Posts Tagged ‘Mike Conley’

Report: Griffin to attend USA Basketball minicamp


VIDEO: Clippers big man Blake Griffin took his game to another level this season in Los Angeles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Blake Griffin will be in attendance at next month’s USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas with an eye towards earning a roster spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, according to a report to from Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

Griffin missed out on opportunities to chase gold medals twice before, having to withdraw due to injuries from the 2012 (torn meniscus left knee) team that won gold at the London Olympics and the team last year (back injury) that rolled to gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Griffin is one of the many NBA stars, including four members of the world champion Golden State Warriors, expected to convene in Las Vegas for the minicamp. Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing  director, has already made it clear that any player interested in a roster spot for Rio must attend the minicamp.

More from Shelburne on some of the other stars expected to turn up in Vegas next week:

A source told ESPN’s Calvin Watkins that Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden will also attend the minicamp. Harden, who played a key role on the World Cup team last season, led the NBA with 2,981 minutes played during the regular season.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, meanwhile, that the newly crowned champion Golden State Warriors expect to have four representatives at the minicamp: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.

Curry and Thompson were key members of the Team USA squad that won the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Green and Barnes, as ESPN.com reported earlier this month, are recent invitees to the minicamp, which USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has billed as more of a “reunion” for USAB players, coaches and staffers than a competitive basketball event.

Sources told Stein that Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has also accepted his recent invitation to attend the camp, with Washington’s Bradley Beal, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Portland’s Mason Plumlee (who played on the World Cup team last summer) also planning to attend.

The San Antonio Express-News, meanwhile, reported Sunday that newly re-signed star swingman Kawhi Leonard will make himself available for the camp after he bypassed national team invites the past two summers.

 

Overtime: 24-second thoughts


VIDEO: All-Access: 2015 NBA Finals

What?  No Game 7?

Well, some of us still have some final thoughts on The Finals:

24 — Even in fantasyland, you’ve got to start things off with the National Anthem. How about ultimate fantasy from Bay Area — the Grateful Dead, circa April 1993.

23 — The Catch. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Decision. The Kneecap. Every major league city has its own share of heartbreak. Cleveland’s just seems larger than Lake Erie.  This one doesn’t belong on that list of hurt.  The Cavs battled proudly.

22 — The Warriors danced harmoniously and gorgeously from October to June with a roster that stayed virtually intact, and in some corners they are asked to apologize for this? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”

And durability is a talent.

21 — Irony is that the only significant injury suffered by the Warriors all season, David Lee’s strained left hamstring in the final game of preseason, opened the door for Draymond Green and the championship lineup.

20 — Before Golden State gets pigeonholed into history as banner carriers for jump shots, don’t forget the Warriors had the No. 1 defense in the NBA all season. And were No. 1 in assists.

19 — The best reason ever why coach Steve Kerr didn’t rub the nose of 3-point-shooting critic Charles Barkley in the Warriors’ championship: “I mean, guy picked up every bar tab I ever was part of when I was at TNT. So he can say whatever he wants.”

18 — Is there just the smallest part of Kerr that would be tempted to drop the mic and walk off after one flawless season? How’s that for Zen, Phil Jackson?

17 — Will say it again: For a team that has players with size and strength in low post — LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers don’t finish strong at the hoop nearly enough. That especially goes for LeBron. Stop going off the glass and make them foul you and pay the physical price.

16 — Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, Sea Monkeys, Mood Rings, Cabbage Patch Kids, Matthew Dellavedova.

15 — Somebody will have to explain that Beats headphone TV ad that makes the relationship between Draymond Green and the media look so contentious. For one, nobody has ever asked Green why he acts so arrogant, because he doesn’t. For another, he’s the long-after-the-podium guy who loves to stand in front of his locker way past the final horn and chat. With anybody. It’s like Michele Roberts wrote the script.

14 — The nit-pickers say Stephen Curry still has something to prove since each round of the playoffs featured an opponent with an injured point guard — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley, Kyrie Irving. They don’t mention that he was also on the first team in history to beat every other member of the All-NBA First Team — LeBron, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Marc Gasol — on the way to the title.

13Is LeBron (2-4) on his way to becoming the 21st century version of Jerry West, who lost eight times in The Finals? One could do far worse than being on the same page of history as The Logo.

12 — “We ran out of talent.” James catches flak for this from some corners? A third quarter lineup by the Cavs in Game 6: J.R. Smith, Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Thompson, James Jones. If the NBA playoffs were the NCAA Tournament, they’d be a No. 16 seed playing Kentucky.

11 — If you thought the team that LeBron single-handedly dragged to The Finals and then was swept by the Spurs in 2007 was in deeper water over its head than these Cavs once Irving went down, face it, you’ll never be satisfied with anything he does.

10 — To think it all could have unraveled for the Warriors right at the beginning if Andre Iguodala, who started the first 758 games of his 10-year NBA career, didn’t buy into the program and Kerr’s plan to come off the bench. Unhappy? Yes. Unwilling? No. That’s the definition of a pro’s pro. And don’t forget no grousing from Andrew Bogut when he was benched in The Finals.

9 — So what happens if David Blatt gets that timeout in Chicago?

8 Iggy as Finals MVP? Yes, because it was his move into the starting lineup for Game 4 that began to turn the series around and made what Curry did possible.  And he was the one who made James work so hard and wore him out.

7 — LeBron as MVP? From this corner, to become the historic second player from a losing team to get the honor, James had to pull his bunch into a Game 7.

6 — If you want to follow one more member of the Twitterverse next season, for raw emotion and lots of fun, make it Draymond’s mama:

5 — “I’m the best player the world.” OK, it wasn’t modest. But truth is a defense. And LeBron was clearly just trying to instill confidence in a worn-down, flat-out spent band of merry men that he could somehow get them through Game 6.

4 — Plenty of people and reasons to feel good about in the glow of the Warriors’ championship. Few more than Shaun Livingston, eight years removed from the horrible knee injury that had at least one person at the hospital tell him that he might need his leg amputated.

3 — Two biggest roadblocks to a Warriors repeat: chip-on-his-shoulder Kevin Durant and scarily-fast improving Anthony Davis.

2 — Does Kevin Love stay in Cleveland? Only if winning matters to him.

1 — Same two, same time, next year. Everybody healthy.

Game 1: 24-second thoughts

24 — Just one more reminder of how long the droughts are for both teams: When the Warriors won their last championship (1975), the No. 1 song on the Billboard chart at this time of year was Before the Next Teardrop Falls by Freddy Fender. The last time any Cleveland team won a title (1964), The Beatles led the way with Love Me Do.

23 — Tough act to follow. After a full week of preparation and rest, can the Cavs and Warriors match the stirring performance of 10-year-old Nayah Damasen on the Game 1 national anthem?

22 — Uh-oh. How much is Steve Kerr worrying when the jump shot by LeBron James that’s been shaky all through the playoffs goes down smooth on the first two attempts?

21 — Two words: Tristan Thompson. Two more: Big problem.

20 — Kyrie Irving isn’t 100 percent? Don’t tell that to Draymond Green after that steal, crossover, shield-the-ball and strong finish at the other end. And that was after his block on Steph Curry earlier.

19 — Are they planning the parade route yet in Cleveland? Perfect first quarter and a 29-19 Cavs lead. Warriors not only shooting badly (6-for-21), but have taken a lot of bad shots. Looking like a team with not a minute of Finals experience.

18 — How far back do you have to go to find a midseason pickup who fits better than Timofey Mozgov on a Finals team? I’m thinking Rasheed Wallace to the 2004 Pistons.

17 — Welcome back, Marreese Speights. While he was out for the last eight games with a calf injury, coach Steve Kerr said the one thing that didn’t concern him was his shooting touch. So Mo Buckets comes off the bench and buries his first two shots.

16 — That Golden State bench that’s been so vital and potent all season long is keeping Warriors in the game with an 18-6 advantage midway through the second quarter. Buys them time to get Curry heated up.

15 — Just address Steph Curry’s Christmas cards this year to “Left Corner.” It might as well be his home. Now he’s up to 13-for-14 there in the playoffs. Honest. Shooting the basketball really isn’t as easy as Curry makes it look.

14 — Usage rate for LeBron in first half was high and you wonder if it will take a toll over a long series. Hmmmm, have the maintenance folks at Oracle Arena thought about unplugging the air conditioner?

