Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia 76ers’

Morning shootaround — July 7


VIDEO: What do the Cleveland Cavaliers have planned next in the offseason?

Okafor solid in Summer League debut | Continuity keeps Spurs chugging along | Parsons wants Jordan to be top-flight NBA center | Report: NBPA may fund health insurance for ex-players

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Okafor impresses overall in Summer League debut — The Philadelphia 76ers endured another awful season with the payoff coming in mid-June in the form of an NBA Draft lottery pick. That pick became Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, taken No. 3 overall, and in a rare turn of events of late for the Sixers, he is a rookie healthy enough to suit up for Summer League. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for Okafor’s debut in the Utah Summer League and says that after some early jitters, Okafor looked more than solid

His first game as a pro, his first five-on-five game since winning the national championship on April 6, his first time playing since the Philadelphia 76ers picked him third on June 25, but normal. The best possible outcome for Okafor and Philadelphia, in other words.

The Sixers desperately need the typical when 2015-16 arrives, the inside muscle with the ball that makes Okafor the ideal complement alongside the defensive presence of Nerlens Noel as an interchangeable power forward-center combination, no matter what happens with Joel Embiid and his uncertain recovery from a foot injury. The offense from anywhere, really, after they finished No. 29 in scoring, one-tenth of a point ahead of the Knicks for last. If Okafor can just be Okafor — and a lot of teams think the post game that abused defenses in the one-and-done at Duke will translate immediately because of that advanced skill level, along with being 6-11 and 270 pounds at 19 years old — Philly instantly moves forward.

Monday night inside EnergySolutions Arena, in the first game of the Utah Jazz Summer League, Okafor got the obligatory hit of nerves just before tipoff. And then he had a very slow start, making just three of 11 shots, mostly from close range, in the opening half. It was early July, so no big deal.

Then came the second half and the taking control inside and the seven baskets in 11 attempts, until he finished with 20 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in a 74-71 loss to the Spurs. Okafor was being Okafor.

“I’ve been saying it for a week or so now, with every possession he’s going to just grow and grow,” said Billy Lange, the Philly assistant coach who is running the bench here. “We’ve been preparing him for — everybody’s going to come in and try to make a name for themselves against him. He wants to win and he wants to please. He’s a great kid, his heart is so pure that he’s probably pressing himself a little bit. But once he settled into the third quarter and we’re drawing plays up for him and he’s getting the ball in spots he probably hasn’t seen in a long time … I thought he did really, really well. And he pushed through. He played (29) minutes in this altitude and, I thought, competed pretty hard.”

That was the other thing. Actually, that was the bigger thing: After being knocked by some front offices for a lack of ideal conditioning last season, Okafor played his first organized game in exactly three months, played it at 4,300 feet, and not only lasted the 29 minutes but with his best moments in the second half.


VIDEO: Jahlil Okafor scores 20 points in his Summer League debut

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Morning Shootaround — June 27


VIDEO: The Knicks’ bold move to Draft Kristaps Porzingis will have long-lasting ramifications for the franchise

NEWS OF THE MORNING

July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers | Four-team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services | Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing | Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks

No. 1: July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers  Playing for a championship is one thing. Playing for the right to contend for more in the future, however, is another beast altogether. The Cleveland Cavaliers are just days away from a colossal offseason, a July even bigger than the June that saw them scrap and claw their way to within two wins of winning the NBA title, that rests on the franchise’s ability to master free agency. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and whoever else needs tending to will be the focus for the Cavaliers and certainly LeBron James. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer sets the summer table for the Cavaliers:

1. I don’t expect J.R. Smith to be back with the Cavs. He turned down his $6.4 million player option, and is looking for a raise with a long-term deal. I doubt the Cavs would want Smith on an extended contract. His emotions are on edge. He was one more flagrant foul away from being suspended in the playoffs. Smith is best on a short-term deal. Smith is an unrestricted free agent.

2. Now that the Cavs will have a huge payroll, they would much prefer to keep Iman Shumpert over Smith. Shumpert is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives. They will extend the $3.9 million qualifying offer to the guard and try to work out a long-term deal.

3. Look for the Cavaliers to offer maximum contracts to both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. The two deals will be different because they are at different stages of their career. Love can receive a five-year deal in the $100 million range. The Cavs think Love will give it serious consideration. It’s possible that Love will sign a  “1-and-1” contract. It would pay him the maximum salary in 2015-16, and a one-year player option for 2016-17. An agent wants the player option just in case your client has a horrendous injury in 2015-16, so he can at least pocket a maximum salary for 2016-17.

4. The Cavs believe Love came to a comfort level with the team by the end of the season. He knows that this is his best place to contend for a title. The top contenders in the Western Conference don’t have the salary cap room for him. It’s only the struggling or lesser teams (the Lakers, Boston, etc) that may be able to find a way to fit Love into their cap.

5. Love is coming off major shoulder surgery. His is expected to fully recover. He has also dealt with some back problems. Love missed seven regular season games in 2014-15. He missed five in 2013-14. He had a broken hand in 2012-13, missing 65 games. Injuries are a concern, but it’s not as if he has been Anderson Varejao — who simply can’t stay healthy.

6. The summer of 2016 is the “Money Summer.” It’s when the salary cap is expected to increase by at least 30 percent. So a maximum contract to Love this summer is considerably less than a maximum deal a year from now. It’s why LeBron James started the “1-and-1” deal last summer, and it’s why he’s expected to sign another contract like that this summer with the Cavs.

7. Thompson’s long-term maximum deal would be about $70 million for four years. He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives from another team. Does Thompson play for a “qualifying offer” in the $7 million range and aim to be an unrestricted free agent in 2016 when they big money really flows? That’s something his agent Rich Paul (who also represents James) will have to discuss with Thompson. It was Paul and his chief negotiator, Mark Termini, who helped James design the “1-and-1” contract approach last summer.

 

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No. 2:Four team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services — So there is a rift between Los Angeles Clippers free agent center DeAndre Jordan and All-Star point guard Chris Paul, or at least that’s the latest smoke rising from Hollywood. Even after Doc Rivers dismissed the rumors that two of his stars were not on the same page all season, the rumblings have not stopped. Jordan’s choice this summer in free agency could very well be influenced by his reportedly deteriorating relationship with Paul. There is apparently a four-team race for Jordan’s services. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers’ main focus now is on keeping Jordan.

The season ended with Rivers denying reports Jordan and Chris Paul had a beef with each other.

But other NBA officials not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said there indeed is a rift between Jordan and Paul.

The officials said Jordan wants to be more involved in the offense and wants to be an All-Star, and he’s not sure whether those things can happen on the Clippers with All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin.

Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has been recruiting Jordan, the officials said. The two have been hanging out together in Jordan’s hometown of Houston.

When free agency starts at 9:01 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Jordan will be home in Houston.

The officials said four teams will visit Jordan at home — the Clippers, Lakers, Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Clippers can offer Jordan the most security.

He can sign a five-year maximum deal for $108 million with the Clippers. Other teams under the salary cap can offer Jordan a maximum deal of four years for $80 million, with an opt-out clause after the third season.

Jordan can also sign a two-year deal with the Clippers with a player option for after the 2016 season, giving him a starting salary of about $18.8 million for next season.


VIDEO: What’s up with DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers

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No. 3: Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing? — Jahlil Okafor was more than just the obvious No. 3 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, he was a security pick for the Philadelphia 76ers. With growing concerns about the health and future of Joel Embiid, the 76ers had to make the right choice with that No. 3 pick. Sixers boss Sam Hinkie is as concerned as anyone about his prized big man from the 2014 Draft, writes John Smallwood of The Philadelphia Daily News:

Conspiracy theorists had looked at the timing of the Sixers’ announcement that redshirt rookie center Joel Embiid was not healing as well as anticipated from the foot injury and surgery that cost him last season and determined that it was a smokescreen to hide Hinkie’s true intentions for Thursday’s NBA draft.

Yesterday, that was put to rest. The concerns about Embiid are all too real.

Hinkie said selecting Duke University freshman center Jahlil Okafor third overall was not connected to Embiid’s situation. He said Okafor was the pick because he was the best player available.

But what if there was no issue with Embiid?

“I’d like to think we’d have had the courage to do it anyway,” Hinkie responded when asked if he would have still selected Okafor. “I knew and it’s hard to unknow where things stood with Joel, but I’d like to think we’d have the courage anyway.”

It would almost have been better had it been the mysterious Hinkie talking about Embiid. It would be easier on the concern meter to believe it was just Hinkie being Hinkie and not wanting to divulge any information that he feels might weaken his position.

The troubling thing about this is that it was clear that Hinkie does not know for sure what is going on with Embiid.

“[Embiid] feels really good,” Hinkie said. “That’s part of what makes this, um, maybe confusing is the right word.

“It’s certainly confusing for Joel. He said, ‘I can’t believe how good I feel and I’ve felt great for a while.’ It seems hard to believe that something is wrong.”

Something, however, is wrong – or rather, not quite right.

A CT scan of Embiid’s foot about a week ago led to the Sixers making the infamous Saturday night release saying things weren’t as healed as “anticipated.”

Hinkie pointed out that a year ago, while some had said it would be a 4- to 6-month recovery from surgery to repair the navicular bone in Embiid’s right foot, that he had a more conservative estimate, at that time, of up to 8 months.

Embiid had the surgery on June 20, 2014, which makes it more than 12 months and there are still issues.

“I’ll give a timeline that might help clear some things up but might also help show why we’re looking so hard to try to understand,” Hinkie said. “Joel we’ve watched like a hawk in rehab every day of the year.

“The nature of navicular injuries and the nature of stress fractures is that you see these slow improvements and then you slow [rehabilitation] down and check things.

“Anytime you get any kind of negative feedback, you unload, slow down and re-assess.

“As part of that, we have a set of pro-active MRIs on Joel, and each of those we sent out to a variety of doctors both internally and externally and ask, “What do you think?’ We get the consensus responses and move from there.”

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No. 4: Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks — It doesn’t matter where you come down on the New York Knicks’ Draft night decision to select Kristaps Porzingis over several other more NBA-ready prospects. What’s done is done. And Phil Jackson believes that Porzingis was the right choice, even if his star player, Carmelo Anthony, does not. Porzingis was the only choice, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, for a franchise that can no longer operate strictly for the short-term:

The Daily News first reported on Friday that Anthony is upset over Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, a 19-year-old, 7-foot-1 project. Anthony, according to a source, doesn’t understand why Jackson would waste such a high pick on a player who can’t help immediately. That, of course, is just the point. It would be short-sighted of Jackson to draft, for example, Willie Cauley-Stein, who could make a bigger contribution in years one and two.

But when you’re picking that high in the draft, you’re looking for a future All-Star, even if that may not help the only current All-Star on your roster, who is 31 and is coming off major knee surgery.

On Friday, Anthony tweeted: “What’s understood doesn’t need to be spoken upon” #DestiNY #TheFutureIsNow.

Anthony should have considered “the future is now” last summer when his instincts told him to leave New York as a free agent to join a contender. The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets were both viable options.

Now Anthony’s stuck with the Knicks, a rebuilding team that barring a few major free agent moves won’t be a playoff team next season. Conversely, the Knicks are stuck with Anthony, his bad knee and his bad contract.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on SiriusXM Radio on Friday that Anthony feels betrayed and hoodwinked by Jackson.

Anthony is apparently upset specifically with Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, telling a close friend “are we supposed to wait two or three years for this guy?”

Since January, Anthony has seen his pal J.R. Smith along with Iman Shumpert get traded to Cleveland. And a Knicks source claims that Anthony called Tim Hardaway Jr. after the third-year player was traded to Atlanta for the draft rights to Jerian Grant to express his displeasure with Jackson’s moves.

“He doesn’t understand it,” the source said.

“The bond between mentor and protégé enables us to stay true to our chosen path,” Anthony tweeted along with a photo of himself and Hardaway smiling.

Knicks officials are aware of Anthony’s feelings about the moves. Early Friday, Jackson was asked if he thought about Anthony when picking Porzingis and said: “Carmelo’s always on my mind. He’s our favorite son.”

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VIDEO: Pat Riley and the Miami Heat got Justise out of the NBA Draft

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Lakers think they have a good shot at landing LaMarcus Aldridge … Portland’s Neil Olshey has a demanding juggling act that needs completing this summer …  Will the Pacers regret passing on hometown kids Trey Lyles and RJ Hunter?

NBA Draft 2015 Live Blog

My seat for the next 6 hours.

A photo posted by Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) on

BROOKLYN, NY — You are looking live at the stage here in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, where tonight numerous kids will find out what their future holds.

Which team believes in them enough to spend a precious draft pick and give them the chance they’ve been working toward for their entire life?

Which team will use tonight as a chance to make a trade and push their chips all-in?

And perhaps most importantly, who will wear the best suit of the night?

These questions and more will be answered over the next few hours here at the NBA Draft 2015. I’m in the front row and will be here all night. Come along for the ride!

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Who’s going first overall? One name that’s been batted around is former Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, who just sat down at the NBA TV desk…

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Morning shootaround — June 20


VIDEO: Curry addresses fans at Warriors victory parade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid | Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 | Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? | Avery coulda been a contendah

No. 1: Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid — The Philadelphia 76ers have done so ding-dong-dandy well at drafting a basketball team with all their high picks lately that they apparently are branching into another field: medicine. The team’s front office is sparing no expense in rounding up the best possible sports physicians and orthopedists to examine the right foot of untested 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer wrote about the latest in Embiid’s unnerving foot plight:

76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said on the Breakfast on Broad show Friday that three more doctors will evaluate the latest setback in the healing of Joel Embiid’s right foot.

“We’re still waiting,” O’Neil said. “We have another three doctors to come see him. The nice thing about jobs like these – you can literally get the best experts in the world. All you have to do is call and they love to see us.”

He added that the franchise could get an answer about the 7-foot center’s future in “a couple of weeks.”

The team announced last Saturday night that Embiid had a setback in his recuperation. The 2014 first-round draft pick from Kansas missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery last June to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot.

It is unknown if Embiid, 21, will have to undergo another surgery, which could sideline him for part of next season. The team is still gathering information, and nothing has been ruled out.

The Cameroonian big man is not expected to participate in the two NBA summers leagues the Sixers will participate in next month although O’Neil said his status is not known. It’s also not known how long he will be sidelined.

O’Neil confirmed that Embiid has been shut down from working out.

There’s a chance this injury will hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in a navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. That injury forced Yao to retire in 2011.

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No. 2: Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 — The Los Angeles Lakers appear to want no part of any “We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!” chant, whether it pertains to their status as basketball tenants at Staples Center or to the spot in which they’re sitting for Thursday’s NBA Draft. They’re in the semi-awkward position of having to wait for the Minnesota Timberwolves to choose their man – most likely between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – before getting their five minutes on the clock. And while 28 other teams would be more than accommodating to welcome Okafor into their fold, the sense that he’s being forced on them – the way a cheap magician forces a certain playing card when doing his parlor tricks – has the Lakers already feeling a little snubbed. After all, they’re the Lakers and Minnesota is the Timberwolves. And yet… As Mark Medina writes for the Los Angeles Daily News:

In less than a week, the Lakers will embark on an NBA draft that could significantly influence the pace of their massive rebuilding project. So with six days remaining before that date on June 25, the Lakers have scheduled numerous workouts in hopes for more clarity involving their No. 2, 27 and 34th picks.

The Lakers [were scheduled to] host a private workout for Duke center Jahlil Okafor on Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, marking the second individual workout Okafor has had wearing a purple and gold practice jersey. The Lakers also plan to host a private workout on Saturday both for Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell and for prospects that might be available at the No. 27 and 34th draft slots. The Lakers will then have private workouts next Monday and Wednesday just for prospects they would consider with the 27th and 34h picks.

