Posts Tagged ‘Otto Porter’

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Until Friday night. ATLast.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
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 ESPNDallas.com 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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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.”

Wizards sign Pierce, think Durant in 2016?

VIDEO: Pierce leaves Brooklyn for DC

LAS VEGAS – They’re signing Paul Pierce but thinking Kevin Durant.

If the Washington Wizards’ decision to budgetarily hold the line on Trevor Ariza Saturday didn’t tip their hand on Durant ambitions in the summer of 2016, their move to land Pierce in free agency later in the day sure did.

Signing Pierce to a two-year, $10 million deal, a move reported by multiple outlets, looks like a potentially perfect maneuver to plug the hole in Washington’s starting lineup opened up by Ariza’s departure for the Houston Rockets. The longtime Celtics and one-year Nets star might not have a lot left in the tank – he averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 28 minutes for Brooklyn – but he might not be asked to do too much for the Wizards.

That club’s backcourt, John Wall and Bradley Beal, drive the offense and second-year forward Otto Porter already is being counted on to pick up much of Ariza’s slack. Pierce can ease Porter’s transition – the No. 3 pick in 2013, Porter played sparingly as a rookie – while providing leadership among the youngish team.

The Wizards want Porter to flourish, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep their options open should Durant decide to weigh his options beyond Oklahoma City in two years. Given LeBron James‘ decision announced Friday to return to Cleveland, fans in Washington and team management might try to pitch Durant – a DC native – on a similar homecoming. As laid out by CSNWashington.com:

But make no mistake, this isn’t conjecture anymore. It’s real. The hiring of David Adkins, who coached Durant in high school, from the University of Maryland’s women’s team as assistant coach to player development for the Wizards this past week isn’t a coincidence.

The building blocks are being put in place now. Ariza is off the books and Porter, who is playing on a rookie scale contract, is a much cheaper option. Nene, who will make $26 million for the next two seasons, will be off the books as well.

So what had been whispered or at least kept to a low roar evolved into some full-blown rumbling Saturday.

Wizards need Porter to plug Ariza hole


VIDEO: Otto Porter scores 25 points in the Wizards’ opening Summer League match

LAS VEGAS – Normally, Otto Porter‘s performance in his summer league debut Saturday would have been ripe for superlatives: 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 28 minutes, seven rebounds and three assists.

Given its timing, however, and the situation in which his Washington Wizards team suddenly found itself, a request was more in order:

More, please.

Come to think of it, the Wizards might be inclined to drop the “please” and go with a straight demand.

Porter is due and, with the loss of forward Trevor Ariza as a free agent to the Houston Rockets – effectively and finally, during the very hours Porter was on the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon – Washington needs him. Now.

“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said. “He [Ariza] had a tremendous year last year. Now guys are moving on and stuff, it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.

“This is just the beginning of it … But I’m definitely feel I’m gonna build on today’s game.”

Losing Ariza hits the Wizards hard for a couple of reasons. First, according to multiple reports, the four-year, $32 million deal he signed with Houston is no better, on an annual basis, than what Washington had been offering. Turns out, Texas’ absence of a state income tax was a selling point worth a couple of million dollars, net, in Ariza’s pocket.

The 10-year-veteran also had probably the best season of his career. Ariza, 29, averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He was a defensive wet blanket when thrown on the opponents’ most dangerous wing scorers. And he provided some helpful leadership for the team’s young talent, from backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal to Porter.

That’s why the Wizards had made re-signing Ariza, along with center Marcin Gortat (who did re-up), such a priority. It wanted to keep intact the core and maintain the momentum of the budding East contender that pushed Indiana to six games in the conference finals.

“We’ll be all right,” coach Randy Wittman said, unconvincingly, on his way out of the arena, with the news of Ariza’s exit still washing over the Wiz.

The move hurts even more because Martell Webster, a backup last year, is sidelined for three to six months after back surgery. And the Wizards’ options to add a replacement is limited both by the salary cap (no Luol Deng, for instance) and the shrinking list of available fill-ins.

Even with one Washington media outlet suggesting that this all might set up the Wizards financially for a run at D.C.-born Kevin Durant when he becomes free agent in 2016, that’s two seasons away with zero guarantees.

That Ariza will be missed as a solid teammate and even mentor is just a, er, bonus.

“To have him gone, he taught me so much,” Porter said, “especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, the ins and outs. Now I’ve got to put ’em to use.”

Ya think? Porter had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons of anyone drafted so high – the No. 3 pick overall – in recent NBA memory. He appeared in only 37 games, averaging 2.1 points in 8.6 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent.

His problems began almost immediately with a thigh strain that curtailed his summer league work, followed by a hip injury that messed up his training camp and kept him inactive till December. Porter was drafted after two years at Georgetown – with multiple scouts claiming he was a perfect fit and ready to help – with the idea he would replace Ariza.

Well, now is his chance. More, please.

These Draft Moves Made The Most Impact

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – These five Draft decisions that will have the greatest impact:

1. Jrue Holiday and a 2013 second-round pick to the Pelicans, Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-rounder to the 76ers

It’s No. 1 by a wide margin, too, swaying the fortunes not only of two teams, but two conferences. Philadelphia is out of the playoff business for a while after finishing all of four games out in 2012-13 despite Andrew Bynum on the sidelines and coach Doug Collins heading for the exit. Instead of an All-Star at point guard and the chance to use the No. 11 pick Thursday night for a big to either replace the unrestricted free-agent Bynum or help at power forward — perhaps by drafting Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk or Lucas Nogueira — the Sixers have Noel as a rookie, who does not expect to play until around Christmas because of a knee injury. The Sixers also have point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected with the 11th pick.

The first-rounder next year, in a draft that projects as much more stacked than the 2013 class without a star presence, is a nice get for the 76ers, though. It is protected, depending on the report, either through three or through five.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, take a significant step forward with the addition of the point guard they had been lacking. Austin Rivers, the 2012 lottery pick, is better suited as a combo guard anyway and now is part of the Holiday-Eric Gordon pairing that will headline one of the best backcourts in the league if Gordon stays healthy. Anthony Davis remains a potential star of the future at power forward.

2. Wizards select Otto Porter at No. 3

It was the predictable call since 15 seconds after the lottery, and it was the right call. It was the call, more specifically, that vaults Washington into playoff mode.

The Wizards were already one of the best teams in the East the second half of last season, once John Wall got healthy and even with an early end to the rookie season of Bradley Beal because of injury. Now, with the position of need addressed Thursday, they have Wall at point guard, Beal at shooting guard, Porter at small forward and Nene and Emeka Okafor at power forward and center. That works.

Porter isn’t the difference maker, but he is the ideal fit in the same way he would have been a reasonable choice for Cleveland at No. 1: he is capable of stepping into the NBA now, he helps the spot the Wizards needed and he’s an ideal complementary player who will make valuable contributions to Wall and Beal’s continued rise. Porter will defend, pass, rebound and shoot with range. The things that get a team to the playoffs.

3. Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15

It’s not that Milwaukee went small forward four days before three guards — Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick (unrestricted) and Brandon Jennings (restricted) — hit free agency. Other teams steered away from Dennis Schroeder, Shane Larkin, Tony Snell and others. And it’s not that Milwaukee saw into the future with a unique opportunity for a 6-foot-9 potential point forward with a good feel for the game despite little experience in Greece and even less against anything close to the equivalent of Division I competition in U.S. colleges.

It’s that the Bucks don’t have what Antetokounmpo needs more than anything: time. He has to get stronger, adjust to the physical nature and speed of the game here and develop a jumper. One scout who saw him, asked how long before Antetokounmpo makes an impact in the NBA, said, “Three, four years. Maybe five.” Others think it’s a lot shorter than that, but that still means two years.

If he contributes in 2013-14, the vast majority of front offices will be surprised. Meanwhile, the Bucks need to stay in the playoff picture, not build something for the future. They are about now and he isn’t.

4. Trail Blazers select C.J. McCollum at 10, Allen Crabbe at 31 and Jeff Withey at 39

This is a consolation prize? Portland missed on the dream Draft-night outcome of trading for a veteran center, yet it still addressed a major needs. With three picks capable of contributing — yes, even the second-rounders — the Blazers made a significant step toward toward erasing their depth issues last season.

McCollum, who has spent the pre-Draft process comparing himself to Damian Lillard as a mid-major product trying to prove he can be a point guard and not just a scorer, now works behind Lillard. And maybe with him — both can play off the ball. Crabbe is a shooting specialist who was getting looks from teams in the teens. Withey is a value find at 39, an experienced shot-blocking center who should be able to play right away and very realistically could have a career as a backup despite being a second-rounder.

5. Mavericks trade down twice

It’s not about what they got. It’s about what they didn’t get. A larger payroll.

Shane Larkin, whom Dallas got in a swap with Atlanta, is as the possible point guard of the future. Possible because there is no such thing as roster certainty heading into this critical free-agent summer.

By starting with the 13th pick and trading with the Celtics to No. 16 and then trading with the Hawks to end up at 18 and taking Larkin, the Mavericks saved $1.09 million in rookie-scale salary. That creates more cap space. Dwight Howard likes cap space.

Bennett Surprise No. 1, Noel Falls To Sixth In Craziest Top Of Draft In Years





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — So much for all of those mock drafts that had Nerlens Noel as the consensus No. 1 pick.

Noel didn’t land anywhere near the top spot in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Anthony Bennett of UNLV was the stunner No. 1 pick — only Hall of Famer Sam Smith of Bulls.com had Bennett pegged for the top spot heading into the festivities. Noel’s upside simply could not match the NBA readiness of a rugged power forward like Bennett, who is viewed by many insiders as the one player in this Draft class who can make an immediate impact for a team trying to transition from the lottery to the playoffs.

Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len all came off the board before Noel.

It wasn’t until the sixth pick that Noel was picked, going to the New Orleans Pelicans where it was assumed he would form a wicked shot-blocking duo with another former Kentucky Wildcat, second-year forward Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft. He even bragged about the block party he and Davis would throw in the Big Easy.

That was minutes before word spread that the Pelicans were moving Noel to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and a first-round pick in the 2014 Draft (a trade that has not yet been confirmed).

The deal makes sense for Pelicans, who have no need for two slender power forwards who will not be able to hold down the middle as undersized centers. Noel’s drop came out of nowhere and no doubt had to do with concerns about the knee he’s rehabbing, the one that cost him most of his lone season at Kentucky.

But as we’ve seen many times before, once a player projected to go high in the Draft starts dropping, other teams start running away from that player for fear of something they’ve missed in their own vetting process.

This has been easily the craziest top 10 of a NBA Draft in recent memory, complete with the No. 7 pick being Ben McLemore, a player once thought to be a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, and No. 8 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope joining Bennett in crashing the top of the lottery on Draft night after being further down the list on most mock drafts heading into the night.

The craziness at the top makes things much more interesting for the rest of the first round, since someone who was projected to go higher will no doubt drop into someone’s lap in the bottom half of the lottery and beyond.


Porter The Right Choice For Cavaliers

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NEW YORK – Say it out loud. Write it in Comic Sans.

Georgetown small forward Otto Porter is the best fit for the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

He isn’t the popular choice. He isn’t the best prospect in the wide-open field, a title that belongs to Kentucky power forward Nerlens Noel or Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, according to a consensus of front offices, with Maryland center Alex Len also in the conversation. By that assessment, he isn’t even the best prospect coming out of the D.C. area.

But Porter is the best call.

He knows because he has studied it. He has looked at the Cavaliers roster and come to the accurate conclusion. Rising star Kyrie Irving at the point, Dion Waiters at shooting guard, Tristan Thompson heading toward averaging double-digit rebounds at power forward leaves one spot in particular.

“They’re missing a piece,” Porter said Wednesday at a Midtown hotel during a media session with top prospects prior to the draft Thursday night in Brooklyn. “I feel like that’s where I come into play.”

The Cavaliers could also be missing a starting center, depending on the development of Tyler Zeller after a rookie season of 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 25.4 minutes, not to mention the boost to the big-man rotation with the expected return of Anderson Varejao. That’s where Len comes into play. But Len, for all the praise that has come his way in the vacuum of the underwhelming 2013 class, wouldn’t have been close to the debate for No. 1 a year ago or, likely, a year from now. He might not be a dramatic upgrade from Zeller/Varejao, and Cleveland could have the chance to go power forward-center among several possibilities that will realistically be on the board at 19.

Porter at No. 1 also makes sense because the Cavs don’t worry about public opinion, a reality never more obvious than ignoring conventional wisdom in 2011 by using the fourth pick on Thompson. Not caring about winning the news conference would be especially beneficial during the reaction to a lottery regular using the first pick on someone other than the best player.

The best perspective? If Cleveland had No. 3 instead and took Porter, it would be commended for making the right move, just as the Wizards, also needing a small forward, will be if they take Porter. Two spots is not a reach.

And it’s not like the Cavaliers would be turning their back on some super-prospect to take him, given the concerns surrounding the players at the top of most ratings. The solid pick isn’t such a bad concept in a year when the lottery picks have big holes, and that is solid in a good way. Teams are not projecting Porter as an All-Star, usually the minimum return on a No. 1, but he defends, passes, rebounds, has three-point range, a good basketball IQ, is 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds, and had two seasons as a prominent part of a major program that faced top competition, including 2012-13 as Big East Player of the Year.

“I feel like that my game and my versatility, what I do, I feel like it deserves No. 1,” Porter said. “I feel that I have the best fit to be No. 1.”

There. Someone said it out loud.