13 — Yes, the Warriors are making LeBron work for everything he gets. And he’s working them over.

12 — Plan A: LeBron bully-ball. Plan B: Tristan Thompson offensive rebound. Plan C: See Plan A

11 — Sometimes you just don’t play by the book. That foul taken by Draymond Green at the end of the first half just because the Warriors had one to give looks pretty costly — not to mention foolish — now that he’s on the bench with four.

10 — Mike Breen: “Dellavedova trying to get the Cavs into the offense.” Passes to LeBron. “There’s the offense.”

9 — The little things that can win championships? Those two hustling out-of-bounds saves by Harrison Barnes that led to a Leandro Barbosa 3 out of the corner.

8 — Somebody needs to tell the five Cavs on the court for start of the fourth quarter that LeBron is over there sitting on the bench. It’s time to be moving the ball around, not looking for isolation plays.

7 — LeBron’s 37 ties his Finals high with more than six minutes left. As James himself said when somebody asked if he thought he was an underdog in this series: “Me? An underdog? Never.”

6 — 758 consecutive starts to begin career, now off the bench all season and Andre Iguodala’s sacrifice continues as he gives up his body to try to defend James. At both ends, perhaps Iggy’s best game as a Warrior.

5 — Can we give Kyrie Irving his own MVP — Most Valuable Possum? All this talk about being less than full strength and then he makes that tremendous block on Curry drive.

4 — Iguodala’s done everything but sink his teeth into one of LeBron’s shoulders. Great contest on LeBron jumper for the win.

3 — Small ball Warriors with Green playing center in OT have not given Cavs anything at the rim and take control.

2 — Just when we’re all gearing for a humdinger Finals with hope of it going the seven-game distance with a lot more of these classics, there goes Kyrie Irving limping to the locker room. In four rounds of playoffs, the Warriors have faced four teams with point guard injuries — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Pat Beverley and Irving.

1 — If 44 points, eight rebounds, six assists by LeBron wasn’t enough, can the Cavs hope to have a chance if Kyrie can’t go in Game 2? The winner of Game 1 is 48-20 all-time to win series in NBA Finals history.

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.

***

No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

***

No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.

***

No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of ESPN.com evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

Blogtable: Overcoming playoff injuries

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


BLOGTABLE: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



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Kevin Love, John Wall, Mike Conley and Chris Paul are just some of the big names who have missed playoff games because of injury. Which team has done the best job overcoming the absence of a key player?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe Cleveland would be having a much easier time of things if Kevin Love were around, but the Cavaliers have circled the wagons pretty well. Which is due, of course, to having the best player in the league in LeBron James. James has managed to give the Cavs enough more often than not to fend off a more talented Chicago roster and push the Bulls to the brink of elimination. His team has rallied with contributions from Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, with Kyrie Irving some sliding degree of healthy as the series plays out. If Love is only marginally missed right now, he should be factoring that into his long-term planning this summer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any question that it’s the Clippers.  Chris Paul didn’t play in Games 1 and 2 against the Rockets, was used for limited minutes in Games 3 and 4 and yet L.A. took control of the series and is starting to look like the team to beat in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers. They won a Game 1 on the road, in Houston, without Chris Paul and then won Game 3 at home with Paul not moving well. Austin Rivers has stepped up. The four other starters have stepped up, with Blake Griffin playing at a very high level. A team that didn’t need another boost of confidence just got one.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m almost forced to say Cleveland only because Love has missed the most games of the four. In terms of importance, he doesn’t rate with Paul or Wall, but was finally becoming comfortable with his role and valuable in the Cavs grand scheme when he damaged his shoulder. The Cavs are still alive and favored to reach the NBA Finals, mainly because LeBron covers most if not all flaws and absences.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m most impressed that the Wizards have won a game (against the East’s No. 1 seed) and almost won another without John Wall. Their offense was built around Wall (he led the league in time of possession), but they’ve had two strong offensive games without him. They got big games from their bigs in Game 3 and a huge performance from Bradley Beal in Game 4. I still think that the Hawks win the series if Wall can’t play (or play effectively), but my predictions relating to the Wizards don’t mean much at this point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThey’ve all done excellent work compensating, so it’s hard to pick one out of the bunch. But the Clippers are on the cusp of history, for the franchise, so it has to be Doc Rivers and crew. They survived the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1 and have handled the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals with CP3 playing at CP1.5 due to his hamstring issues. Austin Rivers has come alive. J.J. Redick is shooting lights out and playing both ends at a high level. Even Big Baby Davis is in a groove and playing well. This is some of Doc’s best work, if you ask me. No one, and I mean no one, would have predicted the Clippers would grind their way through to this point under these circumstances, not after the roller coaster regular season ride they were on.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe No. 5 Wizards have taken it to the top-seeded Hawks without Wall, who would have been the best player in that series. But no team has shown more resolve than the Clippers, who made their Game 7 stand against the defending champs as Paul struggled to recover from his hamstring injury. Then, instead of settling for an opening loss in the next round, they grabbed the initiative against the Rockets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think I’ll go with Cleveland, only because they’ve lost so many key players. Right now, for instance, they’re without Kevin Love for the duration, they have Kyrie Irving playing basically without being able to run, J.R. Smith has missed a couple of games with a suspension, and LeBron hasn’t missed any games but clearly suffered a bad ankle sprain, and yet as of right now the Cavs are still just two wins from advancing to the Conference Finals. To me that speaks to not only their depth, but also their resourcefulness in the face(s) of injury.

Morning shootaround — May 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors lose ‘poise’ in Game 2 | Thibodeau: Latest front office rumblings just ‘noise’ | Report: Thompson to start Game 2 | McHale blasts Rockets’ effort

No. 1: Warriors ‘poise’ fails them in Game 2 vs. Grizzlies — The scene at Oracle Arena last night was perfectly set for Golden State to snag a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference semifinals. Warriors star Stephen Curry got his MVP from Commissioner Adam Silver before the game, Golden State was fresh off a Game 1 romp over Memphis and had every reason to believe it could win again Tuesday. But the Grizzlies — thanks to the inspired play of Mike Conley — claimed a 97-90 series-tying win. Afterward, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, the Warriors said they were perhaps a little too pumped up for Game 2:

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost at home was back in January, against the Chicago Bulls. The last time they lost in regulation at Oracle was back in November, against the San Antonio Spurs. This 97-90 home loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies just wasn’t part of the plan, certainly not on the day of Stephen Curry’s MVP presentation.

In pregame, as Curry took hold of his trophy, Tony Allen was on the other side of the court, pacing like a madman. He had his own plans. He was ready to dash everyone’s expectations with a dose of chaos.

It took some inspired defense from Allen, combined with an inspirational performance from Mike Conley, who played magnificently despite a fractured face and foggy mask. Conley hit his first four shots and the Grizzlies never looked back. After Memphis went ahead 5-4, they led the rest of the way. Golden State had runs here and there, but they were never sustained. The game was always just out of reach, and the Warriors never got organized enough to tug it back.

“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr assessed. “That was the biggest issue.

“We were too emotional. We were too quick with our intention to score,” he said. “Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”

After the game, Curry preached calm, saying, “We’re not going to shoot 6-for-26 many times over this series, so we’re not going to overreact to one bad shooting night, as long as we get quality shots the next game.”

Draymond Green had a similar message, saying, “Nobody expects us to lose a game at home. Now the whole world has collapsed, the Bay Area’s just been hit by an earthquake. Everything’s going wrong.” He then downshifted into a reassuring tone, saying, “We’ll be just fine.”

That’s probably the right approach for the playoffs finally arriving at Oracle. The Warriors made it look so easy, for so long, that one could be deceived into thinking they could skate to a title sans stretches of doubt. It just isn’t happening that smoothly for a young team experiencing life as the favorite for the first time. Massive expectation doesn’t obviate pressure, it amplifies it.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Warriors and Grizzlies in Game 2

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Grizzlies need help beyond Conley


VIDEO: Mike Conley describes his facial injury

OAKLAND — The Grizzlies head into Game 2 against the Warriors tonight knowing the return of Mike Conley is a possibility but certain they need more help from the perimeter on offense — whether Conley returns or not.

