wright raining threes, snatching steals and completing smooth coast-to-coast layups, Lopez scoring inside and rebounding and Damian Lillard doing it all, the Blazers made things interesting.

But the Grizzlies (49-21) were too deep and talented to wilt completely, and in the end, Mike Conley (21 points, nine assists) was too good, Green (23 points, nine rebounds) was too smooth, Tony Allen (10 points, 11 rebounds, six steals) was too menacing and their long-range attack (11 for 18 from three-point range) was surprisingly too effective.

Lillard finished with 27 points and seven assists, CJ McCollum added 13 points and six rebounds and Wright had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. But it was all for naught. And as the Blazers walked away from that postgame scene in the locker room, they chose not to dwell on the injuries or the losing streak.

Instead, they chose to look forward. They’ve no doubt reached their toughest moment of the season. But they insist they have plenty of fight left.

“We’ve got our backs up against the wall right now,” Lillard said, before adding, “I’m not concerned. We’ve just got to play better. If we play better, just keep doing what we’re doing, keep believing in each other, I think we’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses the team’s loss in Memphis

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Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls get good news on injuries | Silver: Talk of work stoppage ‘premature’ | Randolph, Grizzlies miffed after loss | Popovich: Spurs’ effort vs. Knicks ‘pathetic’

No. 1: Injury cloud may soon be leaving Bulls — As The Starters discussed on their show yesterday, several teams in the NBA this season have been unlucky when it comes to losing players due to injury. One such team on that list is the Chicago Bulls, who, of late, have been without the services of Taj Gibson and All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Things are starting to look up for Chicago, though, as Gibson and Butler are nearing a return and Rose may be ahead of schedule for a comeback, too. The Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson has more:

Ater an injury-riddled, 4-7 stretch and talk of minutes restrictions and internal discord, the Bulls needed some positive news.

They got it.

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson practiced fully Tuesday at the Advocate Center and Derrick Rose participated in the non-contact portions. All three players remain on schedule to return, with Butler and Gibson possible later this week and coach Tom Thibodeau saying Rose is “maybe even slightly ahead” of his four to six week timeline that began Feb. 27.

“This was very good,” an upbeat Thibodeau said of the day’s developments.

Butler sprained a ligament and suffered a small bone impaction in his left elbow when he ran into DeAndre Jordan’s screen on March 1. He wore a brace but even got up left-handed shots — his non-shooting hand — after practice.

“My body feels great in the morning. My first practice back, I had a few bumps. But I think it’s possible,” Butler said of returning late this week. “But I can’t rush it. I don’t want it to get any worse. It’s never going to have full range while I’m playing, but I think it will feel better in a few days.

“My teammates, coaches and management are all in my corner, telling me to be careful. Obviously, I know that. But it’s hard when I want to play so bad. You want to get back, but you know you shouldn’t come back too early.”

Gibson severely sprained his left ankle Feb. 27, the same day Rose underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a small tear in his right meniscus. The Tribune reported Feb. 25 that Rose expected to return this season.

“It’s the next phase of his rehab,” Thibodeau said of Rose participating in parts of practice. “He still has to obviously strengthen the knee. But it’s a good step for him.”

So, obviously, would returning to full strength. The Bulls are 15-4 when Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol start.

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