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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Pierce’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? | DeRozan still motivated | Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah | Nets embrace holistic approach to health

No. 1: Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, Kevin Garnett resurfaced yesterday at Los Angeles Clippers training camp to impart some of his considerable wisdom, accumulated over his two-decade NBA career. According to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Garnett’s talents apparently extend to the teaching realm

Garnett was asked by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to come to practice to work with big men Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.

But as it turned out, all of the Clippers were interested in learning from one of the NBA’s all-time greats at the practice in the Bren Events Center on UC Irvine’s campus.

“K.G. was phenomenal today,” Rivers said. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great. It was great for Blake and D.J., and the young guys as well. It’s great to have him around. He’s a great teacher. … He’ll be really good for us.”

Over the 21 seasons Garnett played in the NBA before retiring last week from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-11 power forward was known for his intense nature, his defense-minded approach, his team-oriented ways and a persona of toughness.

Garnett and Clippers forward Paul Pierce were teammates for six seasons in Boston, winning the NBA title in 2008 with Rivers. Paul Pierce was happy to see his old friend.

“He’s been a major inspiration in this league for a long time,” Pierce said. “A lot of guys look up to him. He has so much to share, and it’s good to see him come here and share some of the things with some of our guys, especially D.J. and Blake. He’s working with them right now. All that helps.”

Garnett’s impressive resume meant all of the Clippers listened when he spoke.

He was the 2004 league most valuable player, the defensive player of the year in 2008, a 15-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA player.

Jamal Crawford called Garnett one of his “10 favorite players” and said it was “unbelievable” to have the future Hall of Famer at practice.

“That’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Crawford said. “So every second you’re around a guy like that you’re listening to every single thing that he says. You’re a sponge. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Kevin Garnett.’ No matter what, they’ve watched him playing growing up. They’ve seen the highlights.

“He’s one of the best to ever play basketball. He just has a certain aura about him once he walks in that there is a certain respect that he demands. For him to be here and to give them that kind of knowledge, it speaks volumes about him as well.”

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No. 2: DeRozan still motivated Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan signed a long-term contract extension earlier this summer, a validation of all the work he’s put in thus far in his career. But according to DeRozan, he’s not ready to accept that the work is finished. If anything, he’s still finding motivation to keep improving, as he told TSN Sports…

“Honestly, I don’t think about the contract for motivation or anything like that,” said the Raptors’ guard. “My motivation is knowing what it feels like losing in the playoffs, being two games away from making it to the Finals, knowing how hard we worked to get there, being able to try to be better so we can see that moment again and prevail.”

“Just using all the motivations on a daily [basis] to be there. It’s not about the contract, it’s about everything we do to compete on the court.”

As those that have followed his eight-year NBA career know, DeRozan has never lacked for motivation. Unlike many professional athletes, who claim to avoid or just ignore criticism from fans and the media, DeRozan gets a kick out of reading what’s written about him. He reads it. He listens to it. He remembers it.

Certainly, there hasn’t been a shortage of opinion when it comes to his game and, as a result, most people – fans and pundits alike – are split on his value.
His latest perceived slight came from a familiar source: SI.com’s recent NBA player rankings, which have DeRozan slotted 46th going into the new season. After sharing his disapproval of the ranking on Twitter earlier this month, he doubled down when it came up after practice on Thursday.

“It’s always going to be extra motivation,” said DeRozan following the morning session on his team’s third day of training camp at Fortius Sport & Health in Burnaby, BC. “And it’s things like that that you can use to add fuel to the fire, but at this point I’m so self-motivated that don’t do nothing but make me laugh at it. Whoever came up with that is stupid in my opinion.”

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No. 3: Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah As he’s become one of the NBA’s most reliable stars, Joe Johnson has started every NBA game he’s played over the last dozen years. But this season in Utah, it looks likely that Johnson may come off the bench, which he says is fine with him as long as it is what’s best for the team. As the Deseret News reports, Johnson believes he can have an impact in more ways than just playing…

“I’m not coming here trying to be a star or starter,” Johnson said. “Me and coach Quin Snyder have talked from time to time through texts or phone calls. He understands where I’m at and I understand what he wants from me as a player and that’s to help these young guys such as Rodney (Hood) and Gordon. I’m here to tell them about some of the things I’ve been through and help them out with their experiences.”

Johnson has played for five other NBA teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat last season. He was acquired in July as a free agent to a reported two-year, $22-million contract by the Jazz, who wanted some scoring punch as well as a veteran leader, something they got in Johnson.

“The fit is a really good one,” said Snyder. “What he brings is a confidence and experience and as much as anything, maturity. This is a player who has started every game for the past 10 years. He knows that the situation here could be different, but that wasn’t a deterrent to him coming here.

“Everything I heard about him has been positive. He knows how much I respect him. I think he looked at this team and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to have an impact and help build something.’ That’s satisfying. Credit him, the guy’s got no ego.”

One thing the Jazz like most about Johnson on the floor is his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Johnson normally plays small forward but with his shooting ability, he can play the off-guard spot and the Jazz say they can even use him as a power forward when they want to go smaller.

“Joe’s a guy who gives us a bigger wing capable of scoring in the post and is capable of playing the four position,” Snyder said. “The thing that gets lost about him, is he can play a lot of different ways. He’s an excellent passer, he takes pride in his defense.”

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No. 4: Brooklyn Nets embrace holistic approach to health As part of the new Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson regime in Brooklyn, the organization is embracing a holistic approach to player health, looking at everything from sleep patterns to diet. It’s just another step in looking for any edge possible, although as Brook Lopez notes, he dearly misses his Slurpees

“I’ve never seen an organization care for their players holistically, from a 24/7 standpoint, versus when we’re on the court or when we’re practicing or at the arena,’’ Jeremy Lin said. “It’s all-encompassing … like the way you sleep or little stuff like how you set up your bedroom and how it impacts your sleep.

“All of that impacts your performance as an athlete. … They’re really trying to do things right, to establish culture not just from when you step on the floor.”

Establishing that culture — especially on a team that won just 21 games last season — means improving not just strength, but agility and mobility, and monitoring everything from sleep patterns to diet.

“The No. 1 thing is buy-in. That’s the biggest thing in the NBA, [if] you get them to buy in, and the performance team has gotten buy-in,’’ Atkinson said. “The players enjoy being in the weight room. … Out here on the court [working on] agility, mobility. That’s part of building the total program.

“It’s such an athletic league, and we feel like it’s a big part of what we do. I was joking with one of the coaches, the performance team is going to move us out of our offices pretty soon.”

That team includes director of player performance Zach Weatherford, who spent the past two years as human performance manager at the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command; strength and conditioning coach Dan Meehan, who had done the same for the North Melbourne Football Club in Australia; athletic trainer/physical therapist Lloyd Beckett; and director of physical therapy Aisling Toolan.

It’s an eclectic mix, but one that has gotten rave reviews.

“I look at the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the players, and just the fact [they’re] consistently coming in on their own and we’re seeing changes in guys’ bodies,’’ general manager Sean Marks said. “They’ve either slimmed down, toned up, whatever. They’re buying into the processes.”

From the slimmed-down like Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick to the toned-up like Chris McCullough, the changes are apparent.

“It’s just changing the way my body moves. We’re looking for any way we can improve,’’ Brook Lopez said. “It’s all across the board, preventing future injury, stamina, diet as well. We have specialized people all across the board, and we’re already reaping the benefits.”

In the case of Lopez, the benefit is he’s seven pounds lighter and clearly leaner, and has better mobility as a result of a better diet.

“I don’t like to talk about it, it’s so sad,’’ Lopez said ruefully. “My Achilles’ heel when it comes to my diet are Slurpees, Icees, like Sonic Route 44 slushes with the Nerds or popping candy inside. That had to take a backseat.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue has a standing invite for Kevin Garnett to join his coaching staff in Cleveland … A rule change will now allow teams to access data directly from the bench … There’s a “better vibe” in Chicago this season, according to Doug McDermottCameron Payne suffered a broken footMike Dunleavy loves being with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season … The Rockets have signed P.J. Hairston to a non-guaranteed deal …

Morning shootaround — Sept. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers says Pierce still unsure about playing | Mitchell sounds off about dismissal | Gordon, Magic expecting playoffs in 2016-17

No. 1: Rivers says Pierce still unsure about 2016-17 — The last news we heard about Paul Pierce was that the 38-year-old former Finals MVP was leaning toward returning to the LA Clippers for what would be his 19th overall NBA campaign. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was speaking at a fundraiser for the ABCD Camp in Boston, told reporters he remains unsure if Pierce will play for LA next season. ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg has more:

“Depends on the day I talk to him. Paul has had the summer, he’s gone back and forth,” Rivers said while back in Boston to host the annual ABCD Hoops Dream fundraiser at TD Garden. “I think he has a right to do that. I really do.

“Paul didn’t have the best year last year. I don’t think he wants to go out that way. So I think that’s why he’s working to try to come back. But he still may change his mind next week. So we just have to wait. I told him if I see him at training camp, I’m assuming he’s playing.”

Rivers plans to talk with Pierce again this week but does not expect an answer until training camp draws closer.

Rivers said he would be brutally honest with Pierce if he didn’t think Pierce was capable of helping the Clippers next season.

“If I don’t think they can play, then I tell them that. But I think Paul can play,” Rivers said. “I don’t know how much he’ll play, but he can play. I’ve always thought it’s easy for someone else to tell you to retire; I think that’s something that the player has to come to by himself.”

Rivers reaffirmed that, should Pierce choose to retire, he’ll encourage him to sign a one-day contract with the Boston Celtics in order to retire as a member of the Celtics organization.

“I think it’s important. I think we have to do that. And I think we will,” Rivers said. “[Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and [assistant general manager] Mike [Zarren], we’ve already talked.

“The day [Pierce] retires, he’s going to retire a Celtic. He has to. Paul’s a Celtic. So when he retires, he’s got to retire as a Celtic. I don’t think anyone disagrees with me.”

Rivers talked with Ray Allen this summer but wouldn’t tip his hand on whether he thought Allen would resume his NBA career after sitting out the past two seasons.

“I don’t know. I won’t talk about what we talked about. I think if Ray was in the right spot, he may play,” said Rivers. “I think Ray wants to golf a lot too, right now. But Ray is in amazing shape. I don’t know how he does that. I didn’t know how he does that as a player; I don’t know how he does it as a non-player. He’s probably in top-5 shape in the NBA. So could Ray play? Absolutely, I believe he could.”

Rivers sounded most confident that Kevin Garnett would continue his playing career, even as he aids the rebuilding process with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I think Kevin — and I know it, because I talk to him — loves the young guys on his team,” Rivers said. “He loves how they work. He thinks they have an old-school mentality. So I think he’s really gotten into Kevin, the teacher. And I honestly never saw that coming, either. Yet he was a phenomenal teacher with [Boston]; I just didn’t think he would have the patience to do it. And I think Kevin loves teaching these young guys.

“And I think Paul just loves playing. He was the one that I thought would play the longest because the way he plays, and he’s doing it.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant willing to help Lakers’ youngsters | Report: Pierce likely to play next season | Holiday organizes Pelicans’ team workouts in L.A.

No. 1: Bryant talks Lakers’ future, next steps in career — Kobe Bryant couldn’t have written a better farewell to the NBA than his final game: a 60-point showing on April 13, 2016 against the Utah Jazz. Since then, Bryant has kept a fairly low profile, popping up here and there but for the most part easing into his retirement life. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of TWC SportsNet, Bryant — who now sports a beard — opens up about what he’s been up to lately, the Lakers’ offseason (and rookie Brandon Ingram), and his willingness to help L.A.’s next generation of stars:

On Team USA: “I’m around for them and I still speak to several of them. I think they’ll be fine. It’s tough competition and basketball is a global game now. It’s not going to be easy.”

On he and his wife expecting child No. 3: “What a blessing. If I look at the month after retirement and all that kind of happened and all the blessings we’ve been enjoying to find out we’re having another baby girl coming, its icing on the cake.”

On transitioning from NBA life to retirement life: “It’s always hard for athletes to transition out of something that you’ve been identified with your entire life. Being able to transition into what comes next. That’s always a big challenge. Hopefully, I can kind of lead the charge there and show other athletes that it is possible to have something that you love and transition into something that you love equally.”

On the Lakers’ offseason and future: “They have a really young core and a really good core. Now it’s just a matter of them growing together and having those pieces mesh. I think It’s a great opportunity. Now at this age where their games are still developing, they can develop their games and their strengths around each other. They have a lot of potential. Hopefully they can put it together sooner rather than later.”

On Brandon Ingram: “I think he plays with great tempo, great pace. I like his length. His ball-handling ability is very good, he can get to spots on the floor. I think defensively he has the potential to be fantastic — he has long arms, long legs. So, hopefully he starts really paying attention to that just as much as the things he can do offensively.”

On D’Angelo Russell: “There are certain things he’s really picked up: body positioning, using his size to get to places, recognizing defensive packages and where to position guys on the floor. He’s developed very nicely over the summer.”

On new coach Luke Walton: “He’s going to have them play the game the right way. He’s going to have the foundation of the team is going to be a championship foundation.  It’s not going to be isolation ball. It’s going to be a lot of ball movement, but ball movement with purpose. Players are going to understand why they’re moving the ball in certain situations, which then makes you a very dangerous team. Because now you have players on the floor that can think on the fly and think together.”

On helping the Lakers’ youngsters develop their games: “If I can, yeah. I’m certainly busy doing a bunch of other things, but I would love to come by. I’ve spoken to Luke several times and B-Shaw [assistant coach Brian Shaw]. I let the players know I’m always around, man. I’m always around. If they want to come out and work out, we can get up early in the morning an work out, walk them through some things. The Lakers are in my blood. It’s family to me, so I’m always around.”

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Morning Shootaround — July 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B | Careful challenging Michael Jordan, even now | Waiting paid off for Lue, Cavaliers

No. 1: Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been one to hold his tongue in matters of business, basketball or politics. So when he talks about the Mavericks getting “lucky” with their free agent contingency plans this summer, he means what he says. The Dallas Morning News provides some highlights of Cuban’s recent discussion with ESPN Radio 103.3 in Dallas, where he discussed the departure of Chandler Parsons, the acquisition of Harrison Barnes and more:

Chuck Cooperstein: Unfortunately the Plan A [in free agency] didn’t work out the way you had in mind, didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Even you knew that it was going to be an uphill struggle to make it work. Yet again, you’ve been able to sort of cobble something together that looks just a little bit more than interesting.

Mark Cuban: Yeah, you know I keep a whole trunk full of rabbits so I can put them in my hat. We got lucky. There’s not other way to say it. We knew we were long shots with both Hassan [Whiteside] and with Mike Conley. We knew Mike Conley wasn’t going to turn down the largest contract in NBA history. But we also know that it’s not just about the short-term, it’s the long-term. We wanted to introduce the Mavericks, our style and our organization to both of them because you never know when they’re going to be available in a trade. You never know next free agency. So many things can happen over a period of time in an NBA.

Look what happened with D-Will [Deron Williams]. I think our presentation to him from coach and Donnie [Nelson] in particular really set the groundwork for him understanding who we are. On one hand, we didn’t expect to get them to come to the Mavs, but we still think it served a function. From there Harrison [Barnes] reached out to me at 12:01 like, ‘Dude I want to come there. You’re my first pick, my only pick.’ I went back-and-forth with him like, ‘Yeah, we’d love you too but you’re a restricted free agent. Here’s our course of action. Here’s what we’re going to do.’ I laid it all out for him. He was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see what happens but you guys are my team.’ Fortunately it turned out the way it did.

Matt Mosley: Mark, why did you essentially pick Harrison Barnes over Chandler Parsons? Parsons ends up getting very similar, if not the same money, from Memphis. Y’all had a great relationship. I saw quotes recently [where] you said, ‘It continues to be a great relationship.’ Did it simply come down to the knee, the medical, as comparing Barnes to Parsons or do you just feel like maybe Barnes has more upside?

Mark Cuban: Can’t go into any details, but I’ll just say it wasn’t a basketball issue. Chandler obviously is a very, very skilled player. There’s a lot of great things to his game. But he’s, in essence, a different player from Harrison. Harrison is longer, more athletic, younger. Just like Chandler really didn’t get a chance to have his game blossom when he was with the Rockets. He just showed glimpses of it because of Dwight [Howard] and James [Harden] being there. I think Harrison was kind of in the same role. I think we’re going to give Harrison the opportunity and I know he’s excited about the opportunity to really shine and be a featured guy for us.

Chuck Cooperstein: I don’t know if you saw the ESPN piece…about the summer ranking of the Western Conference teams in which they had the Mavericks ninth. I said something, ‘Well, here we go again.’ Right?

Mark Cuban: You never know until you know. That’s why we play the games. If you look at last year you look at New Orleans, you look at Houston, you just don’t know. I would have told you last year, and I think I did tell you guys, that we’re about eight sprained ankles away from being a top contender. Now we’re probably only three, maybe four. You just don’t know. Look at Portland and what happened there. You just don’t know.

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Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

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No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

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No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

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No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 236) Featuring Dan Woike

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The “Clippers Curse” seems all too real these days for Doc Rivers and his crew.

You lose Blake Griffin to a quad injury for the remainder of the playoffs after losing Chris Paul (broken hand), on the same night, and yes, you are entitled to believe in any urban legend you’d like if you are a Los Angeles Clippers fan.

Rivers still has a chance to do the unthinkable and guide his team to the conference semifinals without Griffin and Paul in uniform. It’ll require him trusting the role players and supporting cast in ways no coach has had to in years.

It’s up to you Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, and Austin Rivers. And you Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. And yes, even you Cole Aldrich.

It’s going to take everyone for the Clippers to survive the Portland Trail Blazers in this first round series and that still might not be enough to get past Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and their suddenly confident supporting cast.

That curse … it’s real.

We discuss that and all things Clippers and playoffs on Episode 236 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. And Woike is pronounced “woy-key.”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Can the Clippers win without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? We’re all about to find out

Morning shootaround — March 29


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook nearing stats history | Scott blasts Lakers’ youngsters | Pierce suffers knee, ankle injuries | Warriors aim to tighten up defense

No. 1: Westbrook on brink of NBA history — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th triple-double last night and OKC improved to 16-0 in those games. What’s more amazing than that perfect mark? How about this: that’s Westbrook’s seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in 1989. The 16 triple-doubles is two off the all-time mark (held by Magic Johnson) for the most in a season over the last 30 years … and Westbrook still has eight games to play. Oh, and entering this season, Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for Westbrook’s amazing performance in Toronto and has more on his play this season:

Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot — about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He’s not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.

After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.

“That was unreal,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that right, and you’ve just got to be as athletic as him. There’s only a few … ”

Durant stopped himself.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” he said. “You’ve got to make the free throw, but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he’s a freak of nature, man.”

There aren’t many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. “Freak of nature” seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate.

The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson’s record of 17.

It’s an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that’s what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it’s a career accomplishment to get one — remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? — so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?

“It’s something I never take for granted,” he said, “but I like winning.”

That’s what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They’re now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under coach Billy Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a “better brand of basketball,” as everyone in the organization likes to say.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.

“I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys,” Durant said. “Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face — just knowing you’ve got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important.”

Donovan also offered his take.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt,” the coach said. “You’ve got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you’ve got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow — I’ve said this about this team — I don’t think it ever needs to be easy for them. It’s got to be hard.”

Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday.


VIDEO: Best plays from Russell Westbrook’s 16th triple-double this season

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break – March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards owner says team can make playoffs | Ricky Rubio still showing growth | Sixers’ growth slower than that of their rival | Is Curry changing the game?

No. 1: Wizards owner says team can make playoffs — You can say the Wizards have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league and currently find themselves in the outside looking in regarding the playoffs. But Washington owner Ted Leonsis prefers to see the glass as being half full and believes the team can still make the playoffs, which mathematically is definitely possible. You wonder if “making the playoffs” sounds more like an ultimatum from the owner and whether heads will roll if Washington, which scored an upset over the Raptors last spring, fails to make the cut. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reports:

The Wizards have strangled and then revived their playoff chances more times than I can count. Most recently, they imploded in Chicago, then won four straight games. Then they lost five straight — including three on a brutal West Coast swing — before rebounding with three straight wins, two against playoff contenders. Don’t worry about these details: just know that when they reach the absolute precipice of disaster, they recover just enough to keep us interested until the next disappointment.

Washington’s schedule still looks forgiving; seven of its final 14 games are against truly awful teams. But only an extreme optimist could continue to have total faith in this team after the past few months.

Ted Leonsis is an extreme optimist.

During a radio appearance this week, Leonsis was asked serious questions about the Wizards future: about how this team could both miss the playoffs and lose its first-round pick, about his commitment to patience, and about how he would decide whether General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman deserve to be back.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Leonsis told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “We have to believe that. We have to be focused on that. That’s all we’re looking at.”

Leonsis said this on Wednesday afternoon. That was before the Wizards beat the Bulls and Sixers to pull within a 1.5 games of the eighth seed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty; Washington tried like crazy to lose to Philadelphia on Thursday night. And the Wizards would still need to pass two teams to make the postseason. But Leonsis, like most of us, at least sees a path.

“This has been an outlier year, mostly because of how many injuries we’ve suffered,” Leonsis said. “We had a very poor road trip — Bradley Beal didn’t play at all — and then Bradley Beal plays 24 minutes [against Detroit] and the team just looks different. John Wall looks like a different player when he doesn’t have to be the first offensive scoring option, he can set other players up.

“And so we’ll take a look at how we end the season in the offseason,” the owner said. “But right now, we’re just focused on do we have our full contingent of players, can we play the kind of system that we want, can we amp up the energy defensively. And it seems trite, you hear this all the time, but we truly are in the mode of you’ve got to play one game at a time, and be totally focused and conscious of just that one impediment that’s in front of you tonight.”

 

(more…)

Rockets re-acquire Josh Smith


VIDEO: Josh Smith comes up big for Houston in Game 7 of the 2015 West semifinals

In the last year, two teams decided they had no use for Josh Smith, except one of them is bringing him back.

After playing for the Rockets last season and then being ignored by them in free agency, where the Clippers signed him, Smith is headed back to Houston.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Clippers sent Smith to the Rockets virtually for nothing; cash and a second round pick changed hands. The deal saves the Clippers a few bucks in salary cap fees and provides the Rockets … well, nobody is exactly sure what it does for them.

The Rockets confirmed the trade on Friday afternoon and detailed it as follows:

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has acquired forward Josh Smith via trade from the Los Angeles Clippers along with the draft rights to forward/center Sergei Lishouk and cash considerations in exchange for the draft rights to forward Maarty Leunen.  Smith will wear #5 for Houston.

Here’s more from Wojnarowski on the deal:

Several Rockets players were eager for the the team to bring back Smith, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After losing Smith to the Clippers in free agency in July, his inability to find a role with Los Angeles made him expendable almost immediately.

Smith had regret over leaving the Rockets, where he had found a significant role in the team’s run to the Western Conference Finals last season. Smith signed a one-year deal with the Clippers for the league minimum, but never meshed with coach Doc Rivers.

The Clippers will send cash to cover the remaining $460,000 on Smith’s $1.4 million minimum salary this season and the draft rights to Sergei Lishouk. Houston sends the Clippers the rights to Maarty Leunen. Neither player is expected to play in the NBA.

Smith was solid for Houston last year in the playoffs, coincidently against the Clippers when he helped erase a 3-1 West semifinals hole, but his poor habits and mistakes made the Rockets look the other way in free agency. He signed for the Clippers and the summer haul by Rivers (Smith, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson) was economical and expected to be helpful.

But none have made a major impact, and Smith and Stephenson in particular stuck to the bench. Smith averaged only 14 minutes a night in Los Angeles and his playing time didn’t increase even after Blake Griffin went down with a quad injury.

Rivers might make another economical move before next month’s trade deadline to shore up the bench in preparation for the playoffs as Rivers and his players have already stated they’re not good enough to beat the Warriors.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are searching for anything that provide a throwback to last season, when they reached the Western Conference finals, losing in five games. Right now, they’re barely treading water and sit near the bottom of the playoff cutoff point. Don’t be surprised if Rockets GM Daryl Morey is active on the trade market, too.


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