Actually, Memphis needs offense, period, after scoring 86 points in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday in a loss that came despite big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph scoring 21 and 20, respectively. The rest of the roster  combined for 45 points while making three-of-12 attempts behind the arc, prompting coach Dave Joerger to note “we’ve got to get a third scorer, especially from the perimeter to try to find a way to get Courtney Lee free to get some more looks.”

Lee is the obvious potential solution for the Grizzlies, a threat on 3-pointers who only managed three attempts in Game 1, missing two, while going four of nine from the field overall. If Conley plays, an uncertainty, and if he gets close to his regular-season level after missing three games in a row with facial fractures and subsequent surgery, he can help in that department as well.

“He’s a real pick-and-roll threat, he’s a threat in transition to go end to end,” Joerger said. “He also shoots a high percentage from three, especially as a catch-and-shoot guy…. We’re going to have to keep cutting, we’re going to have to knock down some shoots from the perimeter.”

The Grizzlies have listed Conley as questionable for tonight at Oracle Arena, an upgrade from doubtful the day before. He increased his activity at Monday’s practice and by shootaround on Tuesday was a possibility for the opening lineup. Nick Calathes had a bad showing as the Game 1 starter, leaving Joerger to consider going without a point guard for stretches. Beno Udrih is another option.

Also tonight, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, named MVP on Monday, will be presented the trophy again in a pregame ceremony.

Morning shootaround — May 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers keep it up | Conley hoping to play in Game 2 | Popovich: Spurs’ core likely to return | Beal, Wall expect to play in Game 2

No. 1: Clippers keep on rolling, rally for Game 1 win — Had the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets, few would have faulted them. They did, after all, just win a thrilling, emotional Game 7 in the first round against the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs just two days earlier. As well, they were without star point guard Chris Paul for last night’s game. None of that affected Los Angeles’ crew though as they withstood a rough first half to score a 117-101 win, writes our own Fran Blinebury:

You don’t usually notice growth spurts until after they happen, but here are the Clippers getting taller, stronger, tougher right in front of our eyes.

It was one thing to take down the defending champion Spurs in Game 7 before a roaring, emotional home crowd with adrenaline of the moment temporarily numbing the pain of Chris Paul‘s strained hamstring, enabling him to stay on the court and even hit the decisive shot.

But now it was 48 hours later, Paul was out of the lineup entirely and the Clippers were down 13 points on the road.

“Trust,” said coach Doc Rivers.

“Stay confident,” said center DeAndre Jordan.

“Be who we are,” said guard Jamal Crawford.

Who they are now is very different team than the one that opened training camp back in October, the one that was still searching for direction in February, maybe even different from the one that walked into the playoffs just a little more than two weeks ago.

Of course, it helps that the Clippers can bring power forward Blake Griffin to every game. Griffin has been arguably the best all-around participant in the playoffs to date. His 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists were his third triple-double in eight post-season games this year.

When he wasn’t punishing the Rockets with his bull moves down in the low post, he was knocking in jumpers or spotting the ball to his teammates for open 3-pointers and other good looks.

“He’s like Tom Brady standing in the middle of the field picking them apart,” Barnes said.

With Paul watching from the bench or pacing nervously in front of it wearing a green jacket, Griffin was the trigger to the offense, playing point forward and making the entire machine work smoothly. Just as important, he kept his team together with prodding words of encouragement.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin powers the Clippers’ Game 1 victory

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Conley nearing return to Grizzlies


VIDEO: Conley on injury

OAKLAND — Grizzlies guard Mike Conley was ruled out of Game 1 against the Warriors about an hour before tipoff Sunday morning, but only after going through warmups on the court in a sign he is getting close to returning from surgery to repair fractures on his face.

The Grizzlies have remained vague on a timetable for Conley’s return ever since he suffered the injury when inadvertently struck by an elbow from Portland’s C.J. McCollum in Game 3 of the first-round series. Conley underwent surgery, missed the final two games against the Trail Blazers, and by Sunday was doing shooting drills on the court at Oracle Arena while wearing a protective clear mask. The team listed him as doubtful for the opener and coach Dave Joerger said “It’s possible, but it’s not likely” that Conley would be available.

Not long after, Conley was ruled out.

Nick Calathes was listed as the starter for Game 1. Beno Udrih is also expected to play a lot.

 

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

***

No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …