Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia 76ers’

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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. …

 

Morning shootaround — April 17


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from 2014-15 regular season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant ‘can’t wait’ for start of 2015-16 | Kupchak optimistic Lakers can rebuild fast | Gores gives support to Drummond | Brown worried about Embiid’s weight, work ethic

No. 1: Durant smarting over season, can’t wait for 2015-16 — Oklahoma City came within one game of a playoff berth, but ultimately missed out on that goal. Who knows what the Thunder could have accomplished this season with their revamped roster and, of course, a healthier Kevin Durant. In the team’s closing news conference, the reigning MVP said he can’t wait for next season to prove all his doubters wrong. ESPN.com’s Royce Young was on hand and has more:

After having a third surgery on his right foot, 2014 MVP Kevin Durant called this season the toughest year he’s ever had playing basketball.

“I’m definitely pissed. I heard a lot of stuff during this time I’ve been injured from everybody. From different people. Definitely pissed,” Durant, speaking at the Thunder’s annual exit interviews, said Thursday, without specifically mentioning what was said or who said it. “Can’t wait until the first game.”

Durant was asked if he had concerns with the history of big men and foot injuries.

“Bill Walton and Yao Ming had two totally different injuries than I had,” Durant said. “I can remember a lot of people saying I was too small, too skinny. But now, all of a sudden, I’m a big man. So I don’t know what you mean by that. It’s two totally different injuries that I have from those guys.

“But I know for sure I’ll be back. I know I’ll put the work in. I know that I’m never going to just quit on anything, so I’m going to keep working until I get back right.”

“It’s definitely been the toughest year I’ve ever had playing basketball, but just try to look forward to and stay positive with it all and help my guys out,” Durant said. “Every day I tell myself we’re going to look back on this and smile and laugh at it and recognize this is just an obstacle we had to climb over to get to where we want to get to.”

Set to be a free agent in the summer of 2016, Durant was asked about his desire to remain with the organization.

“My concern is getting back healthy. That’s all I’m worried about,” Durant said. “I know that stuff is going to start to roll around here soon, but I’m just worried about getting healthy and playing again and doing something I love to do. I’m going to work my tail off to get back right, and that’s all I’m focused on.”

The 2015-16 campaign will carry a bright spotlight and a different kind of pressure. Durant, though, isn’t concerned with that.

“Every year, you can’t put too much pressure on it,” he said. “If I go in saying, ‘Oh, this is the biggest we’ve ever had’ … Obviously we always want to win the championship, but from day one, you can’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’ve just to go out and play and everything will take care of itself.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant is already gearing up for next season

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Morning shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: LeBron the ‘real MVP’ | Blazers’ Batum, Kaman, McCollum injured | Bulls pumped about Rose’s playoff return | Robinson finds a role in Philly

No. 1: Smith backs James as ‘real MVP’ — Two more days to go and the 2014-15 season will be in the books. As such, folks are starting to reveal their choices for the NBA’s awards (if you missed David Aldridge‘s great column, catch up on it). Aside from NBA writers chiming in on who they like, the players will be doing the same thing and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith his no exception. After last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which LeBron James notched a triple-double, Smith crowed about James’ MVP credentials. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 109-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, J.R. Smith was interviewed by the Quicken Loans Arena’s in-house emcee. He was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James’ second triple-double of the season and 39th of his career.

“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”

“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said of James, who won the award four times in his first 11 seasons in the league. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.

“Not to knock anything from the other two guys [Stephen Curry and James Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.”

ESPN.com analyzed the consensus top six candidates’ cases for MVP on Monday, looking at the merits of James, Harden, Curry, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, who happens to be the MVP pick of another one of James’ teammates, Kevin Love.


VIDEO: J.R. Smith is fully backing teammate LeBron James for MVP

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Morning shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mistakes spoil Rose’s return to Bulls’ lineup | Report: Copeland in ICU | Cuban bemoans state of college hoops | Noel suffers ankle injury

No. 1: Mistakes mar Bulls in Rose’s return to lineup Derrick Rose returned to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup last night after a 20-game absence and overall, he looked rusty. Still, just getting him out on the court was a net positive for the Bulls (as our Fran Blinebury noted last night). What wasn’t a positive for Chicago was how sloppy the team played against a low-level team as the season winds down. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:

With minutes left in the Bulls’ 105-103 collapse to the Magic on Wednesday night, at a time he used to dominate, Derrick Rose rose from his seat on the bench and implored his teammates to communicate better on defense.

That Victor Oladipo followed shortly thereafter with a blow-by of Jimmy Butler for the game-winning layup over late-arriving help from Joakim Noah should be as troubling as another late-game fade to a sub-.500 team.

Simply put, the Bulls couldn’t follow Rose’s lead in his return from missing 20 games to arthroscopic right knee surgery, whether that be on the court in an active first-quarter stint or off it with his late words.

The loss not only spoiled Rose’s return, which featured nine points, four turnovers and two assists on 3-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes, 24 seconds, it dropped the Bulls into the East’s fourth seed with four games remaining. The Cavaliers also clinched the No. 2 seed and the Central Division title.

“We were scoring, matching them, but defensively, we weren’t getting there,” Rose said. “Communication or whatever, it just wasn’t there. Win the game on a layup so we just got to make sure we talk a little bit more and make sure that someone is over there.”

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I didn’t feel any discomfort at all, so that’s a good sign. I’m just happy to be playing.”

“It’s upsetting,” Pau Gasol said. “There’s a time when you have to be sharp. You can’t have these type of games. We’re trying to figure a lot of things out right now with guys coming back and different rotations and guys sharing minutes. That’s what happens when you have a deep team. But we have to figure it out quickly.

“Continuity has been tough, for sure. At times, we look like we’re a little bit all over the place. That’s why we had so many turnovers pretty much all season long.”

The Bulls dropped to 15-5 in games with their starters intact.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose reflects on his return to the Bulls’ lineup

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Morning shootaround — April 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: I have ‘freedom’ to call Cavs’ plays | Harden boosts his MVP case | Smith, Noel developing on-court bond in Philly

No. 1:  Blatt supports James’ ability to call Cavs’ plays — The Cleveland Cavaliers have been and will be a much-scrutinized story in the NBA world for as long as LeBron James is on the team. That has been true all season to date and remains true with the latest issue about the team, that being a recently revealed item by Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com that James often calls the Cavs’ plays. The NBA world went wild with that fact the last day or so and after yesterday’s practice, James and his coach, David Blatt, responded to all the chatter. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says he has “freedom” to call plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the course of the game, and coach David Blatt claims that the superstar dictating the action is business as usual.

“I don’t think that’s peculiar,” Blatt said after Cavs practice Wednesday. “When the game is going on and you are in the heat of the battle at times, you can’t get a message through or you don’t want to stop the flow, so a guy may [call the play on his own].

“We have sets that we know what we’re going to use going in. You know, we have a package that we’re going to use going in and at times, according to the flow of the game, somebody may call out a play. I don’t think that’s unusual.”

James has been open about the influence he has over the Cavs’ offense this season. Back in December, he shifted from his more traditional small forward position to point guard for a spell and said, “I can do it on my own … I’m past those days where I have to ask,” explaining that he didn’t consult Blatt about the change.

James elaborated on his leeway to call plays Wednesday.

“Well, we have a package,” James said. “If I see something, I have the right to call plays. Kyrie does as well. We kind of do that play calling. Coach Blatt does the play calling obviously throughout the game in timeouts, but it’s great to be able to have some type of freedom out there with Kyrie to be able to call sets that we feel best suit our team.”

“It’s just I have a feel for the game,” James said. “I know what helps our team and we got great minds. Our coaching staff are great. I thank them that they allow me to give some input on what I think we should do at times, but ultimately it’s their call. So, it’s great to be able to just get different sides of the game with some of the great minds that we have.”

Blatt, who was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference coach of the month for March on Wednesday, was asked if he encourages James to assume the responsibility for play calling.

“Yeah, especially when it works,” Blatt quipped. “No, but I mean, again, it can happen and it’s not an all-the-time thing, but it certainly can happen.”


VIDEO: LeBron James explains why he is allowed to call some plays for the Cavs

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