Posts Tagged ‘Milwaukee Bucks’

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

***

No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

***

No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

***

No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Kohl manages to save the Bucks … again


VIDEO: Lasry and Edens visit pro shop

By Jon Hartzell, NBA.com

Herb Kohl’s pending sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to hedge-fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wes Edens for approximately $550 million, plus a $100 million gift from Kohl and $100 million commitment from Lasry and Edens to build a new arena, firmly cements the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee.

“My priority has always been and will continue to be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee,” said Kohl during an afternoon press conference on Wednesday. “This announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to be the home of the Bucks. Wes and Marc agree, and they share my commitment to the long-term success of this franchise in Milwaukee.”

This isn’t the first time Kohl has stepped up to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.

During the heyday of the franchise – when they won 50 or more games each season from 1980-87 – Bucks’ principle owner Jim Fitzgerald was forced to put the franchise up for sale in 1985 after a failed business venture (a premium TV service called SportsVue started with then Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig). Fitzgerald quickly received offers from Minneapolis, Toronto, Miami and Santa Ana to buy the Bucks away from Milwaukee. Despite his preference to keep the team in Wisconsin, seemingly no local investors were willing to throw money at a franchise which was reportedly incapable of making a revenue in the incredibly small MECCA Arena which only sat 11,052 people.

“Herb was the only individual who pursued this diligently,” Fitzgerald said in 1985. “Milwaukee is very fortunate to have Herb Kohl.”

Kohl purchased the franchise for approximately $18 million (the highest price for an NBA franchise pre-expansion) on March 1, 1985. Even then, he knew the importance of the Bucks to Milwaukee.

“Had it not been for Herb Kohl, it would be inevitable that it would not be the Milwaukee Bucks today,” former NBA commissioner David Stern said during an interview in 1987. “He stepped in and did it not because it projected out to be such a great investment but because that was the price to keep the team in Milwaukee.”

The arena situation in 1985 was quickly settled when Lloyd and Jane Pettit privately financed the entire construction costs of the Bradley Center. It doesn’t seem likely the Bucks will be so fortunate this time around, but the $200 million commitment from Lasry, Edens and Kohl will surely help initiate the arena discussion.

The Bucks have struggled under Kohl. But his commitment to the franchise, City of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin has not wavered. Which is why, after yesterday’s announcement, this quote from prominent Milwaukee real estate developer Marvin Fishman in 1985 still holds true:

“This purchase now by Herbie Kohl ensures that this team will never leave Milwaukee.”

Report: Bucks to announce sale of team

From NBA.com staff reports

The Milwaukee Bucks face an uncertain future — as detailed here by our own Jon Hartzell — as current owner Herb Kohl seeks a new owner who will help keep the team in town and secure a new arena to replace the dilapidated BMO Harris Bradley Center.

A new arena for the Bucks remains up in the air, but it looks like a new owner may be on board. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported today that Kohl has reached an agreement to sell the team to a pair of investors:

The Milwaukee Bucks will announce later Wednesday that longtime owner Herb Kohl has reached an agreement to sell the team to Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million, according to sources familiar with the transaction.

Sources told ESPN.com that the deal, subject to league approval, will be confirmed in an afternoon news conference.

The Bucks have a news conference scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET today, presumably to announce this transaction.

Bucks face uphill battle for new arena


VIDEO: Adam Silver on Milwaukee’s arena situation

By Jon Hartzell, NBA.com

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks need a new arena, and they need it soon. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said so. The Bucks’ owner has said it. Everyone across the league acknowledges the need to replace what has become maybe the NBA’s most dismal arena.

How the Bucks plan to pay for one is a different story, and one which recently intensified as reports indicated owner Herb Kohl may be close to selling the team, with an announcement possible at the NBA Board of Governors meetings later this week in New York.

The 79-year-old Kohl has stated his willingness to sell, but he also has said he’s dedicated to finding an owner who will keep the team in Milwaukee. A new downtown arena is the quickest way to secure the franchise’s future in Milwaukee.

