Posts Tagged ‘Otto Porter’

Blogtable: Most entertaining team to watch in 2015-16?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?

VIDEOWho are the must-watch teams on League Pass in 2015-16?

> The ________ will be the most entertaining team to watch this season, and here’s why.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors. They already were, and they brought the band back together. Steph Curry spent the summer trying to become even more efficient, and dropped 40 on New Orleans in the opener. The second and third years in a new offense are when a truly smart and skilled team blossoms. Which means trouble for the other 29 teams.

Steve Aschburner, For the second straight season, the NBA’s most entertaining team probably will be its best team — the Golden State Warriors. A club like the Clippers might pack more personality and purists might find entertainment value in the care and nurturing of a young, developing crew such as Milwaukee or Orlando. Personally, I still get my kicks watching 40 percent of the Memphis Grizzlies – that is, big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol playing old-millennium ball in a 3-crazed NBA. But night in, night out, for pace and production and their undersized leader out top (Steph Curry), Golden State is sports’ DWTS.

Fran Blinebury, The defending-champion Golden State Warriors. Have we forgotten so quickly, the ball movement, the shot-making the versatility, the sheer beauty of the Warriors that practically begged for a musical score in the background?  Play it again, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The Warriors. I considered the Thunder because it’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka joined by the uncertainty of a new coach, and that wonder of how Billy Donovan will work out adds to the good theater. But c’mon. Golden State is a fun watch anyway, and now the defending champs have the entire league chasing them … while hearing about how the title was luck … and firing back at doubters … with a coach who routinely dishes snark. That’s entrainment.

Shaun Powell, The Thunder. So much at play here, with Kevin Durant returning and seeking to restore his MVP glow, and how Russell Westbrook tries to top what he did the last three months of last season, and what Billy Donovan has in store for a system. Oh, and there’s also the backdrop of KD’s pending free agency. To me, entertainment means points and wins and showdown games against top competition, and OKC will hit that trifecta.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors are the easy answer, and the Thunder are a distant second. But in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards could be Warriors Light. John Wall can’t shoot anything like Stephen Curry, but he’s one of the league’s best passers who will thrive with more space to operate. If Bradley Beal and Otto Porter can build on their postseason performances, this can be a pretty potent offense led by one of the league’s five best point guards.

Sekou Smith, The Clippers have all the ingredients you need to be the No. 1 reality TV show in basketball, both on and off the court. They’ll be the most interesting team to watch, as coach Doc Rivers tries to tinker with the chemistry of a championship-caliber group that has added three ridiculously strong personalities in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. This is still Chris Paul‘s team, but he might have to share the leadership load with others in ways that he has not been accustomed to recently. They’ll put on a show when they are at their high-flying best.

Ian Thomsen, The Clippers are going to be the edgiest and therefore most entertaining team. Their impatience will be their strength: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are fed up with hearing about what they haven’t done, while DeAndre Jordan, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith all want to be taken seriously. They are going to play with more attitude than any rival contender.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogHere’s the thing: Whichever team is the correct answer to this question is a team we aren’t talking about right now. Last season the Atlanta Hawks quickly evolved into a sweet passing tribute to Jogo Bonito, which transformed them into darlings of the basketball nerd set. And then there are the young teams that play entirely on spirit and fire with a style that may be unsustainable, but no less watchable. So I’ll take a guess and say a team that might be worth tuning in for, if healthy, will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. Between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine performing nightly high-wire acts, Ricky Rubio splashing the ball around with abandon, and Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, what’s not to like?

One Team, One Stat: Space in D.C.

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Washington Wizards’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Washington Wizards, who changed their identity in the postseason.

The stat


The context

20151024_was_basicsThe Wizards were a different team in the playoffs than they were in the regular season. After his team ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season, Wizards coach Randy Wittman broke out a floor-spacing lineup that made the offense more potent in the playoffs.

Back-up bigs Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin had their roles reduced, while starters Nene and Marcin Gortat played fewer minutes together.

Small forward Otto Porter, who was out of the rotation just three weeks before the playoffs began, averaged more than 33 minutes over postseason games. In fact, Porter and Paul Pierce played more minutes together in the playoffs (147) than Nene and Gortat did (139).

The Wizards were at their best, outscoring their opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions, with Porter on the floor. They were a plus-32 in 69 minutes with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Porter and Pierce on the floor with one of the two starting bigs.


The smaller lineup wasn’t just about shooting more 3s. It also provided more space for Wall and Beal to attack the basket. Both of the Washington guards drove more often in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.


Other teams have seen a similar increase in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range. But of the last eight that saw a jump of at least six percentage points, only one really sustained it with a jump of at least that big from that regular season to the following one.


But Wittman and Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld have seemingly embraced the idea of keeping the floor spaced for Wall and Beal. Pierce is gone, but the Wizards replaced him with Jared Dudley, another small-ball four. Porter is now the starting small forward, rookie Kelly Oubre Jr. is another wing who gives them some versatility, and Humphries has started shooting 3s.

In the preseason, Washington shot 28.9 percent of its shots from 3-point range, a higher rate than it did in last year’s playoffs. Pierce will be missed, but the Wizards could be one of the most improved offensive teams in the league. And if they can maintain a top-10 ranking on defense, they’ll have a shot at a 50-win season.

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

Morning shootaround — Oct. 11

VIDEO: Recap the preseason games from Saturday night


Hornets’ Lin plays, and plays it safe, in China | Metta World Peace: ‘It’s a baby’s game’ | Wizards’ Humphries stretching his game | Jordan touts NBA, Nike brand on trip

No. 1: Hornets’ Lin plays, and plays it safe, in China — Here, Jeremy Lin is a little more famous than other NBA players of his caliber, owing to his ethnic background (Chinese) and memories of his “Linsanity” splash onto the league’s scene with New York in February 2012. There – that is to say, in China, where Lin is visiting with his Charlotte Hornets team – he’s some combination of Michael Jordan, Elvis and Beatlemania. His popularity since he picked up that country’s basketball baton from Yao Ming is tremendous – but also something to respect and handle properly, as the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell wrote from the Hornets’ stop in Shenzhen:

China has been very good to Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin.

He has millions of followers on Weibo, the Chinese parallel of Twitter. He makes millions off endorsement deals for cars, sports apparel and sports drinks. He draws massive crowds on the mainland for every promotional appearance or basketball camp.

And then there’s the other side of being so famous in a country with more than 300 million basketball fans.

“It can be scary, too,” Lin said in a lengthy interview with the Observer. “When people somehow know what room I’m in, what floor I’m on. Fans aren’t supposed to get up that elevator, but somehow they do. And then they’re waiting for me and all I can say is, ‘You know you are not supposed to be up here?’

“If I am in China I always have a personal body guard, and if I’m making an appearance I’ll always have a team of security. The body guard is legit; he’s always there to stay by my door to hear every knock. Then I can be comfortable and feel safe.”

Lin is an Asian-American who played college basketball at Harvard. His parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and his grandparents were born and raise on mainland China.


No. 2: Metta World Peace: ‘It’s a baby’s game’ — Besides going global, the NBA allegedly is going soft. At least, that’s the opinion of Metta World Peace, who cites what he considers to be diminishing toughness in play and players compared to what greeted him as a rookie in 1999. Of course, World Peace was named Ron Artest back then, a reminder that lots of things have changed since then. His analysis came after the Lakers’ practice Saturday – he’s attempting a comeback at age 36, with a contract that isn’t guaranteed – and was reported by the Los Angeles Times, among others:

“I remember I came into the NBA in 1999, the game was a little bit more rough. The game now is more for kids. It’s not really a man’s game anymore,” World Peace said. “The parents are really protective of their children. They cry to their AAU coaches. They cry to the refs, ‘That’s a foul. That’s a foul.’

“Sometimes I wish those parents would just stay home, don’t come to the game, and now translated, these same AAU kids whose parents came to the game, ‘That’s a foul.’ These kids are in the NBA. So now we have a problem. You’ve got a bunch of babies professionally around the world.”

World Peace wasn’t quite done.

“It’s no longer a man’s game,” he said. “It’s a baby’s game. There’s softies everywhere. Everybody’s soft. Nobody’s hard no more. So, you just deal with it, you adjust and that’s it.”

On a nonguaranteed $1.5-million minimum contract, World Peace is hoping to make the Lakers’ 15-man roster for opening night. The team currently has 19 players almost midway through the preseason.
In his debut, World Peace gave the team’s second unit a boost against Utah, leaping over courtside seats while chasing down a loose ball last Tuesday. The Lakers would ultimately lose in overtime.

“I forgot that I was on a nonguaranteed contract when I dived,” World Peace said. “My brother reminded me, ‘What are you doing? You’re on a nonguaranteed contract. You’re going to kill yourself.’

“I was like ‘Oh wow, that’s right,’ but that’s the only way I know how to play, so I don’t care about a nonguaranteed contract. I just want to play hard.”


No. 3: Wizards’ Humphries stretching his game — So often, it’s NBA fans taking shots at and otherwise heckling journeyman forward Kris Humphries over his don’t-blink marriage into the schlock-famous Kardashian family (his marriage to Kim had a shelf life of 72 days, from vows uttered to divorce papers filed). This time, Humphries is the one taking shots – specifically, 3-point shots, a new challenge for him driven by the Washington Wizards’ recent embrace of small ball and the league’s trend of deep-threat big men. With Humphries doing work from the arc early in the Wizards’ preseason schedule, Ben Standig of wrote about this old dog’s new trick:

“This is a different game for me,” Humphries stated this week.

The obvious difference involves the 3-point shot, a non-factor in his game truly until this past offseason. Playing a traditional power forward role, Humphries attempted only 26 shots from beyond the arc for his career. That included seven last season. He missed them all. The last make came during his 2004-05 rookie season.

Through two preseason games, Humphries leads the Wizards with 10 attempts. Yes, change is coming.

“That’s what they want to do here. You kind of have to adapt to help your team,” Humphries said following Tuesday’s preseason opener. “I just wish I would have started shooting 3’s earlier. This is really like the first summer where I was like I’m going to work on my 3-point shooting. Before you might shoot a few corner 3’s or something in a workout. This year I was like, I’m going to work on it.”

Yet the actual deep shot isn’t the only distinction in the 6-foot-9 forward’s game this season. Anybody playing the 4-spot for Washington this season won’t simply be camped out in the lane for offensive rebounds or interior passes. The spread-the-floor philosophy deployed during last season’s playoff run is the primary staple now.

“It’s different, especially for me,” Humphries said. “I haven’t really played on the wing, like at the 3-point line to where I’m going to try to get an offensive rebound and then running back and then running again. It’s adding that extra [23 feet 9 inches] of running in there. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it catches up to you. It’ early on. I’ve just got a little extra shooting and conditioning — I’ve got to be in better shape if I’m going to play this way.”

Humphries went 2 of 4 on 3’s in Tuesday’s blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers, but struggled in Friday’s loss to the New York Knicks, missing five of six attempts.


No. 4: Jordan touts NBA, Nike brand on tripMichael Jordan, as the Hornets’ principal owner, a Nike icon and the NBA’s most recognizable ambassador, was in China with his team. Not known for his interview availability these days, His Airness did sit for a chat pegged to this trip, with the story carried in the Shanghai Daily. The Web site’s translation to English was a little spotty but it did capture some insights into Jordan:

Jordan visited China only once in 2004, which caused a national craze. “Ah, 11 years ago,” Jordan, talking about the visit in 2004, said what impressed him most was the Chinese fans. “You know the fans, the way they were passionate about game of basketball. Obviously they remember me playing, I enjoyed spending the time there,” Jordan recalled, “it gives me an opportunity after 11 years going back. It’s kind of reconnecting with the fans based over there. Jordan Brand fans, Michael Jordan fans, so I’m looking forward to it.”

As for Hornets’ prospects for the new season, Jordan showed his sober optimism. “They should be okay. We changed a lot of personnel. Everybody is excited I’m very excited but I don’t want to get overexcited.”

Jordan made specific mention of Jeremy Lin, who joined in the Hornets from the LA Lakers this summer. Jordan saw it a successful deal, “We just got Jeremy Lin, who I think is going to be our biggest acquisition. His penetration, his shooting capability, his point guard savvy, he can really pass the basketball, his energy about the game of basketball something,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s success derives from his desire to excel and unparalleled confidence, which, as he said, was an inborn instinct accompanying his growth.

“No point did I doubt my skills. As a basketball player, there are things I feel like I had to improve on, but in terms of confidence about me playing the basketball I never doubt that at all,” Jordan told Xinhua, even if when he entered NBA as a rookie in 1984, “Rookie? I always felt like I could play, I just need to learn, I considered myself the lowest on the totem pole but I know I have to work my way up, but I didn’t lack confidence at all. I lacked the experience.”

Jordan said that it was the game of basketball that gave him a chance to do a lot of different things and meet a lot of different people, affecting and inspiring them. “The game allowed me to touch a lot of people I probably would never be able to touch if I don’t play the game of basketball.”

Jordan said he hoped people looked at him from a lot of different aspects. “When you see Michael Jordan you are going to see him in the sense that he is very versatile. He adapted, he looked at challenges, he looked at things can make himself better and he worked hard at it. So I would like people when they look at Michael Jordan is an all-around, good person, good competitor, good businessman, good basketball player, all the above.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were planning to put their proximity to Michael Jordan to good use on the Clippers’ and the Hornets’ China trip. … Paul’s broken left index finger, which kept him out of Sunday’s game in Shenzhen, reportedly won’t sideline the Clippers point guard for long or pose much of a problem. … LeBron James might own motorcycles but that doesn’t necessarily mean he rides motorcycles. Ditto for that motorcycle helmet and wearing it or not. … Kevin Love participated in his first full 5-on-5 practice with the Cavaliers since undergoing shoulder surgery during the playoffs. … The Hornets’ Steve Clifford is trying to stay flexible and be creative in moving lineup pieces around to pick up injured wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s slack. … Derrick Williams‘ contract might wind up getting blamed by New York Knicks fans for hurting the team’s chances of landing Kevin Durant in free agency next summer. But for now, the underachieving former No. 2 pick in the draft has shown signs of “getting it” and might actually help this season. … Washington anticipates bumps along Otto Porter‘s learning curve as he tries to fill Trevor Ariza‘s and Paul Pierce’s veteran shoes. … Relieved that his New York criminal trial is over, a vindicated Thabo Sefolosha scrambles to catch up with Atlanta Hawks teammates. He might play Wednesday. …

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 21


Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension | Wall, Wizards get jump start on training camp | Video analyst provided boost for Spain at EuroBasket

No. 1: Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension — The Golden State Warriors don’t want Harrison Barnes in the free agent pool next summer. They’ve offered Barnes a $64 million extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, to make sure another member of the core group of their championship roster remains in the fold. More from Yahoo!:

The $16 million annual offer wasn’t accepted, but appears to be a starting point in talks that could last until the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie extensions.

The Warriors are trying to prevent Barnes from reaching restricted free agency in July 2016, when a rising salary cap and scores of teams with financial flexibility will couple with Barnes’ burgeoning talent and potential to make him a significant target on the market.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Barnes is eligible for his rookie contract extension. Without an agreement by Oct. 31, Barnes would become a restricted free agent next summer. Golden State would be able to match any offer sheet for Barnes and re-sign him.

The offer of $16 million per year annually – comparable to teammate Draymond Green‘s five-year, $82.5 million extension this summer – had been negotiated by Barnes’ former agent, Jeff Wechsler. After that initial offer, Wechsler countered with a figure north of $16 million annually before he and Barnes parted ways, league sources said. Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports is representing Barnes now.



Blogtable: Second- or third-year player ready to rise the ranks?

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: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team

VIDEOOtto Porter talks about his expanded role in the 2015 playoffs

> Last week we asked for your early Rookie of the Year candidate. This week we want you to name a second- or third-year player who’s primed for a breakout season.

Steve Aschburner, Magic forward Aaron Gordon generated some buzz with his improved play, particularly his shooting range, in the Orlando summer league. But I’m going with Washington’s Otto Porter. Heading into his third season, Porter is a strong candidate to more than double his averages so far – 4.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 15.8 mpg – because he did it in the Wizards’ small, 10-playoff-game sample size in spring. In a significant turnaround, the slender forward averaged 10.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in the postseason. And Washington was 10.7 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition with Porter on the floor vs. 8.7 worse when he was off. His opportunities will only increase with Paul Pierce‘s departure and frankly, it’s time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOtto Porter. He came up strong when coach Randy Wittman finally let him off the leash in the playoffs. With more minutes next season, he’s ready to shine.

Shaun Powell, There are some rather obvious candidates such as Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson. But I’m going with Aaron Gordon of the Magic. He was never really healthy for much of his rookie season and then dealt with inconsistency when he healed. But there’s no doubt he’s an amazing athlete in the mold of Blake Griffin and he has skills, which he showed during a terrific effort in summer league, flashing an improved mid-range jumper. I hope new coach Scott Skiles is the right coach for him.

John Schuhmann, Otto Porter was out of the Wizards’ rotation in late March, but played a big role in the Wizards’ offensive reinvention in the playoffs, while also slowing down DeMar DeRozan on the other end of the floor. Porter should be Washington’s starting small forward and part of a more dynamic offense this season. If he can shoot 3-pointers, John Wall can turn him into the next Trevor Ariza.

Sekou Smith, Based on all of the chatter coming from Summer League, coupled with the new regime in place in Chicago, Doug McDermott should have the stage to break out with the Bulls. I don’t know exactly what his role will be, but the opportunity for a floor-spacer with his skill set on a what should be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, is there. Like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic before him, “McBuckets” has a flag to carry in this department. There is a similar opportunity awaiting Mitch McGary in Oklahoma City and Aaron Gordon in Orlando.

Ian Thomsen, CJ McCollum broke out in the final month of last season with four games of 26 points or more, including three concluding playoff performances against Memphis in which he produced 26, 18 and 33 points. The Blazers will give him every opportunity to become one of the NBA’s top sixth men, based on their need for scoring in the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog It seems like people maybe sort of forgot about him, after he suffered a season-ending knee injury, but I think Jabari Parker is going to have a big year once he gets completely healthy. With a big man (Greg Monroe) behind him, Parker’s defensive deficiencies will matter less, and his ability to score isn’t going anywhere. And coach Jason Kidd has shown time and again an ability to put players in positions to be most successful.

Morning shootaround — May 16

VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games


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,’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 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?

Morning shootaround — April 25

VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”


No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.


No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.


No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.


No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — April 23

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 22


Griffin, Clippers regret late-game flubs | Pelicans’ Davis turns to Cole | Defense lifts Hawks to 2-0 series lead | Pierce helping Wizards’ youngsters

No. 1: Clippers know they left a win on the table — All the Los Angeles Clippers had to do in the final seconds Wednesday night to claim a 2-0 series lead against the San Antonio Spurs was not turn the ball over. Yet, they did exactly that — and it was Los Angeles’ hero of the night, Blake Griffin, who committed the costly error. Griffin’s turnover wasn’t the only flub that cost L.A. a key playoff win, but it’s one that he will remember for a long time. The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch has more:

Blake Griffin leaned back as he sat on the court, covered his face with his hands and looked toward the rafters.

It was a moment of exasperation the Clippers star is not likely to forget any time soon.

Griffin lost the ball following a pair of between-the-leg dribbles with his team holding a two-point lead late in regulation Wednesday night, one of a handful of missed opportunities during a momentum-shifting 111-107 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at Staples Center.

Griffin finished with a triple-double but would surely give away all the dunks and points for a chance to do over the play with 11.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter that helped the Spurs deadlock the series at one game apiece.

Game 3 will be Friday in San Antonio.

“That game’s pretty much 100% on me,” said Griffin, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in addition to five turnovers. “I got the ball up two, I needed to take care of it and get a good shot or get fouled and I turned it over. That’s what’s on my mind.”

Griffin certainly wasn’t the only Clippers culprit. DeAndre Jordan made six of 17 free throws and Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford combined to make two of 13 three-pointers, but Griffin’s play will be the one that probably will haunt the Clippers most.

“We’ve got to finish,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who missed a 19-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left in regulation that could have put his team ahead. “We’ve been talking about it all season long. We had an opportunity to win a game, go up 2-0 and we didn’t take full advantage of it.”

The Clippers appeared as if they might have secured the victory when Matt Barnes then stole a pass from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli, but Griffin lost the handle on the ball while dribbling and Paul was forced to foul Patty Mills on a fastbreak, his free throws forcing the overtime.

“It was a switch and we had been running that play all game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “We got [Griffin] to the elbow and they made a good play. The guy [Boris Diaw] popped it loose and they went down and made two free throws, so give them credit.”

“It’s tough, but we have to get past it,” Paul said. “We can’t go back there and play it over again. It’s 1-1 and we know we have to go win a game there.”

VIDEO: Wild sequence marks end of regulation in Game 2 of Clippers-Spurs

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2

VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 1


Bulls, Butler can’t reach deal | Thompson shows his worth | Cavs make roster move | Celtics, Rondo work on chemistry

No. 1: Butler wants to do it in Chicago — The midnight Friday deadline to reach extensions with members of the 2011 Draft class came and went without the Chicago Bulls coming to an agreement with Jimmy Butler, one of Chicago’s key rotation players. After what were reportedly “cordial, wide-ranging” discussions, Butler tells K.C. Johnson that he’s prepared to play out this season and enter restricted free agency next summer, though he is hopeful his future remains as a member of the Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s agent told the Tribune before the Bulls game with the Cavaliers that Butler rejected a final offer and that stance didn’t change. Sources said the Bulls offered a multi-year deal averaging $11 million during lengthy, cordial conversations.

Butler will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Bulls can match any offer he receives. Unlike when Omer Asik entered restricted free agency, the Bulls own Butler’s full “Bird” rights so offers can’t be as back-loaded prohibitively as Asik’s poison pill deal with the Rockets.

“This is where I want to be,” Butler said. “I love my teammates, the fan base, the organization, everybody. I think I still will end up in this city.

“I understand this is a business so I just have to be a great basketball player. I love my odds. I think this team is championship-caliber. I’m going to produce. I’m going to guard. I will take that on myself.”


No. 2: Thompson shows worth — Just hours after signing a four-year extension worth $70 million, Warriors guard Klay Thompson went out and scored 41 points against the Lakers. The Warriors got a win in their home opener despite Kobe Bryant going for 28 and keeping the Lakers in the game. As Diamond Leung reports, Thompson’s big game left everyone from Kobe to coach Steve Kerr singing his praises

Thompson was 14 for 18 from the field, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Going 12 for 28 from the field was the vintage Bryant even at age 36 and without as much talent on his team as he’s been accustomed to having.

“It was fun to watch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was like the rising star at that position going against the guy who’s been the best for 15 years.”

Thompson has shown signs that he has what it takes to seize the shooting guard torch from Bryant. After their first meeting in the preseason, Bryant was left saying of Thompson’s 25-point performance that the 24-year-old “has the whole package.”

On Thompson’s career night, one tit for tat began with him blowing by his childhood hero on a fast break, shot-faking Bryant into flying by and scoring while being fouled. On the other end of the court, Bryant sank a contested fadeaway jumper.

“He was making some crazy shots,” Thompson said. “He’s still got it.”


No. 3: Cavs make move — Sure we’re not even a week into the season, and the Cavaliers may (rightfully) be preaching patience and small sample sizes, but new coach David Blatt also apparently isn’t afraid to make a move when its needed. Yesterday, the Cavs waived A.J. Price and signed free agent point guard Will Cherry, who spent last season in the D-League. As Chris Haynes reports, now that he’s in the NBA, Cherry now has to find a role…

Price, 28, had a solid preseason showing with the Cavaliers appearing in six games and averaging 7.2 points, 1.5 assists in 13.3 minutes per game.

Cleveland will replace Price with free agent point guard Will Cherry, a league source informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Cherry, 23, has agreed to a two-year deal, we’re told. Not all of the salary is guaranteed.

The 6-1 guard was undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Montana where he is seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season he played for the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate.


No. 4: Celts build chemistryRondo molding Celtics — The Celtics are still deep in rebuilding mode, but for Rajon Rondo, that’s a good thing because it means the current roster is stocked with young players willing to be molded. After the Celtics flew from Boston to Houston for their first road trip of the season, Rondo helped organize a team dinner to build chemistry, as Marc D’Amico reports

Rondo, who said that every team’s personality is different, is starting to get a grasp on this group of Celtics. He’s learning that this team loves to have a good time, and he claims that’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young guys, a lot of playful guys with good personalities,” Rondo said. “So it kind of helps ease everything.”

Rondo himself showed off his playful personality by poking fun at one of his teammates, 14-year veteran Gerald Wallace, as he discussed the team dinner.

“We don’t have too many stiff guys like Gerald, older guys that are set in their ways,” he joked. “Everybody’s young and can be molded, and what better way than to have dinner with food?”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After Paul Pierce was ejected last night, Otto Porter had a big game for Washington … Memphis guard Courtney Lee is “out a while” with a concussion … After Joe Johnson lit up the Pistons for 34 points, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said it was his fault … Several teams have reportedly shown interest in Quincy Miller, with the Lakers leading the way

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing

VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”