NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks — The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system…
The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.
You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.
But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.
Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.
“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.
On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.
“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”
This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.
A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.
“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”
No. 2: Rockets look to win at home — After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle…
Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.
“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.
“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”
Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.
“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”
No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…
Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.
Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.
Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.
Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.
On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.
“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.
“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”
No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce — Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…
About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.
Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.
“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”
After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.
Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.
Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.
“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”
No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away — A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York Times‘ Bruce Weber provides more …
In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.
Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.
The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunion … Gordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …