Posts Tagged ‘Pelicans’

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

*** (more…)

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

*** (more…)

Pelicans’ Davis to miss 1-2 weeks; Anderson out 2-4 weeks


VIDEO: GameTime crew analyzes impact of Davis’ injury

If there still is a race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference — and that’s a big IF considering how the Thunder have taken control lately — it could be over in at least one locale with the news out of New Orleans.

The Pelicans, already two games behind Oklahoma City for the No. 8 seed, will have to play perhaps the next couple of weeks without forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson.

The team officially confirmed that Davis suffered a right shoulder sprain in the first quarter Saturday night against the Heat. He is expected to miss one to two weeks. It is the same shoulder that forced Davis to the sidelines for two games earlier this month and caused him to sit out the All-Star Game in New York. Davis initially injured his shoulder Feb. 7 against the Bulls.

Anderson left the Miami game in the second quarter and an MRI showed that he suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee and expects to miss two to four weeks.

The Pelicans are 28-27 and if Davis — their leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker — is out the full two weeks, he would miss eight games, including six home games.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: Highlights of games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No roar for Dragon | Davis hurt again | Rockets get bench blast | J.R. returns to Garden | No buyout for Prince

No. 1: Dragic can’t light fire in Miami debut — Only hours after being officially introduced as a member of the Heat, Goran Dragic had to cram to learn the Miami playbook on his iPad, but he couldn’t learn enough or adjust fast enough to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh and avoid a loss to the visiting Pelicans. Dragic missed his first five shots of the games and the Heat could never quite get comfortable in their first game with the new point guard, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“We have some work to do,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to make excuses for it. It was a very emotional day.”

Even with the Pelicans losing forward Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson for the night, and perhaps longer, with injuries in the first half, the Heat fell behind by 25 early in the third quarter on the way to falling to 9-16 at home and 23-31 overall, now in an even more tenuous position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“Bringing in a dynamic player and losing a dynamic player, we have to start over,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “We can’t feel story for ourselves. We still have an opportunity to make the playoffs.”

With Goran Dragic missing his first five shots, and with Wade uneven in completing a back-to-back set in his first home game since Jan. 27, the Heat lacked nearly enough, even with Mario Chalmers making his first seven shots and closing with 20 points and with center Hassan Whiteside getting back on double-double track with 11 points and 16 rebounds.

“It looked like we were strangers out there on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “We can fix that. We’ll continue to try to simplify the package.”

“We’ll keep scaling back until everybody feels comfortable with whatever package we have. We looked cluttered in the mind.”
For the Heat, the search for continuity presented another ragged ride, with assists at a premium.

“We have some work to do,” Spoelstra said. “We have some work to do and I think tonight showed that.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans get win, but lose A.D., Anderson — For a team with just four wins in its last 10 games and fading hopes of keeping pace in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, it was a costly victory for the Pelicans Saturday night. They beat Miami, but saw forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson both leave the game with injuries. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

Pelicans star forward Anthony Davis was forced out of Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat in the first quarter after re-injuring his right shoulder when he collided into Heat center Hassan Whiteside on a shot attempt.
Davis grimmaced in pain as he walked toward the Pelicans’ bench before coach Monty Williams was forced to call a timeout with 3:06 remaining in the quarter.

The Pelicans said Davis aggravated his right shoulder and was unable to return.

Backup forward Ryan Anderson also was forced out of the game in the second quarter after he suffered a sprained right knee.
Last week, Davis was forced to miss two games and skip this past Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game after spraining his right shoulder after a Feb. 7 game against the Chicago Bulls after he fell hard following a dunk. He returned on Friday night against the Orlando Magic.

***

No. 3: Brewer picks Rockets off the deck — It’s not always the James Harden Solo Show in Houston, even though it most often seems that way. One night after they were flat and flattened in Dallas, Corey Brewer came off the bench to provide the spark the Rockets needed to end the Raptors club record five-game road winning streak. Our man Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the report:

Yet, a night after a lethargic, sloppy loss in Dallas, no matter what might have gone wrong, the Rockets did one thing right. They played hard, with energy and effort that the Raptors could not match. A game that seemed about its headline stars became instead about Corey Brewer flying around the court like a live electrical wire until he and the Rockets high-voltage reserves drove the Rockets to a 98-76 rout of the Raptors Saturday at Toyota Center.
“Last night was a rough game,” said Brewer, who had season-highs with 26 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t have any energy coming back from the break and they beat us, they beat us pretty bad. Tonight, I feel like personally I had to bring energy. I just came out and played hard and everything worked out.”
The energy off the bench from Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones so completely took the game from the muck of the first half to a second-half blowout, that the Rockets seemed revived, as if they had recaptured something lost long before they were overwhelmed in losses heading in and out of the break.
“We talked about it today,” said Harden, who escaped from an 0 for 6 first half to score 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter. “Early in the season, we were locking teams down. We were the … No. 2 defensive efficiency in the league. We have to get back to those ways.
“It’s about effort and energy. When you have the entire team like that for four quarters it’s tough to beat us.”

***

No. 4: J.R. Smith comes back with more shots at the triangle — He’s settling in comfortably in the rotation of the surging Cavaliers and his new coach David Blatt is calling him a dream. But approaching the first game back at Madison Square Garden since being traded by the Knicks, J.R. Smith is still hammering away at Phil Jackson’s triangle in a conversation with Marc Berman of the N.Y. Post:

“I don’t want to say I felt different [since the trade], [the system] was just easier to play,” Smith said. “The style of basketball we play suits my game — run and gun, shoot open shots. Just play.
“It was tough from a mental standpoint. You start second-guessing yourself and your talent to a certain point. So many guys thrived in that triangle, and you want to put yourself in that class. Not living up to it is kind of disappointing.”

Asked the toughest part of mastering the Derek Fisher/Jackson system, Smith gave his most detailed complaint yet.

“The toughest thing is we didn’t run enough,” Smith said. “With the talent we had, there was no transition offense. It was bring the ball up, run our set and go from there. Everything is a read. So I may not be reading the same thing as the next person is reading. Before you know it, you got turnovers, missed shots and bad transition defense.”

***

No. 5: Van Gundy says Prince buyout would be “dumb” — Let’s get this straight. Stan Van Gundy might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. The Pistons coach and team president said he didn’t trade for veteran Tayshaun Prince at the deadline on Thursday just to buy out the contract of the former Detroit champion. SVG told Brendan Savage of mlive.com that a buyout of Prince would simply make no sense:

“The reason Boston made the trade is to save money,” said Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and team president. “We’re paying Tayshaun more money. If he was going to get bought out, he should have done it in Boston. They should let him be bought out. That’s not on me to buy him out. That’s not part of the deal.
“We weren’t told of this until after we made the trade by Tayshaun’s agent. Why would we trade guys who are making less money to take on more money to waive him? That would have been the dumbest personnel move ever.

“It’s not on us.”

Van Gundy was asked if the Pistons should give a veteran like Prince, who doesn’t fit in their long-term plans, the chance to play for another championship.

“I understand he didn’t get what he wanted but the question you’re asking should be asked of (Celtics president) Danny Ainge, not of us,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t break any agreement with him. There’s no reason for us to buy him out. They could have bought him out if that’s what they wanted to do.

“We wouldn’t have traded for a guy to take on an additional $1.2 million … to waive the guy. Why would we do that? And then we’d still need another guy at that position. If that were the case, we would have kept the guys we traded out and Boston could have waived him.

“I understand he’s upset because he was led to believe one thing but that’s certainly not on us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrei Kirilenko is headed back to Europe…Kobe Bryant says he will “die trying” in his comeback next season…Arron Afflalo writes that he’s chasing a championship at new home in Portland..Isaiah Canaan is the starting point guard in Philly.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

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 — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail | Commissioner in favor of expanded All-Star rosters | KG slowly disappearing in Brooklyn | Timberwolves ready for Rubio’s return

No. 1: Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha have opened on a door for Kent Bazemore, yet another amazing story for a franchise going through an amazing time (a 17-0 January and 19-game win-streak gives way to …?) for all involved. Bazemore gets more of the spotlight tonight in New Orleans, when the Hawks go for their 20th straight against the Pelicans, as Matt Winkeljohn explains in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

He excelled in the summer of 2012 at the Portsmouth Invitational for NBA candidates and the 6-foot-5, 201-pound guard/forward from Old Dominion heard from the Hawks after he went undrafted. They ended up bidding against Golden State for him and lost.

“We started tracking Ken back at Portsmouth and through the summer. He went to Golden State and we followed closely,” Hawks assistant general manager Wes Wilcox said. “He didn’t play much, but he played in the playoffs and defended well. He had a very successful summer league and a couple good stints in the D-League. Then, he got a run with the Lakers [after being traded in the middle of last season].

“Whenever a player shows success over a sustained period in [multiple] elements, that’s a good indicator. Plus, his background checked out … character, personality. We spend a great deal of time trying to identify character traits: grit, resilience, work rate, basketball intelligence, the desperation to be great …”

Bazemore has a more mixed memory of that playoff stint.

“In the first round against San Antonio, in Game 1, [Warriors guard] Klay Thompson was in foul trouble so I go in and guard Boris Diaw. They run a high pick-and-roll with him and Tony Parker,” he said. “I get a stop and make a layup with three seconds left to go up one.

“Then, [Manu] Ginobili drains this 3-pointer right in my face … so that was a very big scenario in my career. It helped me with getting my name out there, though.”

After joining the Lakers, Bazemore went off.

He played in 23 game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent. He was good on 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers. And he defended.

“LA worked wonders for me,” he said. “I played so many minutes, actually got in the game flow, found out what it was like to guard the best player.”

After the Hawks out-bid others with a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, Bazemore had to not only get healthy, but tweak his game. He tore a tendon in a foot last season and had surgery over the summer. He has tried to change the ways he runs and jumps.

“[Hawks assistant] Ben Sullivan is my shooting coach. He’s helped a lot,” Bazemore said. “I was shooting off my inside two fingers.”

Sullivan said: “He had mechanical issues … it wouldn’t be the same shot every time. We tried to make sure he would have a motion that was repeatable. He’s put in a lot of work.”

This is nothing new for Bazemore, who is averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and shooting 42.2 percent, including a 38.6 mark from beyond the 3-point line.

Despite growing up in Kenland, N.C., he was not recruited by Duke, North Carolina or any of college basketball’s big dogs.

“I was a huge N.C. State fan growing up … I wanted to go there like crazy and they never offered me,” he said. “I was a late bloomer. I redshirted [at ODU] and I didn’t score in practice until like February.

“I just always prided myself on working and told myself, ‘You have a chance, you have a chance.’ I just kept believing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Hawks-Pelicans game

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

***

(more…)

Cunningham, Pelicans reach out to each other in time of need

cunningham

Dante Cunningham spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The Pelicans are struggling to keep their chins above the .500 mark water line in the rugged Western Conference playoff race.

Dante Cunningham was battling to keep his professional career afloat after a charge of domestic assault was filed against him last April.

So perhaps it is fitting that the pair has drifted together in search of mutual benefit.

The 27-year-old forward is expected to join the Pelicans for tonight’s game at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“It’s such a relief,” Cunningham told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I just knew that with the time and the situation that was going on, I kind of had to wait it out and get the right opportunity.”

Cunningham was charged in April with felony domestic assault after his girlfriend at the time accused him of choking her and slamming her head against a wall. She also accused him of sending her threatening messages. The charge was dropped in August after an investigation uncovered inconsistencies in her story.

He was a free agent after his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired at the end of the 2013-14 season. But even after Hennepin County authorities dropped the charge, many teams were reluctant to consider signing him after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal rocked the NFL. Cunningham said he had preliminary talks with a few teams but didn’t get any firm interest while the charge was being investigated.

The Pelicans were one of a number of teams to look at Cunningham, and last week they scheduled a workout. As talks progressed, team officials reached out to the NBA to try to determine whether Cunningham would face any kind of discipline for even being accused of domestic violence.

“We have commenced an independent review of the matter and the charges that were subsequently dropped against Mr. Cunningham, but at this point we have no basis to conclude that he engaged in conduct that warrants discipline from the NBA,” league spokesman Mike Bass said.

The Pelicans are desperate for some offensive help with guard Eric Gordon sidelined by a torn labrum. They had moved Tyreke Evans from small forward to the backcourt and used Darius Miller in the frontcourt. But that didn’t work and Miller was waived.

Cunningham, who spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves, not only has to get back his game legs, but will also have to survive the increased scrutiny that has surrounded the topic of domestic abuse.

You can’t blame many teams that might have had an interest in him from backing away on Cunningham because of the intense focus on his situation specifically and how much the public’s view of domestic abuse in general has changed just in the past year with so many high profile cases.

Yet the sports world is filled with opportunities, from Michael Vick and Ray Lewis in the NFL to Latrell Sprewell and Metta World Peace in the NBA as players who were given a second chance and eventually made it a good move for their respective teams.

Out of desperate times can come hope and that’s where the Pelicans and Cunningham now are together.

LeBron, new big 3 in the zone


VIDEO: LeBron James collects his 38th regular season triple double in a Cavaliers uniform

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The next time LeBron James tells you to “relax” you’d be wise to listen to him.

Whatever issues and growing pains the new Big 3 of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are experiencing clearly won’t last forever. In fact, they’ll melt away in the next few days if LeBron can keep this up.

He went off in a 118-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, collecting his 38th career triple double (32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in helping the Cavs to their first home win of the season over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.

The Cavs piled up a season-high 27 assists and James, Love and Irving combined for 86 points, 61 of the Cavs’ 67 points after halftime, and they each scored 20 or more points in the same game for the first time since joining forces.

It took 17 games and nearly two full months for the Miami Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to find a groove in the opening stages of the 2010-11 season. The Cleveland crew looks like it might be ahead of that schedule.