“In order to keep the Bucks, we have to have a facility,” Kohl said during Bucks media day in October. “And in order to get a facility, we have to keep the Bucks. So it’s like a two-fer: We’re either going to get both in the years ahead or we’re going to have neither.”

Kohl has stated he is willing to contribute a significant personal financial investment to replace the current BMO Harris Bradley Center. The “Fortress on Fourth” was a privately funded gift built in 1988 with funds donated by philanthropists Jane Bradley Pettit and her husband, Lloyd Pettit. In addition to housing the Bucks, it is home to the Marquette University men’s basketball team and the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

But it has gradually fallen into disrepair, with a leaking atrium and a refrigerant system that’s no longer permitted in the United States. The Bradley Center struggles to generate the revenue needed to make fixes due to a lack of suite space and no year-round, on-site restaurant.

Kohl might be willing to fund an arena by himself if he could afford it. But with a reported net worth around $264 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Kohl may not have the desire or the means. Especially after he contributed $25 million to the Wisconsin Badgers’ arena in Madison, now named the Kohl Center, in 1998.


VIDEO: Kohl on Potential Investors

A pricey proposition for Kohl, Milwaukee

This is where a sale of the team could solve the Bucks’ problem. Recent reports from Grantland’s editor-in-chief Bill Simmons suggest the sale price for the franchise will be upward of $550 million, far greater than the $405 million that Forbes valued the team at in January. (Kohl paid an estimated $18 million for the franchise in 1985.)

Some speculate that given an arena price tag like that, Kohl might be willing to make a big investment in a new building after the team is sold. Others suggest that the sale of the franchise will depend largely on a commitment from the new ownership group to make a major contribution to an arena. These two sources could get the Bucks close to the $500 million necessary to construct an arena (the Sacramento Kings’ new arena is projected to cost $448 million), though Kohl has said he believes funding should come from a combination of public and private funds.

It may be difficult to raise enough private funds. But one of the groups reportedly interested in the Bucks, New York-based hedge-fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, have an estimated combined net worth around $3 billion, according to Forbes. They reportedly were close to closing a sale on the Bucks less than a week ago for $550 million, but a “late flurry of offers” drove the price up and re-opened negotiations, according to Simmons. Grantland also reported that Kohl refused to sell to a Seattle ownership group led by Chris Hansen and former Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer (who is worth approximately $20.1 billion, according to Forbes).

The other names to emerge as possible investors are nowhere near as wealthy as Lasry and Edens. But they all have at least some connection to Milwaukee, or the Midwest, which would ease the fear that a new ownership group would attempt to relocate the team. The most likely of these local investors are Chicago-based businessman Richard Chaifetz, who donated $12 million to build an arena at his alma-mater (Saint Louis University), former Bucks player (and one of Wendy’s largest franchisees), Junior Bridgeman, Wisconsin-based consultant Jon Hammes and current Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who previously stated he would be interested in investing in a new arena. It seems likely Kohl would remain involved with the team in some capacity if he decides to sell to a local ownership group, and he could even remain the majority owner.

While a local ownership group sounds like a smart way to keep the team in Milwaukee, most believe that to go that route with the potential investors whose names have surfaced, significant public funding for a new arena would be needed. And local governments do not seem too keen on that idea.


VIDEO: Kohl on Arena (2012)

Tax-for-arena argument won’t help cause

Southeastern Wisconsin residents continue to have a sour taste in their mouth over the five-county, 0.1 percent sales tax enacted in 1996 to fund the development of the Brewers’ Miller Park, which opened in 2001. The tax initially was to expire in 2012. But it was delayed to 2014 and now 2020 as tax revenues in the region have declined.

The battle over that tax was fierce in 1995. It passed by just one vote, cast by Racine County State Senator George Petak, who was quickly recalled nine months later because of the vote. Racine County already passed a resolution in July stating it would not support a tax for a new arena, and the other three local counties have made similar statements. Some have suggested extending the Miller Park tax to cover the new arena, but that seems unlikely at this point.

Local apathy is a huge hurdle in getting public money for a new arena. The perception around town is that a new arena would be only for the Bucks, rather than for the community. And the Bucks, the third-winningest team in the NBA during the 25 years prior to Kohl, have not gained many fans during the Kohl era. They’ve advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once since 1989 and are in the midst of their worst season ever.

All public funding hope is not lost, however. The private contributions from Kohl, Attanasio and a new ownership group would at least lessen the burden placed on the public to fund the arena. So the tax would not need to be as large as it was for Miller Park, which received $290 million in public funds in 1996 (equivalent to roughly $437 million in 2014). There are also emerging ideas about a “cultural tax” which would not only fund a new arena, but also parks, museums and the Milwaukee County Zoo. The concept was successfully used in Oklahoma City to fund the construction of the Thunders’ Chesapeake Energy Arena.

New public funding ideas will continue to emerge (“Super TIF,” anyone?). Still, it seems clear most Milwaukeeans are not enthusiastic about helping rich owners fund a new arena.

Bucks on-court product has some hope

All of this hullaballoo comes at the end of a season in which the Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA, after an offseason which saw them add 11 new players and coach Larry Drew in hopes of making another exasperated run at the playoffs. The Bucks will have a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, joining a young core of Larry Sanders, John Henson, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Nate Wolters and 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. The future of the franchise and the arena may be cloudy, but the roster’s future is arguably bright.

Silver is pleased with Kohl’s efforts to keep the team in Milwaukee, where it has been since 1968. But Milwaukee will force the NBA’s hand if there is no plan in place for a new arena when the Bradley Center’s lease expires in 2017. Current signs point toward Kohl selling the team. But many thought current Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was going to buy the franchise in 2003 before Kohl pulled out late in the negotiation.

It’s been a horrible season for the Bucks, one that mercifully ends tonight when they host playoff-bound Atlanta at the Bradley Center (8 ET, League Pass). After that, with the franchise on the selling block, an unsettled arena situation and a critical top four pick in the Draft, the Bucks will step uncertainly into what may be their most important offseason yet.

Can’t win two? It’s Larry Drew

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the league’s worst record on Monday. They’ll go into next month’s Lottery with the best odds at getting the No. 1 pick. They’ll have a 25 percent chance at No. 1 and will have no worse than the No. 4 pick in the June draft.

Though the Philadelphia 76ers tied an NBA record with 26 straight losses between Jan. 31 and March 27, the Bucks managed to stay behind them in the standings.

How did they do it? Well, their longest losing streak of the season was only 11 games, but they never won two in a row. In fact, Monday’s loss in Toronto also clinched a little bit of history for the Bucks.

The Bucks are the third team in NBA history to play an 82-game season without ever winning two straight. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two other teams to do it were the 1986-87 Clippers and the 2004-05 Hawks.

Amazingly, those three teams have something in common. His name is Larry Drew.

Drew and Mike Woodson both played for the ’86-87 Clippers. Woodson was the coach and Drew an assistant for the ’04-05 Hawks. And, of course, Drew is the coach of this year’s Bucks.

The 2011-12 Bobcats also failed to win two straight in the lockout-shortened, 66-game season.

Hat tip to Bucksketball’s KL Chouinard for noting the Drew connection.

Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.

Tale of the tape: Two Brandons

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t won much this season, but they did win this: Their summertime swap of Brandons.

The July 31 deal was bigger than just that, with Khris Middleton adding to the Bucks’ haul (Viacheslav Kravtsov was just ballast) . But at its core, the sign-and-trade was about a swap of and preference in combo guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Jennings had exploded on the scene in Milwaukee in 2009-10, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game. That immediately triggered second-guessing in New York, where the Knicks had drafted Jordan Hill two spots ahead of Jennings, and kick-started Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” season in which they finished 46-36, reached the playoffs and might have made some real noise if not for center Andrew Bogut‘s arm and wrist injuries from an ugly spill late in the regular season.

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings
(Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Jennings’ quick start as a scorer, however, hurt his game, in the opinion of some NBA scouts. His shoot-first inclinations calcified, despite unimpressive accuracy numbers (39.4 percent shooting, 35.4 on 3-pointers, in four seasons with the Bucks). He also had difficulty finishing at the rim.

Yet Jennings stayed bold with his shot, showing less interest in setting up teammates. That led to some locker-room frustration, even squabbles, especially when Jennings could respond to an All-Star snub by averaging 14.5 assists for a week but was down at 5.7 for four Bucks seasons.

He hit restricted free agency ready for a change. Milwaukee was ready too, agreeing to a swap for Knight while Jennings landed a three-year, $24 million deal in Detroit.

Knight had heard many of the same criticisms in two seasons in Detroit: Not a true point guard, a ‘tweener, and so on. But the Bucks liked his size, his skills, his age and his salary, and despite the presence of other guards (Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, later Ramon Sessions), flipped the keys of their offense to the south Florida native.

Knight showed a lot of Jennings’ tendencies for the Bucks without generating hard feelings. He has shot the ball 200 times more than any teammate, despite his 41.7 percent success rate, and he leads the team in 3-point attempts (306) if not accuracy (32.7). He’s their leader in assists, too, but with an average (4.9) lower than Jennings averaged in his four Bucks seasons. Ditto for Knight’s turnovers (2.6), higher than what Jennings coughed up while there.

But he’s two years younger than Jennings, two years away from unrestricted free agency and a lot more affordable. Coincidentally, Knight is only the second player in Bucks history to lead the team in both points and assists in his first season with the club. The first? Jennings.

Bucks coach Larry Drew talked up Knight before a game against Miami last weekend.

“There was always the big question, could he play point? I still think that Brandon is a very young developing player,” Drew said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did I know that Brandon was actually younger than Michael Carter-Williams?’ … You think about that. We think of Michael Carter-Williams as a really young terrific NBA player. He has a chance to be Rookie of the Year. It seems like Brandon has been around for a few more years.

“Brandon wants to get better, he wants to learn. We challenge him at that point guard position – that’s such a vital position in our league. He’s still making mistakes, and that’s something we have to continue to work with him on. But after all that’s been said about him from the very beginning, particularly when he was in Detroit, I thought he came into this thing very positive. And I know he was in the mindset of wanting to prove something.”

With their seasons nearly complete and their teams’ series ending earlier this week. it seemed like a good time to tell the tale of two Brandons with a tale of the tape:

Essentials:
Jennings: 6-foot-1, 169 pounds. Born Sept. 23, 1989 (24). No. 10 pick in 2009.
Knight: 6-foot-3, 189 pounds. Born Dec. 2, 1991 (22). No. 8 pick in 2011.
Comment: It’s hard to beat Jennings’ elusiveness and quickness, but Knight is fast, too. And the Bucks feel his size is better suited to playing the defense that, in time, they think he’s capable of providing.
Advantage: Knight.

Team W-L record
Jennings: 27-48, fourth in the Central Division.
Knight: 14-61, last in the Central.
Comment: With nearly double the victories, this might be classified as a blowout for Jennings. Then again, winning 27 gets you a lottery spot same as winning 14, except that Milwaukee might land a guarantee of no pick worse than No. 4. The Pistons will need to get lucky to leap ahead of the Bucks.
Advantage: Jennings (c’mon, winning games still matters).

Basic individual stats
Jennings: 15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.0 rpg, 34.3 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.3 steals. 37.7 FG%, 34.5 3FG%.
Knight: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 32.9 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.0 steals, 41.7 FG%, 32.7 3FG%.
Comment: Jennings’ assists numbers are a personal high, reflective of the scoring talent around him – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey – and Detroit’s presumed desire to win and play right at least early in the season. Knight has self-nominated as the “someone has to score on a bad team” guy.
Advantage: Even.

Advanced individual stats:
Jennings: 107 offensive rating, 112 defensive rating, 35.1 assists %, 44.6 eFG%, 16.3 PER.
Knight: 104 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 27.1 assists %, 46.8 eFG%, 16.4 PER.
Comment: A little credit here, a little debit there, it’s awfully close. But then you notice that Jennings’ PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive/defensive ratings all have gotten worse from two seasons ago (18.4, 47.6%, 106/107) and, two years further along than Knight, he’s headed the wrong way.
Advantage: Knight.

Head-to-head
Jennings: 20.5 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, plus-13.4 ppg in four games against Milwaukee.
Knight: 15.3 ppg, 5.8 apg4.3 rpg, 32.1 FG%, 21.4 3FG%, minus-14.6 ppg in the four meetings.
Comment: Jennings left Milwaukee with a fair amount of baggage, even bitterness. It figures he would have more to prove, more of a statement to make, than Knight when facing his former team. And sure enough, Jennings did. The Pistons went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Advantage: Jennings.

Contract
Jennings: $7.7 million this season, another $16.3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Knight: $2.8 million salary this season, $8.3 million the next two years.
Comment: On a per-points, per-assists, per-anything basis, Knight already is a better buy than Jennings and figures to stay that way for another two seasons.
Advantage: Knight.

Morning Shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sanders done for season | Might Nash play again this season? | Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom | NBA rules on Buss-Jackson relationship

No. 1: Bucks’ Sanders done for season — From start to what is now the finish, the 2013-14 season has been one to forget for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders. A season after making a name for himself with the Bucks with his defensive play and flashes of offensive skill, Sanders struggled through an injury and off-the-court-incident marred season. Playing against the Rockets on Feb. 8, Sanders went up for a rebound and got hit in the right eye, suffering an orbital fracture. Sanders says he’s done for the season, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel, and is gearing up for 2014-15:

Sanders, traveling with the Bucks on their current four-game western trip, confirmed he would not return this season in a locker-room interview.

Now Sanders is focusing on the future and his role in helping the rebuilding Bucks. He will be starting a four-year, $44 million contract next fall, the extension he signed last summer.

And he said he has learned some things after being sidelined six weeks early in the season due to a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury he suffered in a fight in a downtown Milwaukee nightclub.

“I think you just take from it what you can,” Sanders said of his unfulfilling season, with 23 games played and 20 starts. “It’s funny you go through things in life and they help mold us into better people, if you learn from things.

“I think that’s what this year was all about. Going through it is tough. But when you get through it you start to understand how you become better.”

Sanders said he has major goals to achieve in the off-season, including getting stronger to battle the centers he must face each night.

“I want to put on a lot of weight,” he said. “At least 15 pounds. I want to get to 240, 245, a good running weight. I want to be really strong. I want to feel unmoveable out there.

“I just see it being the hardest working summer since back when I was in college, maybe when I was going out for the draft (in 2010). That will be the only one I could probably compare to this one.”

A team source said Sanders could not do any activities over the last few weeks due to the delicate nature of the eye surgery. The repairs were needed to make sure Sanders would not suffer from double vision issues.

But the source indicated Sanders should be able to begin light activities (jogging, running on a treadmill) by mid-April and eventually return to the basketball court.

Sanders said fans have stuck behind him despite his travails.

“A lot of fans are still rooting for me,” he said. “I’m out and they’re looking for me to come back and be better. With that in mind, I’m going to carry it with me every day. I’m carrying it with me now. It’s building up.

“It’s going to be a good summer for work.”

Sanders said he’s optimistic about the team despite its 13-55 record this season.

“It can only get better,” Sanders said. “I guarantee you we’ll have a better season than this year. We’ll get a lot of time to spend together this summer, catch these guys out on the road, wherever they’re at. Try to get some team stuff going, too.”