The Lakers also held a second workout on Thursday for point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, though his session entailed training with prospects slated for the second round. On Monday, the Lakers invited Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis for an individual workout after seeing him train last weekend in Las Vegas.

The Lakers have also become increasingly doubtful they will have a workout for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. The Lakers believe their lack of progress with those efforts stem from most NBA mock drafts predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves will select with their No. 1 pick. But the Lakers will accommodate their workout schedule should Towns and his representatives express interest in a workout.

It isn’t likely this sort of stuff will buoy the Lakers’ hopes, a sighting by the Twins beat writer for MLB.com:

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No. 3: Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? — A league directive is a league directive, right? When the NBA sends out an advisory to all its member teams to tread lightly when talking about restricted free agents – as ESPN and other outlets have reported – you’d expect that to be taken seriously and heeded. After all, there has been and can be a chilling effect to RFA players’ market value if prospective bidders are convinced their time is being wasted, thanks to the players’ most recent teams going big with the we’re-gonna-match rhetoric. The National Basketball Players Association doesn’t think that’s right and is said to be monitoring such talk, with the possibility of legal action against teams that engage in it. It’s not just some made-up problem, either, according to CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore:

It’s a smart move by the NBPA. The comments generally fall inside two categories. One, to make a player feel loved and let fans know that they’re not going to let a key member of a team go, and two, to discourage teams from putting a bid in on a player knowing they’ll only be tying up their cap space while setting the bar of an offer for the player’s team to match.

In a broader sense, this speaks to a larger problem of the general lowdown underhandedness implicit with the restricted free agency device. A player is granted free agency at the end of his rookie contract, but he’s not actually free in the agent sense — he can negotiate with other teams, can sign offer sheets, but doesn’t actually control where he goes. New Orleans guard Eric Gordon very badly wanted to go to Phoenix several years ago, and the Suns’ training staff might have done wonders for his unreliable body. Despite public angst over the deal and a plea for the Pelicans to not match, New Orleans decided to keep the player they in essence traded Chris Paul for.

A more nefarious situation occurred without such a public stance in 2009. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks –before he was the reclamation project that was waived by the Pistons and became an unlikely playoff contributor for Houston — was a restricted free agent in 2009. Teams knew that the Hawks would match any offer, though, and Smith just sat there on the free agency pile before eventually signing an offer sheet with the Grizzlies in the hopes Atlanta would let him go. They did not, and instead got Smith back on a bargain. Meanwhile, last summer the Suns pulled the same trick with Eric Bledsoe, forcing a nasty holdout that stretched on until August. Bledsoe eventually got the kind of big-money deal he was after, but it took the threat of the qualifying offer in order to force the Suns to move.

Banning public comments about a team’s determination to keep their restricted free agency star won’t stop word of a team’s intentions from getting around and impacting value. But it at least keeps it in the behind-curtains world of league rumors and provides a few more percentage points of leverage for a player as he and his agent negotiate a better position.

So then we get to Friday and the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade in downtown Oakland. Looks like somebody forgot about the memo:

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No. 4: Avery coulda been a contendah — Because Avery Johnson, former NBA point guard, one-time NBA champion (1999) and two-time head coach (Mavericks and Nets), is a pretty good self-promoter, one’s first response is to chalk his comments up to bluster. When he says he likely would have landed one of the four recent open coaching jobs if only he’d held off on moving into the college ranks to coach Alabama, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, and my Uncle Fred can say the same thing now that the jobs are all filled.” But Johnson, a New Orleans native who interviewed with that team before it hired Monty Williams in 2010, sounded pretty convincing when he talked with John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

”I know without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had waited, there would have been a high probabiliity I would have got an NBA job based upon the conversations my agent was having with some people,” Johnson said by telephone Thursday. ”But the main thing is that there is no turning back. I’m here at the University of Alabama and this is the right situation.”

Jonnson, 50, would not disclose what NBA teams his agent had exploratory conversations with.
The Pelicans were one of four teams, which included the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets, that had coaching vacancies last month. However, all of those jobs have been filled now.

The Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry on May 30 to replace Monty Williams, who was fired after five seasons. Gentry will be formally introduced by the Pelicans on Monday afternoon. He took part in the Warriors’ parade celebration in Oakland, Calif., on Friday. The Warriors won their first NBA championship in 40 years on Tuesday night after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals.

Johnson is close friends with Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis and he is a longtime friend of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.

”Sometimes change is hard,” Johnson said. ”But from what I’ve heard, Alvin did a nice job interviewing for the job. I think his experiences with the different head coaching jobs that he has had and assistant coaching jobs, he brings a wealth of experience to the franchise.”

Johnson said it is just a matter for the Pelicans to put the right pieces around star power forward Anthony Davis to win big in the Western Conference. [Davis] ended the season with the league’s highest player-efficiency rating at 30.8, which is the 11th highest for a single season in NBA history.

Davis also was a first-team All-NBA selection, finished fifth for the league’s MVP award and averaged 24.4 points and led the league in blocks with a 2.9 average during the regular season.
”I tell you what, his plays are going to work a whole lot better with Anthony Davis,” Johnson said.”I’m happy for Alvin.”

Johnson last coached in the NBA in 2012,when he was fired by the Brooklyn Nets after a 14-14 start.

Johnson was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA Finals appearance but they lost to the Miami Heat. In almost seven seasons as an NBA coach, which included four seasons with the Mavericks starting in 2004, Johnson compiled a 440-254 record.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Melvin Hunt, the interim Denver Nuggets coach who won’t be returning under Mike Malone, has found a spot on Dallas coach Rick Carlisle‘s staff. … Portland guard Steve Blake has exercised his player option to stick with the team next season for a reported $2.1 million. Blazers fans still await decisions on Arron Afflalo (his, if he wants to be back for $7.3 million) and Chris Kaman (theirs, if they want him back for $5 million). … Taj Gibson‘s ankle surgery is going to sideline the Chicago Bulls backup big for an estimated four months. … If Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer, so is Shawn Marion. Huh? That’s ESPN.com’s claim and they’re sticking to it. … Former GM Danny Ferry‘s buyout and exit from the Atlanta Hawks moved forward with approval of the team’s board. … J.R. Smith didn’t do enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals but he has done wonders for the “phunkeeduck.” Yes, the “phunkeeduck.”

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

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Morning shootaround — June 12


VIDEO: The top 5 plays from Game 4 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala saves Warriors in Game 4 | Report: Hoiberg pursuing Spurs’ Boylen | Anthony ahead of schedule on rehabReport: Sixers meeting with Saric’s team

No. 1: Warriors wake up thanks to Iguodala — Heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 of The Finals, the Golden State Warriors had played 95 games. In every one of those, small forward Andre Iguodala did not start. But staring down a 2-1 series deficit, Golden State coach Steve Kerr decided to switch that up and gave Iguodala the nod. It paid off swimmingly for player, team and coach as Iguodala had 22 points and eight rebounds and the Warriors won 103-82. Our Shaun Powell was on the scene and details how ‘Iggy’ made this series pop again:

The return of The Team That Won 67 Games was quite a sock, if not a shock, to the system of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It was combustible and complete what the Warriors did Thursday in Game 4, hitting shots and throwing booby traps and doing everything possible to avoid the dreaded 3-1 deficit and also seize momentum in a series that returns to Oakland.

And so the scenes to take away from a 21-point Warriors Game 4 shellacking of Cleveland is this: LeBron bleeding and wheezing from the challenge of carrying a team, and Andre Iguodala welcoming it.

Iguodala scored 22 points with eight rebounds and was the first line in a trapping Warriors defense that finally reduced LeBron’s shots, points and impact. It was the first blowout result of a series that, until Game 4, had a pair of overtime games and another game decided by two points. It was a thorough performance by the best and most consistent Warriors player in this series, and once again Iggy displayed his high value to the Warriors on both ends of the court. Of course, coach Steve Kerr’s decision to bench the sloth-like center Andrew Bogut for Iggy will be described as an Auerbachian move, except Iggy’s minutes were virtually identical as the previous three games, and Bogut was so ineffective to this point anyway that Kerr didn’t really have a choice.

The difference-maker for the Warriors, once again, was Iguodala, the only player immune from the NBA Finals fog that swallowed up most of his teammates. Not only is Iguodala taking up scoring slack with the inconsistency shown by Curry and Klay Thompson, but he also has the grinding task of checking LeBron. And while LeBron has had big scoring games, he hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well (50-for-129 in the series) and Iguodala had a key stop of LeBron in the closing minutes of regulation in the Game 1 win.

“He’s one of the X-factors and he came to play,” said LeBron. “He was in attack. He was very, very good for them.”

The Warriors signed Iguodala three years ago for this very reason, to be a unifying force on a developing team and serve as an example of how to defend, which then was Golden State’s only weakness. Since he arrived the defense gradually improved.

Iguodala isn’t the same player now as he was then; his numbers have decreased with age, although Kerr never lost faith in him. Iguodala went to the bench mainly because Kerr wanted to feed the confidence of Harrison Barnes, not because Iguodala was suddenly a slug.

“I mean, he’s our most experienced player and he’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around,” said Kerr, a member of championship teams in Chicago and San Antonio. “He sees the game. He’s got a great basketball mind.”

When Iguodala took the new role in stride at the start of the season, his teammates took notice. It’s not often when a proven player buys into the idea of being replaced in the lineup by an understudy. Some players rebel. Iguodala adapted, as did David Lee when he took a seat for Green, which allowed Green to have a career year.

And guess what? Bogut fell in line when he took a seat in Game 4. It’s now contagious.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Andre Iguodala’s big Game 4

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Lottery team that must get it right at the 2015 Draft?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Draft lottery

> Which lottery team is under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com No reason to scan the list or break a sweat on this one. It’s Minnesota. Whoever they pick – Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns – has to be a hit, a star, eventually an All-Star. This franchise can’t afford a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett at No. 1, not after waiting the entire 27-season history of the franchise for the right to select first in the Draft, not after a playoff drought dating back to 2004. And whichever of the two the Timberwolves select, he needs to be as good or better than the guy they don’t, because second-guesses have piled up higher than snow drifts at Target Center through the years. After having only two No. 1 picks even play for the franchise (Joe Smith and Olowokandi) Minnesota will have the top guys from the past three drafts — Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (2014) and this year’s choice — on its roster come October. Time to howl for the right reasons, Wolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Lakers. Nobody really wants to see Kobe Bryant‘s head literally explode from another losing season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Like it’s possible to pick one. I could barely narrow it down to half the lottery. The Timberwolves have to nail it because picking No. 1 comes with a scrutiny that will never go away. The Lakers have to nail it because they have so little to build on heading to the future. The Knicks have to nail it because they have even less than the Lakers. The Kings have to nail it because it’s the first big decision for Vlade Divac as head of basketball operations. The Pistons have to nail it because it’s time to make a move up the East standings. The Hornets have to nail it because this season was a step backward and must be fixed. Against that backdrop, the 76ers already have a future even without knowing how the 2015 pick develops. Talk about strange.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comUh, is this a trick question? After getting squeezed out of the top three, and out of the Big Man Sweepstakes, the Knicks need to make this one count if only to justify such a stinky season. At No. 4 there’s really not much of a decision to make. Just take whomever’s left over between D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, because the Sixers at No. 3 will take one of them. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to overthink it unless he gets a sweet trade offer. Then it gets dicey.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Lakers have Julius Randle and, at the No. 2 pick, the easiest choice in the Draft. The Knicks don’t have any serious talent under the age of 30 on their roster, and, at No. 4, might have a difficult decision. It seems like Emmanuel Mudiay could be the best player available when they draft, but it’s not clear that he’d be a good fit for the triangle offense. This is the first top-five pick the Knicks have had in 29 years and Phil Jackson‘s record as team president doesn’t look so hot right now. That’s some pressure.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers are off the hook with that No. 2 pick. You simply sit there and let the stud big man the Minnesota Timberwolves pass up fall into your lap. So that leaves the New York Knicks at No. 4 with all of the pressure on Draft night. They’ll have their pick of talented players but not necessarily any transcendent talent. The Knicks don’t have the luxury of just selecting the best available basketball talent at No. 4. They need to identify the one player who projects as both a true difference-maker and one who can come in and pay immediate dividends alongside whatever free-agent haul Phil Jackson is able to round up. But finding a role player at No. 4 won’t do it. The Knicks need to find a future star, an All-Star even, with this lottery pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s the Lakers, because they’re used to winning, they expect to win again, and they absolutely need a transformational player to emerge from this pick. The other teams at the top of the lottery are not faced with such high expectations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I can’t believe we’re here again, but right now, the answer to this question is the Knicks. They’re rebuilding, sure, but they’ve traded away some good assets — Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith — and haven’t really gotten much in return. They needed a home run in this Draft, with two potential franchise centers available, and now it looks as though they won’t get either one. Who can they get at the four spot? There are potentially terrific selections available, but the stakes are much higher. Considering this is their only first-round pick in the next two years, they need to get this right.

Wolves get another No. 1 to team with Wiggins, learn from KG


VIDEO: 2015 Draft Lottery Drawing

NEW YORK — There will likely be three straight No. 1 picks on the same roster next season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves won the No. 1 pick of the 2015 Draft at Tuesday’s Lottery, less than nine months after acquiring the No. 1 picks from 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins) in a trade with Cleveland for Kevin Love.

Minnesota is the first team to finish with the league’s worst record and win the Lottery since the Orlando Magic did it in 2004. They had a 25 percent chance to win it.

“I didn’t anticipate that it would go this way,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said afterward, noting that it was far more likely that his team didn’t win the No. 1 pick. “I just feel really honored that we have a chance to be in this position.”

While Bennett is possibly a bust, Wiggins looks like a two-way star. And the Wolves have three more former Lottery picks under the age of 25 – Zach LaVine (No. 13 in 2014), Shabazz Muhammad (No. 14 in 2013) and Ricky Rubio (No. 5 in 2009) – on the roster as well.

They’ll likely add a big man – Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns – to that young core. And that young big could have Kevin Garnett as a mentor. Taylor said he expects Garnett, a free agent this summer, to be back, saying that Garnett has already been working out.

“I see that he’s out working really hard to get his knees into shape,” Taylor said. “So I anticipate that he’s interested in coming back. I can’t say that for sure, but I don’t know why he would be out there doing what he’s doing if he didn’t want to come back.”

Taylor also believes that Flip Saunders, currently the Wolves’ president and head coach, will remain on the bench for another year.

“It’s not definite,” Taylor said, “but I think with the effort that he put in this year to bring this team along that it’s probably 90 percent, unless he sees somebody and he changes his mind and he can convince me.

“I think eventually I want a different coach. I want him to be the GM. My guess is that he’ll go another year.”

The New York Knicks, who were the worst team in the league (the spot that won the Lottery) with just five days left in the season, were the only team to move down from their spot on Tuesday. They fell from second to fourth, swapping spots with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously, we would have liked to have a higher pick,” Knicks general manager Steve Mills said, “but we went into this knowing that, anywhere from 1-5, we were going to get a good player. And as we look at this, this is a player that’s complementary to a player that we have in place in Carmelo and what we’re going to do in free agency.”

At No. 2, the Lakers could add the big man that the Wolves don’t pick, teaming him with last year’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle for the post-Kobe-Bryant era, which will begin after next season.

At No. 3, the Philadelphia 76ers should get a guard to feed Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. But GM Sam Hinkie certainly isn’t going to say that he wouldn’t draft one of the bigs if he was available.

“History’s not so kind to drafting for need,” Hinkie said. “I think, wherever we are, we’ll pay a lot of attention to who we think is the best player and how that looks. Sometimes, it’s close, and that moves some things. And sometimes, it’s not close.

“A year ago, people would have reasonably said we don’t need Joel Embiid. I think we need Joel Embiid and I think what he’ll provide for us will be useful.”

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

***

No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

***

No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

***

No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

***

No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

***

No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …