Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors locked in on history | Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors | Kobe Bryant reflects on his final days | Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway

No. 1: Warriors locked in on history All that’s left is 48 minutes. A mere 48 minutes and the Golden State Warriors will have produced the finest regular season in NBA history, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls they tied for the best win total ever with Sunday’s win San Antonio. As our very own Fran Blinebury wrote after the Warriors snapped the Spurs’ bid to record the first perfect home record in a season, this history-making season has washed over the league in waves:

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors The chance for history ended at the hands of the one team the San Antonio Spurs have not been able to solve this season. Their quest for the first undefeated home record in NBA history was blown away by a blitz from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. But the Spurs will not let this latest loss to the Warriors, their third in four tries this season, linger. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com provides some context for the Spurs:

The Warriors stopped cold San Antonio’s home winning streak at 39 games, while reaching historic win No. 72, marking the third time in four meetings — and second time in four nights — Golden State knocked off the Spurs. Still, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was satisfied with the team’s effort. He is confident that San Antonio’s experience mixed with a sharpened playoff focus, and a fresh game plan in late May could lift the Spurs over the Warriors when the stakes are highest in a potential Western Conference finals.

“We played a hell of a team, and I thought our aggressiveness, our attention to detail, was much better than [Thursday night’s loss at Golden State],” Popovich said. “They did a lot of good things out there. I’m really happy with how we performed.”

So instead of lamenting a loss they can’t get back, the Spurs choose now to focus on closing out strong in preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs,” David West said when asked whether the Warriors now hold a psychological advantage, having defeated the Spurs three times in the regular season. “Hopefully, it will be another two months, or whatever it is, a month and a half, until we see them again. Our job is just to keep improving and prepare ourselves now for a tough first-round matchup against whomever; just keep developing who we are.”

The outing at the AT&T Center on Sunday played out much differently than Thursday’s 112-101 trouncing at Oracle Arena, yet San Antonio still managed to come up short despite making significant progress against the Warriors defensively.

“I think in Golden State for sure we were not sharp enough,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today we made a few mistakes. I think we played a good game. We were not good offensively. I’m not concerned. I was concerned after the Golden State game [on the road] because it was not us. I think a game like today can easily happen. We hadn’t lost one game at home the whole season. It can happen that you lose one against a team that is one of the best teams ever. We can’t start banging our heads against the wall and [saying], ‘Oh, we are terrible.’ It can happen.”

San Antonio slowed down the pace significantly in Sunday’s contest, giving Golden State its slowest paced game since defeating the Warriors 87-79 on March 17, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. The Spurs also limited Golden State to an ice-cold shooting percentage of 35.1, while dominating the visitors in offensive rebounding 13-3. San Antonio’s 13 offensive rebounds in the first half go down as the most the club had snatched in a single half all season, not to mention the most the Warriors have allowed in any half over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. San Antonio’s supremacy on the offensive glass helped the Spurs outscore the Warriors 11-0 on second-chance points.

The problem is while administering suffocating defense and crashing the offensive glass, the Spurs managed to shoot even frostier (28.6 percent) than the Warriors. Then, as Golden State caught fire in the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run with Stephen Curry racking up 16 points for his 30th quarter of 15 points or more this season, San Antonio remained cold (34.3 percent shooting).

What’s more is the offensive rebounding subsided, too, with the Spurs grabbing just five more offensive boards in the entire second half.

“Our perimeter had a tough time making shots, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “That was the problem offensively all night, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Steph got away from us for a while, but a part of it was some bad shots. We lost our poise for about a three-minute period, and we were in constant transition, and he got away from us. That was the difference in the ball game. But I’m really proud of the guys what they did tonight.”

***

No. 3: Kobe Bryant reflects on his finals days  The finish line is in sight for Kobe Bryant. Tonight’s final game in Oklahoma City (8 ET, NBA League Pass) followed by Wednesday’s finale against Utah at Staples Center and that’s it, a 20 years of a Hall of Fame career comes to an end. In what has been a sobering and reflective season for one of the game’s all-time greats, there is finally a sense of relief and acceptance of his fate. Kobe didn’t go out chasing that sixth title, the way he had hoped. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical points out, Kobe is going out on his own terms:

Against all odds, Kobe Bryant goes home for goodbye on two feet, goes home for goodbye on the best terms he could’ve ever dictated.

“It feels so good,” Bryant told The Vertical. “For the last three years, I haven’t been able to do it. Achilles. Knee. Shoulder. Serious injuries. My preparation was right. I worked and worked for my body to be able to get through this.”

“Coming into the season, I had the concern: Could I make it all year?” Bryant told The Vertical. “I had the fear. But I embraced that fear, and then I let it go. I realized: I can’t control it. I prepare. I do all the work. If that happens, it happens. And I stopped thinking about it.”

All around, the boom mics hung over us. His documentary crew comes everywhere now, chronicling every interaction, every interview. For a moment, Bryant was still thinking about life on a contender. He is nodding his head, insisting this is true: “Listen, I believe this: On a better team, I could play a lot better. Physically, I know I could do so much more. I found that rhythm, that balance. But after three major injuries, to get to the end [healthy], this means the world to me.”

There are two stories to end this NBA regular season: The Warriors’ historic march to 73 victories, and Bryant’s historic uneven, unnerving final season. They’ll remember Bryant as one of the NBA’s great champions, remember a relentless pursuit of perfection. Oh, he’d love to be chasing 73 victories, but mostly he wishes he was pursuing that sixth NBA title.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant had to let go. There wouldn’t be winning this season. There would be bouquets. He’s never minded everyone watching him, everyone feting his greatness. So started the legacy tour, so started a long, slow trot around the bases. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant let himself think for a moment about that Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday night, about the parallel universe of winning ball that’s left his life.

Had the Lakers still been a contender – had everything not crumbled around him – Bryant swears this would all be so different, so much more suited to his persona.

“The ovations wouldn’t be here,” Bryant told The Vertical. “We’d be amidst cutthroat competition. In this season, I’ve been able to come up for air, take the blinders off, look around, soak it all in – and say thank you. Had we been competing for a championship, there’s no way I’d allow all this to happen. We’d have one goal in mind and that would be winning the championship.

“In the end, this wasn’t hard to accept. I can accept reality and move on.”

***

No. 4: Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway Give Bryan Colangelo credit, he didn’t waste any time in his effort to change the narrative in Philadelphia. His rebranding of the situation with the Sixers began the moment he was introduced as the team’s new president of basketball operations Sunday. And if there is one thing Colangelo has learned in all of his years around the game, it’s that change at the fundamental level has to come immediately. David Murphy of Philly.com explains:

For all of the talk of the Sixers finally bringing in some real basketball men, the truth is that people like the Colangelos are, first and foremost, salesmen. They are billionaire whisperers, adept at convincing really rich people to entrust them with their capital. In 1999, Jerry published a book titled, How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports.

The elder Colangelo clearly succeeded at selling Harris and his partners on the need for a leader with a skill set that just happened to line up with the one his son offered. Bryan’s biggest theme during Sunday’s press conference was the need for the Sixers to build relationships throughout the league, one of many tacit references to Hinkie’s greatest perceived weakness.

Yet the logic starts to fall apart when you think about the fact that Ed Stefanski and Billy King were respected, personable executives who nevertheless were forced to overpay to keep their own players (Andre Iguodala) and to sign new ones (Elton Brand). Fact is, the Sixers are not an NBA destination, just like the Raptors weren’t when Colangelo was there (and when Chris Bosh left for the Heat).

Again, though, it comes down to messaging. As GM of the Suns, Colangelo “lured” Steve Nash away from Dallas in 2004, which sounds great, except “luring” really meant paying him $20 million more than any other team, including the Mavericks, who declined Nash’s request that they match the deal. When Colangelo attempted to bring Nash to Toronto in 2012, Nash leveraged Toronto’s three-year, $36 million offer into a three-year deal with the Lakers.

But, hey, it’s a relationship business, right?

Ironically, the failed pursuit of Nash is one of the reasons Colangelo has seen his legacy improve over the past few years as the Raptors have blossomed. Once he lost Nash, Colangelo traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry, who is now an anchor on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Nash, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster with the Lakers.

That’s not to say the Sixers’ new president will destroy whatever foundation Hinkie has laid over the past three seasons. Both Colangelo and Harris repeatedly insisted that the change in leadership would not result in a change in vision.

“This is not about a departure from a process,” Colangelo said.

What was it really about? Let’s answer in a form Hinkie might appreciate. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler did not fly to New Orleans with his teammates after Sunday’s game, but is expected to join them for tonight’s game against the Pelicans … The heated rivalry between the Warriors and Spurs extends beyond the court and also includes the Warriors’ broadcast team and the Spurs fans … Thunder coach Billy Donovan is employing a similar philosophy to what Steve Kerr has done with the Warriors in allowing the players to decide if they want to rest or grind through the end of the regular season … With the playoffs just days away, it’s time for Tyronn Lue to figure some things out about the Cavaliers and his rotation

Morning Shootaround — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards eliminated from playoffs | For Warriors, motivation not a problem | Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? | The Brooklyn Swamp Dragons?

No. 1: Wizards eliminated from playoffs After giving the Atlanta Hawks all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, the Washington Wizards were a popular choice to contend in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, with last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards were eliminated from postseason contention and clinched a finish below .500. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, playing without an injured John Wall didn’t do anything to help matters

Elimination games were not uncharted territory for the Wizards. They just didn’t expect to play any in the regular season without their best player. But a season that began with a top-four seed and the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1979 atop the list of objectives was sabotaged by baffling inconsistency and a bevy of perplexing losses. Consequently, the Wizards have spent much of the second half of the season outside the playoff picture, scoreboard-peeking while they squandered opportunities.

With three games remaining, the Wizards, winners of 44 and 46 games the past two seasons, are 38-41 and cannot finish the campaign above .500.

“We had some tough losses,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who was acquired Feb. 18. “It’s tough with the talent and the expectations they had even before I got here. It’s definitely a tough way to end the season. But we have to finish these last games strong and start looking forward.”

The Pistons improved to 43-37 after finishing 32-50 last season and rose to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the victory. Reggie Jackson led the charge Friday, shooting 14 of 20 from the field and adding nine assists. Tobias Harris, a trade-deadline acquisition, contributed 17 points, while all-star Andre Drummond was held to eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

Morris, playing against his twin brother, Marcus, for the third time since joining the Wizards, recorded 29 points, his most in a Wizards uniform. Bradley Beal, who assumed some primary ballhandling duties with Wall out, contributed 25 points and had six turnovers. Ramon Sessions, John Wall’s replacement in the starting lineup, finished with 12 points and six assists.

Wall underwent an MRI exam on his right knee after sitting out Wednesday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets — the first game he had missed this season — and the results revealed no tear or sprain. After the Wizards had their team photo taken at Verizon Center on Thursday morning, he went to a doctor and the knee was drained. That remedied the swelling, but the pain remained after treatment all day Thursday and Friday morning before the team rode the bus to Auburn Hills for shoot-around.

“It took all the fluid out, but it’s just still sore and numb to move,” Wall said after shoot-around Friday morning. “It’s just sore. It’s still sore.”

Wall also said he still doesn’t know how he hurt the knee. He woke up with it swollen Wednesday morning. He recalled his day Tuesday, mystified: practice, shooting workouts, usual maintenance treatment, shower, media availability, home.

“Nothing was wrong,” Wall said.

The Wizards did not succumb without some pugnacity Friday. The Pistons used a three-point barrage — they made nine of their first 11 attempts — to build a 19-point lead in the second quarter, which Washington shrunk to seven at halftime. Detroit again tried to put the Wizards away in the third quarter, widening the gulf back to 16 with 4 minutes 58 seconds remaining in the period on a three-point play by Marcus Morris.

***

No. 2: For Warriors, motivation not a problem After winning a title last season, the Golden State Warriors managed to return this season and have put together what has a chance to be the greatest regular season in NBA history. As Andrew Bogut told Yahoo’s Michael Lee, the Warriors haven’t really had much trouble finding motivation this season

The most disrespected great team in NBA history never had the chance to get satisfied. The Golden State Warriors went from their Champagne showers in Cleveland to that championship parade along Lake Merritt, right into a cynical volcano that spewed molten Haterade over all they accomplished. At every turn, what the Warriors achieved got discredited and diminished: They got lucky. The league was watered down. If so-and-so had been healthy …

“Blah, blah, blah. We just kept having people put bulletin-board material out there for us,” Andrew Bogut told The Vertical. “What we heard in the offseason was we didn’t deserve to be champions – and it pissed guys off. Every other week, someone made a comment. We heard all the naysayers. I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing.”

Bogut repeated himself and cracked a smile because he knows it was a good thing. With Thursday’s 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors became the second NBA team in history win 70 games, and that’s largely because they never had to search for motivation during their title defense. Of course, the Warriors had the Spurs – also in the midst of their best season in franchise history – to push them so hard that 70 wins actually became a requirement to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But more than anything, the Warriors had the hate. Of the 10 previous teams to win at least 67 games, the Warriors are the first to record more victories the following season. Their regular-season dominance has been the result of defiance – the kind that might finally be satiated by reaching some rarefied air.

Golden State (70-9) still needs to win its last three games to jump over Jumpman and break the 72-win record set in 1995-96 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. But no matter the final win tally, the Warriors – at least, in their minds – have done enough to distinguish themselves as one of the best regular-season teams ever and prove that last season’s success didn’t come by accident.

“Should be enough. It’s only one [other] team who’s done it in NBA history, and it’s considered ‘the greatest team ever,’ ” an air-quoting Klay Thompson told The Vertical. “So I mean, we still got to take care of business in the playoffs. I think that will be the cap on everything. But this is a steppingstone for that.”

***

No. 3: Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? One day after likely free agent Pau Gasol mentioned the way the Bulls finished may affect his decision-making in free agency, turns out it may not matter, at least in Chicago. As K.C. Johnson writes in the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are likely going to find themselves having to make a choice between pursuing Joakim Noah or Gasol, in which case Noah might be their selection…

Though front-office meetings have yet to finalize the Bulls’ Plan A for this offseason, there is strong internal desire to re-sign Noah on a short-term deal. Noah long has been a favorite player and ambassador of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Executive vice president John Paxson drafted Noah, and their bond is genuine.

Plus, though injuries have diminished Noah since his All-NBA season in 2013-14, his defensive abilities and leadership qualities fill gaping voids.

It will take work, not to mention money, to win back Noah, who disliked the false story Fred Hoiberg spread at the start of the season that he volunteered to come off the bench. He then disliked playing just 20 minutes per game and not finishing them more.

But Hoiberg had started to play Noah more before his first shoulder injury in December. And Noah remains invested enough in the team to question Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for their silence at the April 3 team meeting, according to several people present.

The Bulls passed on an opportunity to try to finalize moving Gasol to the Kings at the February trade deadline. General manager Gar Forman, who won the internal debate to keep Gasol, called the All-Star center “part of our core.” Gasol said then the Bulls “for sure” are the leading candidates for his free agency services.

Gasol placed a qualifier on that claim, saying how the Bulls fared over the final 30 games would play a factor in his decision, which will come after he exercises his player option for free agency.

The Bulls are 12-15 since.

***

No. 4: Swamp Dragons? The Brooklyn Nets are established now in their new borough, after moving a few rivers east from their previous home in New Jersey. But while the Brooklyn part of their name is new, it turns out that a few years back, they almost passed on the Nets nickname. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in a lively oral history, once upon a time, the New Jersey Nets very nearly became the New Jersey Swamp Dragons

As the vote of the full Board of Governors neared, news of the proposed name change leaked — and drew a predictable backlash.

SPOELSTRA: Someone from [Gov.] Christine Whitman‘s office called me and said they didn’t like the Meadowlands being referred to as a a swamp. Well, that’s what it is. I don’t see any cows grazing there. (Through a spokesperson, Whitman said she didn’t recall the Swamp Dragons saga.)

COHEN: Of course, the Meadowlands is in a swamp. It was a colorful name, but I started to wonder if it might draw more ridicule than anything else. How would sponsors feel about sponsoring a team called the Swamp Dragons? We had to think about all of that. I don’t know if Chuck Daly [hired in 1993] would have come to coach the Swamp Dragons.

O’GRADY: We spent four or five months on this, and suddenly there was a pushback. We were getting hammered. Hammered. We played around with maybe just calling them Fire Dragons — to save the dragon, but veer away from the swamp.

SPOELSTRA: Fire Dragons didn’t come from us. We wanted Swamp Dragons. The funny thing is, that swamp caught fire every summer anyway. The water would literally burn because of all the chemicals in it. Talk about fire dragons.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kent Bazemore‘s #BazeGaze has become a thing in AtlantaSix promising NBA head coaching candidates worth keeping an eye on … Villanova’s Jay Wright says he doesn’t have any plans of jumping to the NBA … According to ESPN.com, the Phoenix Suns plan on launching a broad coaching search this offseasonBen Simmons will pass up playing in Rio to prepare for his NBA career … Justin Bieber visited the Houston Rockets

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors | Kobe takes final Celtics matchup seriously | Griffin just glad to be back in mix | Wizards’ playoff hopes fading fast

No. 1: Pippen: ’96 Bulls would sweep Warriors — As the Golden State Warriors have gotten closer and closer to a 73-win season — which would break the 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls — retired NBA players far and wide have chimed in on the looming accomplishment. Some of them have been not too supportive of the Warriors or their style of play, but few members of that ’95-96 Bulls team have had much to say about it … until now. Scottie Pippen, the second fiddle to Michael Jordan on that 72-win team, didn’t hold back when asked about the Warriors during an interview event in Houston. ESPN.com has more on what Pippen said:

The Golden State Warriors are closing in on the NBA record for most victories in a single season, set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

But Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen evidently doesn’t think Golden State would match up well with his record-setting Chicago squad. In a recent interview, he said the 1995-96 Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a hypothetical series between the teams.

“Bulls in four [games],” Pippen said during an interview at an AT&T event in Houston.

Pippen was then offered a chance to clarify his prediction and was asked whether he thought the Bulls would have an off-night against Golden State.

“I don’t think we’d take a night off,” he said.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a reserve point guard on that Bulls team. Asked about the comparison before Sunday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 136-111 win, Kerr said it didn’t bother him.

“First of all, it’s a really hard question to answer,” Kerr said. “Not just because you’re comparing eras, but literally it’s tough for me to answer, grammatically, because I don’t know who ‘we’ is and who ‘they’ are. I’ll just say if the two teams play each other, there’s no question we can beat us and they can beat them.”

Kerr said it was tough to compare the teams because of their differing eras.

“For example, if you actually put the teams in a hypothetical game, my guess is the Bulls would be called for a million hand-check fouls, and we would be called for a million illegal defenses when we overloaded the strong side,” Kerr said. “So the game would take, like, six hours because the refs would be calling stuff all game. It’s kind of hard to get past that. Now, they wouldn’t call traveling in either era.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break – March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards owner says team can make playoffs | Ricky Rubio still showing growth | Sixers’ growth slower than that of their rival | Is Curry changing the game?

No. 1: Wizards owner says team can make playoffs — You can say the Wizards have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league and currently find themselves in the outside looking in regarding the playoffs. But Washington owner Ted Leonsis prefers to see the glass as being half full and believes the team can still make the playoffs, which mathematically is definitely possible. You wonder if “making the playoffs” sounds more like an ultimatum from the owner and whether heads will roll if Washington, which scored an upset over the Raptors last spring, fails to make the cut. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reports:

The Wizards have strangled and then revived their playoff chances more times than I can count. Most recently, they imploded in Chicago, then won four straight games. Then they lost five straight — including three on a brutal West Coast swing — before rebounding with three straight wins, two against playoff contenders. Don’t worry about these details: just know that when they reach the absolute precipice of disaster, they recover just enough to keep us interested until the next disappointment.

Washington’s schedule still looks forgiving; seven of its final 14 games are against truly awful teams. But only an extreme optimist could continue to have total faith in this team after the past few months.

Ted Leonsis is an extreme optimist.

During a radio appearance this week, Leonsis was asked serious questions about the Wizards future: about how this team could both miss the playoffs and lose its first-round pick, about his commitment to patience, and about how he would decide whether General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman deserve to be back.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Leonsis told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “We have to believe that. We have to be focused on that. That’s all we’re looking at.”

Leonsis said this on Wednesday afternoon. That was before the Wizards beat the Bulls and Sixers to pull within a 1.5 games of the eighth seed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty; Washington tried like crazy to lose to Philadelphia on Thursday night. And the Wizards would still need to pass two teams to make the postseason. But Leonsis, like most of us, at least sees a path.

“This has been an outlier year, mostly because of how many injuries we’ve suffered,” Leonsis said. “We had a very poor road trip — Bradley Beal didn’t play at all — and then Bradley Beal plays 24 minutes [against Detroit] and the team just looks different. John Wall looks like a different player when he doesn’t have to be the first offensive scoring option, he can set other players up.

“And so we’ll take a look at how we end the season in the offseason,” the owner said. “But right now, we’re just focused on do we have our full contingent of players, can we play the kind of system that we want, can we amp up the energy defensively. And it seems trite, you hear this all the time, but we truly are in the mode of you’ve got to play one game at a time, and be totally focused and conscious of just that one impediment that’s in front of you tonight.”

 

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

***

No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

***

No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

***

No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward | Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? | Did the Heat come looking for Lance?

No. 1: Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward — The Cleveland Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference but their hold doesn’t seem so vice-grip-like anymore. It’s not that the Raptors have overtaken Cleveland in the standings, but Toronto is close. And besides, in the big picture, the Cavs must compare themselves with the best of the West, if as expected Cleveland returns to the NBA Finals. Such is the life when you have LeBron James and the goal is title-or-bust. The problem is the Cavs still haven’t taken off since the coaching change to Tyronn Lue. ESPN.com‘s Dave McMenamin says the Cavs better get busy:

Lue has had precious little time to go on anything but instincts since taking over for the fired David Blatt as head coach of the Cavaliers some five weeks ago.

Not only was roaming the sidelines as a head coach new to him, but here he was doing it in the middle of the season without the benefit of a training camp or a coaching staff of his choosing. The team he was taking over needed someone to corral a collection of headstrong superstars in order to succeed, all the while adhering to a championship-or-bust decree. Simple, right?

Lue’s overall record of 12-6 is nothing to be ashamed of, but when you take over for a guy who went 30-11 to start the season, anything less than exemplary is a failure. Lue was reminded of that last week when the Cavs lost three out of four and it felt like the walls were caving in on Cleveland — at least from the outside looking in.

There was daily drama from questions about how much LeBron James has left in the tank after a deplorable performance in a loss to Detroit, to criticism directed at Kyrie Irving in a shoddy defensive showing against Toronto, to a condemnation of the entire team when they were walked all over in Washington.

There were also trade rumors about Kevin Love leading up to the trade deadline, a report detailing Irving’s discontent and his superstar, James, jetting down to Miami for a couple of days this week to get away from it all when the team had off.

There’s good reason the bags under Lue’s brown eyes are more noticeable these days. A split screen of Lue today next to a photo of him back in January when Blatt was at the helm and he was simply the highest paid assistant coach in all of basketball would show accelerated aging — as if someone placed a “U.S. presidential term” filter on his face on Instagram.

Yet he was able to rationalize each challenge.

Love and Irving? They’re still in uniform and won’t be going anywhere between now and June, which is all Lue is focused on anyway. The Raptors loss? “I was pleased about leading 46 minutes of the game and two of our Big Three not playing particularly well offensively,” Lue said.

The Wizards letdown? “LeBron [was] not playing, so I didn’t have any issue with it at all.”

***

No. 2:Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? — There have been rumors swirling for some time in Minnesota about Ricky Rubio. On the surface, it’s a bit of a surprise; Rubio is a very good passer who sees the floor and finds teammates, and his defense isn’t terrible (though not solid). He’s also young and still growing. That said, there are some in the organization, apparently some very influential voices, who feel the Wolves would be better off with a new point guard next season. Rubio’s name surfaced during the trade deadline (Kris Middleton of the Bucks was mentioned) but nothing was done. Here’s Zach Lowe of ESPN.com on the subject of Rubio and where he stands (or not):

After some initial talks, the Wolves told the Bucks they would swap Ricky Rubio for Middelton, and when the Bucks declined, the Wolves even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported of the Bucks’ interest in Rubio — Bucks head coach Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but they never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker were never on the block, leaving the Bucks with only one real counter: a point guard challenge trade of Michael Carter-Williams for Rubio. The Wolves obviously weren’t doing that, and discussions died, sources say.

The theoretical Rubio-Middleton swap, and that the Bucks now see Middleton as the more valuable player, lands smack at the intersection of several on- and off-court trends executives are still trying to grasp. Going all-in for Middleton makes a ton of sense given the skyrocketing salary cap that will warp the NBA’s financial landscape in the next two years. He’s just 24, thriving in the first year of a five-year, $70 million contract with a declining year-over-year salary after 2016-17. Almost every deal signed last summer, under the current $70 million cap, will look like a bargain in two years — especially those attached to younger two-way players like Middleton just entering their primes.

We all focus on the next superstar that might become available via trade: DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or whichever name flutters into the news cycle this week. One or two of those guys might even get traded in the next year. But most don’t, and when one becomes available, the Celtics and a couple of other teams are in position to outbid almost anyone.

Given that reality, I wondered before the season if a team might use its best trade ammo to chase a younger guy who had just signed a new contract. The two names I mentioned: Middleton and Tobias Harris. It took shockingly little ammo for the Detroit Pistons to snare Harris, but the Wolves appear to have been thinking along these lines in pursuing Middleton. It’s a bold gambit, and probably a smart one: leverage Milwaukee’s disappointing season and its well-known affinity for Rubio, still a starry name, into the sort of all-around wing shooter every smart team craves in the modern NBA.

Minnesota is in desperate need of shooting on the wing, especially since dealing Rubio would probably have required Zach LaVine to shift back to point guard and pretend he understands what in the hell he’s supposed to do. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 26 percent from deep, and passes up open shots. Tayshaun Prince has made four 3s all season, and Shabazz Muhammad, the Wolves’ other non-Wiggins option at small forward, is only a threat on short corner 3s. LaVine has a nice stroke, but he’s better off the ball, and prone to nutty off-the-bounce chucks when he controls it. Karl-Anthony Towns is already a plus shooter at center, and he’ll eventually shoot more 3s. The identity of Towns’ long-term front-court partner is a mystery, especially with Gorgui Dieng a year from free agency, and the answer will be key in determining the look and feel of Minnesota’s roster going forward.

***

No. 3: Did the Heat come looking for Lance? — Not sure what to make of Danny Granger‘s claim that his teammate on the Pacers, Lance Stephenson, was hunted down by a few Heat players following his infamous treatment of LeBron James. For one, Granger said Chris Andersen was one of the players who came looking for Stephenson after Game 3 of the East semifinals five years ago, but Birman hadn’t joined the Heat yet. Anyway, here’s Adam Wells of Bleacher Report, recapping the interview Granger’s recollection:

“They were protecting LeBron. They thought Lance had done something disrespectful to him,” Granger said.

Granger said that security prevented the Heat players from entering Indiana’s locker room, and the situation did not escalate.

According to Granger, the incident occurred after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Stephenson was captured on camera making a choking sign after James missed a free throw following a technical foul called against Granger during that game.

The Heat lost the game, 94-75, but they went on to win the series in six games en route to winning the NBA championship.

The rivalry between Stephenson and James continued as the Pacers and Heat met in the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. The most infamous moment occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, as Stephenson’s ear-blowing incident produced hundreds of memes that still follow him around.

If Stephenson was trying to play mind games with the four-time NBA MVP, it didn’t work. James’ Heat got the best of Stephenson’s Pacers in all three playoff matchups.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The plan in Houston is to bring Michael Beasley along slowly, but aren’t they running out of time? … Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing has some decent stories to tell about his boss, Michael Jordan … Memphis has begun the inevitable youth movement, which is refreshing, especially with Marc Gasol done for the year … You might have heard that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are pretty good together … The sale of a portion of the Wolves has hit a snagJeff Van Gundy has some things to say about his brother and as you might imagine, they’re very kind things.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 229) Featuring Draymond Green

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Stephen Curry is the leader of that record-chasing pack in Oakland.

No one disputes that.

The reigning KIA MVP and frontrunner for the award this season is breaking his own records on his way to one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, no matter what Oscar Robertson or anyone else says about him and his game.

But the undisputed vocal and emotional leader of the Golden State Warriors remains Draymond Green. And the fact that Curry, Green and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson are all as comfortable as they are in their roles is what gives the Warriors record-breaking chemistry.

It’s that chemistry that allows the Warriors, from top to bottom, to perform the way they do every night, never worrying about who gets the glory and praise. They are a true team, in every sense of the words, showing off All-Star unselfishness while chasing the NBA record for wins in a season (they remain on track to catch and even exceed  the 1995-96 Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls’ 72-win mark).

Warriors coach Steve Kerr has a better handle on how to keep the good chemistry flowing than most, having played alongside Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago. That might explain why he didn’t let something like Green’s blow up at halftime of the Warriors’ Feb. 27 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder bother him.

We talk Warriors and Warriors and more Warriors on Episode 229 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Draymond Green, which also features high praise for Curry from Hall of Famer Rick Barry, courtesy of our friends at SiriusXM NBA Radio).

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: The Warriors needed everything Draymond Green could give them to get past the Atlanta Hawks without Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers don’t look title ready | Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors | Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks | Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup

No. 1: Cavaliers don’t look title ready — Losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards over the weekend has taken the shine off of things in Cleveland, where the world knows it’s championship or bust for LeBron James and company. YEs, they remain the clubhouse favorites to win the Eastern Conference title and represent in The Finals, but they don’t look title ready right now, as Michael Lee of The Vertical points out after Sunday’s LeBron-less loss to the Wizards:

The Cavaliers have way too much talent, experience and shared success to use James’ absence as even a partial excuse for a 113-99 loss to the Wizards – a team that is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race looking in. Even if their best player – and apparently lone playmaker – decided his mind and body needed a break, the Cavaliers still had three times as many players on maximum contracts than their opponent, but none of them, Lue said, gave maximum effort.

The loss was more alarming and disturbing because it came two days after a loss to the steady-charging Toronto Raptors that led James to say, “We lack mental [strength] right now.” J.R. Smith took the critique to another level after Sunday’s loss with a very nonchalant slam of his team’s performance.

“If we lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and to come out here and play the way we did – you have a lack of energy – maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said, voice barely rising above a purr. “We shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

The Cavaliers haven’t reached the point where they should panic but they can’t be extremely comfortable about where they stand. They were supposed to have a much easier run through the East than defending champion Golden State in the West, but they only have a two-game lead over the Raptors for the top spot in the conference while the Warriors’ lead over the 50-win San Antonio Spurs feels more vast than Steph Curry’s limitless range.

No other team in the East made the kind of offseason or midseason upgrades to pose much of a threat to James’ reign over the conference but the struggle has been real. The Cavaliers are easily the most talented team in the East, but they are among the least content. James once blamed complacency as the culprit for the team coasting at times, but the Cavaliers have been involved with a considerable amount of chaos for a team that was only two wins from an NBA championship last June despite missing two of its best players. There has been an intense pursuit of perfection that has robbed this season of the kind of fun that Cleveland’s record (41-17) should otherwise suggest.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been searching for, consistency and efficiency,” veteran forward James Jones told The Vertical. “We’re good enough, talented enough, to do things the majority of the time, to win games against the mid-tier teams. Against the good teams, we can piece together a game or two of really good basketball and look exceptional, but deep down inside we know that we aren’t hitting on all cylinders defensively, offensively. We still have some of the same issues of isolation and ball stopping and not moving bodies. For us, even though we’re having success, it’s not the fact we were winning but the way we were winning that gave us concern and you really can’t enjoy it as much when you know you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

 

***

 No. 2: Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors — There’s a reason that some of the men who came before Stephen Curry cannot find a way make sense of what the reigning KIA MVP is doing right now. They’ve simply never seen anything like it, nothing close actually. And that unfamiliarity with a player who can shoot as well as Curry does, and in turn dominates the floor in ways no player has before him, does not register with the likes of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. That inability to frame Curry’s exploits is what lies at the heart of all these doubters of both Curry and the Warriors, writes Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don’t get what you’re doing … that’s when you know the revolution is well underway.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

“It’s starting to get a little annoying just because it’s kind of unwarranted from across the board,” Curry said late last week on the “Warriors Plus/Minus” podcast with Marcus Thompson II and me.

“When you hear kind of … obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it’s kind of, just, weird.”

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era and so on …

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let’s underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It’s about questioning Curry’s true status as a generational figure, because he’s a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry’s ascension isn’t tied to strength, size or speed. He’s a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn’t. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry’s greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you’ve spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry’s status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the way the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and the way Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.


WATCH: Steph Curry with the (12 from deep) shots

***

No. 3:  Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks — Amar’e Stoudemire has some interesting memories about his time in New York. There were good times and bad, plenty of ups and downs, and in hindsight, plenty of factors played into his time there alongside Carmelo Anthony. He spoke his mind when asked about his time there, with is Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden for a Sunday game. But Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t take any of it to heart and he certainly didn’t think Stoudemire was taking shots at him. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more:

Asked if he feels for his former teammate Anthony for going through another tough season with the Knicks, Stoudemire hinted that Anthony needs to be better to pull the Knicks out of their mess. The Knicks (25-36) have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

“It’s tough,” Stoudemire said before the Heat beat the Knicks 98-81 on Sunday. “When you get involved in this situation, you have to take ownership of it. You have to make sure you made the right decisions for your team and teammates.

“You have to become a complete player in order to bring your team out of a rut. Everyone can’t do it. It’s not always easy.”

When asked if he has any advice for Anthony moving forward, Stoudemire mentioned how he knew at this stage of his career that he needed to surround himself with “other class A players” to chase a title.

“It’s a situation where you have options,” Stoudemire said. “If you want to win, that’s the main priority. And if physically you can’t do it as a player and make your teammates better and get them to the point they can win, then you surround yourself with a team that’s built to win.

“And for me, I knew Father Time was ticking on my clock, so I wanted to put myself in a position around other class A players, put myself in a position to at least compete for a championship.”

Stoudemire played four and a half seasons with the Knicks, and his time overlapped with former fan favorite Lin. Although he did not mention any names, Stoudemire said not every Knick was thrilled with Lin’s exploding popularity back then.

“If he stayed, it would’ve been cool,” Stoudemire said of Lin, who played one season in New York from 2011-12. “But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star, so he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He worked hard. He put the work in, and we’re proud of him to have his moment.

“A lot of times, you gotta enjoy someone’s success,” he continued. “And that wasn’t the case for us during that stretch. … You got to enjoy that. You got to let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star, and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that.”

Anthony did not think Stoudemire was talking about him when it came to being less than receptive to Lin’s brief success in New York.

“Still?” Anthony asked when told that Lin came up when reporters talked to Stoudemire. “That was [four] years ago? I don’t know. I don’t have no comment about that. If [Lin] was becoming a star, we should embrace that. I don’t know. We didn’t embrace it? Was that the word?”

“S—, if that was the case then I’d be upset right now with KP [rookie fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis], if he’s talking about me. I doubt if [Stoudemire is] talking about me. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.”

***

No. 4: Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup — The Oklahoma City were the one team most pundits thought to be built to deal with the Golden State Warriors’ vaunted death lineup, a small-ball group that has shredded all comers this season. But in the final minutes of Saturday night’s instant classic, that lineup flummoxed the Thunder as well. Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff have until Thursday night (when they meet agains, on TNT) to come up with a fix for what went wrong. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman provides the details:

But lost amidst this hardwood classic was a dilemma that should concern the Thunder in the present. Curry’s impossible accuracy won it. But the Warriors got back into the game with their small-ball death lineup, which completely dictated the final 10 minutes.

With 4:37 left in regulation, Andre Iguodala subbed in for Shaun Livingston, joining Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. The Warriors were down 11. In fewer than five minutes, they forced overtime. Then in five overtime minutes, they outscored the Thunder by three.

So in a little under 10 total minutes, that nightmarish Golden State unit beat the Thunder 36-22. Curry played hero. Green was a defensive menace. The other three chipped in. But of greater consequence, the versatility of that Warriors five-man grouping forced Billy Donovan’s hand, shrinking OKC’s depth.

Breaking news: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder’s two best players. They’re always on the court in crunch time, barring a foul-out…which we’ll get to.

Beyond them, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are the team’s third and fourth most balanced, important talents. You want both on the court in crucial moments.

Which is where the problem lies. When the Warriors slide Green to center and pepper two-way wings all over the court, they challenge you to take one off the floor or risk some uncomfortable mismatches.

After an 8-point, 3-rebound, 0-block disappearance in Oakland, Ibaka was great on Saturday night. The Thunder demolished Golden State 62-32 in rebounds and Ibaka was the key. He had a season-high 20 rebounds, along with 15 points, two blocks and countless other contested and altered shots. He played a team-high 41 minutes. His presence was required.

Which meant Adams was the odd man out. Of late, Adams has been great, providing a sturdy defensive back-line while finishing layups and dunks with more consistency. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in his 28 minutes on Saturday. But in his final 136 seconds, Adams was out of his element.

From the 4:37 mark of the fourth to the 2:21 mark, Donovan kept Adams and Ibaka in together against that small-ball unit. The Warriors quickly blasted off a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Adams was assigned Iguodala. The Warriors recognized it and attacked Adams with Curry and Iguodala in a pick-and-roll. Curry got the big man on a switch and hit the ninth of his 12 3s.

Right after, Donovan subbed in Dion Waiters for Adams, going small and ceding to the Warriors style.

Then as the game navigated through overtime, Adams sat all but nine seconds. Donovan put him in to win the tip at the start of overtime, which he did, and then pulled him at the first whistle, reinserting Waiters.

Durant fouled out 38 seconds later, a crippling blow, presenting Donovan with another choice. Go back big with Adams or stay small? He remained small, choosing Kyle Singler to replace Durant.

And this is the conundrum the Thunder faces against the Warriors. While many believe OKC’s talent could give Golden State its biggest postseason challenge, the Warriors versatile options exposes the Thunder’s roster imbalance. OKC is deep in the frontcourt but thin on the wing. The Warriors small-ball strategy can nullify frontcourt players and force you to dip deep into your bag of wings.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks missed on Joe Johnson, who chose Miami, but rebound by getting Kris Humphries off the waiver wire … Johnson, by the way, chose the Heat because of his connection with players already on the roster … A sprained right ankle will cost Danilo Gallinari all of the Nuggets’ upcoming homestand … Folks in Sacramento are celebrating Vivek Ranadive for the new arena but blaming him for the team that can’t get it rightDamian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers are keeping it rolling on their Eastern Conference road trip

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 228) Featuring Klay Thompson and Arash Markazi

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History will determine where these Golden State Warriors rank all time.

They have to finish the deal, of course. None of it will matter if the Warriors don’t break the NBA record for wins in the regular season (the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls still own the top spot at 72 wins)

But Klay Thompson and the Warriors are not intimidated by the task. Thompson told us during All-Star Weekend that the chase for 73 wins is on. And the Warriors are currently ahead of the pace, 50-5 and counting.

Where will the Golden State Warriors rank all time?

Ahead of those outlandish Michael Jordan-led Bulls? Certainly alongside them and the Showtime Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Celtics, the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant-led Lakers and others.

We debate that and so much more on Episode 228 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Thompson and Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, a Los Angeles native who provides a local perspective and also schools us on Echo Fox (owned by our very own Rick Fox).

***

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Golden State Warriors historical chase for 73 wins

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

***

 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

***

No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

***

No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today


Advertisement