***

No. 2: D’Antoni changes stance on Nash’s status — On March 13, it looked like Steve Nash‘s season with the Los Angeles Lakers — and perhaps his NBA career as we know it — was over. It was on that day that the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan reported that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had closed the door on Nash’s season, telling reporters he wouldn’t play this season. But it seems that may not be the case after all. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, D’Antoni could be reversing field on Nash’s status:

Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni opened the door for the chance that Steve Nash could return at some point this season after the veteran guard supposedly shut it down last week because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It’s still a possibility,” D’Antoni said Wednesday when asked if Nash could play at some point in the Lakers’ final 15 games. “We have to see where he is physically. … We’ll have to see some practices and see how it goes.”

The Lakers are down to one healthy point guard in Kendall Marshall, with Jordan Farmar out for a minimum of two weeks because of a strained right groin.

The 40-year-old Nash told Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday, “I feel pretty good. I feel as though I could play now at a good level. The question is could I sustain it?”

Nash has not played since Feb. 11 when he exited just before halftime against the Utah Jazz.

“We’ll have to see,” D’Antoni said. “Again, we’re just trying to get him totally healthy. You just don’t want to send him out there and play him when he’s not healthy. The last time we tried, if you remember, he didn’t make it through a game. We can’t have him start the game and then at halftime not be able to come out. We got to look and see and maybe try it in a couple practices and see if he can get 100 percent healthy, but right now he’s not there.”


VIDEO: Mike D’Antoni talks after the Lakers’ home loss to the San Antonio Spurs

***

No. 3: Inside Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom – If you are a Toronto Raptors fan or, for that matter, a Kyle Lowry fan, we’ve got the story for you. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has a fantastic, lengthy look at the career of Toronto’s star point guard who has gone from late Draft pick out of Villanova, to backup point guard in Memphis, to part-time starter in Houston, to part-time starter in Toronto to a full-fledged elite point guard this season with the help of some coaching from Pistons guard Chauncey Billups:

Once and for all, Masai Ujiri told Kyle Lowry the truth.

Oh, how Ujiri loves Lowry’s game – his talent, his ferocity, his intellect – and how he wanted him to understand: Spare your career this maddening, self-fulfilling prophecy and honor a relentless summer of conditioning and commitment with the best season of your life.

Ujiri didn’t hear excuses out of Lowry, only noticing his knowing nods and hurting eyes. Lowry was listening. Finally, he was listening.

From Ujiri to Lowry’s agent Andy Miller to his NBA mentor Chauncey Billups, this had been the summer of tough love and tougher introspection. Ultimately, the truths coated Lowry like a second skin: He was pissing his promise away, trading All-Star winning talent and long-term financial security for a loser’s legacy and journeyman status.

“I had to look at myself in the mirror,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports over a shrimp salad inside the e11even restaurant in Rogers Centre. “I know what people are saying now, ‘Oh it’s a contract year,’ but it’s bigger than that for me. Yes, I want a contract. And then I want to outgrow that one and get another one. But I want to win. I want to grow. And to grow, you’ve got to be able accept coaching.

“You’ve got to be able to be coached.”

Lowry, 27, has transformed himself and transformed a franchise this season. When everyone expected the Raptors to be liquidated for draft picks, young players and salary-cap space, Lowry played the biggest part of holding the team together and chasing an improbable Atlantic Division title. He does it all for the Raptors, and he’s rapidly validating himself as one of the NBA’s finest point guards.

For the season, Lowry’s been magnificent, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Across the past 15 games, he been even better: 19 points, 9.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Most of all, the Raptors are winning – 37-29 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.

“I struggled to prove that I belonged,” Lowry says. “My first couple years in the NBA, my fear was that I was going to go to the D-League – and maybe never get back to the NBA. I was picked 24th and that’s not the cushion that a lottery pick gets in the NBA. You get a few chances, and then you’re done. Then you’re just a label, never to be a frontline guy.

This season, the seeds of a transformation were born out of the voice that carried the most credibility with Lowry: Billups, the Detroit Pistons guard. After Lowry left Villanova in 2006, Miller, his agent connected his most treasured client – Billups – with one of his most promising in Lowry. So much of the reason Lowry and Miller connected as agent and client had been Miller’s willingness to tell him the truth, to never placate Lowry over his early missteps with excuses. If nothing else, Lowry’s fiercely loyal, and part of him always knew he needed those voices in his life – even if he wasn’t fully ready to listen.

Nevertheless, Miller always understood Billups was his best chance to reach Lowry on the most important levels, that Billups’ mentoring of Lowry promised the best possible path for the young guard’s career. The thing was, Billups loved Lowry and saw so much of himself in him. Billups wanted to make Lowry understand the consequences awaiting at the crossroads of his career.

Between morning basketball workouts in Las Vegas and afternoon golf outings, Billups worked over Lowry. Billups’ story lent credibility, a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of rising again. For everything Billups has become in the NBA, he had gone the way of Lowry in his first several years: rudderless, teetering and on the brink of fading into the league’s abyss. These weren’t lectures, but lessons.

“I told him, ‘If you squander this opportunity, this is it for you,’ ” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “I kept telling him, ‘You going go Toronto was like me going to Detroit.’ That was my last real chance, and that was the case for him there now, too.

“Kyle’s always been a little stubborn, a little bit of a know-it-all. Those things held him back. But I think he finally looked deep into the mirror and realized, ‘Hey, it’s not my game that’s causing problems, it’s everything else.’

“He had to learn to listen to constructive criticism. He had to learn to lead. In this league, perception is reality. Once you’ve created a reputation, it is hard – really hard – to shake it. He has an older generation mindset of competitiveness, with a younger generation skillset.

“Kyle has the perfect combination. And now he’s sharpened it.”

Two years ago, the Houston Rockets traded Lowry to the Raptors. Two stops, two bad endings. He had been the 24th pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006 but a year later, they selected Mike Conley fourth overall and it became clear whom the organization had committed itself. Houston made a deal for Lowry, and he flourished for a season under coach Rick Adelman. The Rockets made him a starter, and Lowry made everyone see his talent in the 2010-11 season.

Only Adelman left, and Lowry couldn’t get over it. He fought new coach Kevin McHale on everything – and relationships were even worse with the assistant coaches. Lowry lost his starting job and lost the clear-mindedness to lead the locker room.

“He never gave the coaching staff a chance,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson told Yahoo Sports. “He wouldn’t let Kevin coach him. Kyle’s greatest strength is the bulldog in him, and when that bulldog is channeled the in right direction, he’s tough to handle on the floor. And when it isn’t, he’s tough to handle everywhere else.”


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan talk about the Raptors’ success this season

***

No. 4: NBA addresses Buss-Jackson relationshipPhil Jackson is two days into his new gig as president of the New York Knicks. His fiancee, Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeannie Buss, has been in the front office of the team since 1998. The two started dating in 1999 and got engaged in December of 2012. But with both people in such high-profile roles with their respective teams, the NBA thought it appropriate to establish some parameters to the relationship as it pertains to NBA business, writes Darren Rovell and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com:

An NBA official has acknowledged that the league has put parameters in place to make sure that the high-profile relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson doesn’t create any issues.

“The Knicks’ hiring of Phil Jackson is subject to the league’s conflict of interest rules,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.com. “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict, we have addressed the issue with the Knicks and Lakers to ensure that the relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson will not affect how the teams operate.”

Since the engagement, sources say the league has gotten more serious about the two being on the up and up.

Recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern had several conversations with Buss as Jackson entertained potential jobs with the Toronto Raptors, the potential Seattle franchise and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Buss acknowledged, in an interview that will air in its entirety on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet in Los Angeles on Wednesday, that she had dinner with new commissioner Adam Silver and the topic was broached.

“There is an understanding all trades are approved by the NBA, and I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers,” said Buss, who has indeed previously ceded all basketball decisions to her brother Jim and team general manager Mitch Kupchak. “So I really don’t see where there would be a conflict.”

But the league is sensitive to the impression of any impropriety. On Tuesday, Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters that he isn’t allowed to talk to his former coach because he’ll be a free agent and any talks with Jackson could be considered tampering.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili takes the blame for his shoe malfunction a few weeks ago … Dirk Nowitzki has provided a lot of heroic moments in his Mavs career, but last night against the Wolves just wasn’t one of those nightsChauncey Billups is weighing whether or not to play next season or pursue a front-office job with the Pistons … Ricky Davis, the high-flying former standout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was released by the NBA D-League’s Erie Bayhawks yesterday … The Pelicans don’t figure to be a big spender on the free-agent market this summer … Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still shunning Ray Allen, it seems … Markieff Morris has developed more confidence in his low-post game this season

ICYMI of the Night: With the words of the famous philosopher Tommy Boy (“brothers don’t shake hands … brothers gotta hug!“) in mind, we present this nice Marcus Morris-to-Markieff Morris alley-oop from last night …


VIDEO: Morris twins hook up on a nice alley-oop against the Magic

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Hold on,” Lillard said.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

Suspension just adds to Mayo’s disappointing Bucks season


VIDEO: O.J. Mayo suspended for hitting Greg Stiemsma.

The NBA doesn’t give out a Most Disappointing Player Award, but if it did, one of the prime candidates this season would have to be Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo.

Mayo’s debut season with the Bucks already included a vexing conditioning issue and a blooper moment when he chose to tie his shoelace on a defensive possession. Now he’s added a one-game suspension, his penalty from the NBA on Saturday for striking Pelicans big man Greg Stiemsma in the throat Friday in New Orleans.

Mayo had taken contact on a Stiemsma screen and reacted angrily, earning a flagrant-2 foul and automatic ejection with 1:32 left in the first quarter of what became Milwaukee’s 112-104 loss at the Smoothie King Center. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova already was sitting out a one-game suspension for slugging Sacramento’s Reggie Evans in the stomach earlier in the week. Mayo will sit out the Bucks’ home game against Washington on Saturday.

The sixth-year guard apologized to teammates after the game and also in an interview for his loss of temper. “I reacted the wrong way and handled it for sure the wrong way,” Mayo said. I just want to apologize to the Bucks fan base, the city of Milwaukee and obviously New Orleans and the [fans] who came out and watched the game. It’s definitely the wrong way to conduct yourself. I’ve got to do better and I will be better.”

The Bucks have been waiting all season for Mayo to be better for them. His production is at or near a career low: 11.8 ppg, 2.2 assists, 40.2 percent from the field, 37.0 percent on 3-pointers. His plus/minus data is the team’s worst: minus-12.5 per 48 minutes, minus-339 overall. Milwaukee, of course, has the league’s worst record (12-49) and Mayo mostly has played off the bench (the Bucks are 5-18 when he starts).

He has missed 11 games, including six in January for illness and four more in February for illness and conditioning. At one point in the season’s first half, Mayo was so out of shape he looked as if he was wearing a flak jacket under his jersey. There’s no doubt Milwaukee had grown frustrated with Monta Ellis, whose spot Mayo plugged, but it expected much more after signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract.

The No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft was traded that night from Minnesota to Memphis for No. 5 Kevin Love and it mostly has been downhill since then. In games he has played, Mayo’s teams have gone 192-240. He appeared in 20 playoff games for the Grizzlies in 2011 and 2012, not exactly rising to the occasion (10.5 ppg, 35.2 FG%).

A week ago, Bucks coach Larry Drew said he finally was seeing “flashes” of the player Mayo can be. “O.J., he’s kind of a gunslinger,” Drew told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I can’t recall a guy whose shots are contested as much as his are, but he knocks them down.”

Drew was dealing with a small sample size: Mayo played four games in February and shot 47.7 percent, including 46.4 from the arc (13 of 28). But in four games in March, he was back down to 36.4 percent and 16.7. And with a forced absence Saturday, the sample size of Mayo’s worthwhile contributions in 2013-14 will remain rather puny.