HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – No team in NBA playoff history has ever lost a best-of-seven series after surging ahead 3-0. So the odds of one team choking it away are worse than a freak Midwest snow storm in the heart of spring.
Suddenly we have two teams trying to make it rain on their opponents’ parade.
The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets return to their respective home arenas Friday night with the objective of extending their first-round series to the wire after losing the first three games. Trying to avoid postseason infamy and outright humiliation is the second-seeded New York Knicks, the clever characters who dressed in black on Wednesday for a Game 5 “funeral” at Madison Square Garden. However, as Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith dutifully pointed out afterward, they were the ones that got buried by the resilient Celtics.
Over in the Western Conference, the eighth-seeded Rockets in Game 5 dominated a discombobulated Oklahoma City team without their heart-and-soul point guard Russsell Westbrook. Former Thunder guard James Harden splashed seven 3s for Houston and scored 31 points.
So what are the odds that either the Celtics or Rockets can at least get their respective series to a Game 7? Cloudy, at best.
Only three teams down 3-0 have ever won the next three to go the distance: The Knicks did it against Rochester in the 1951 Finals; the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz in the 1994 West semifinals; and the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 West first round. The latter two were double-digit victories for the home team.
“Mainly because the other team is a lot better,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked why teams down 3-0 typically bow out in Game 4 as his injury-depleted club did against the San Antonio Spurs.
And truth be told, if Westbrook doesn’t tear the meniscus in his right knee, the Thunder are likely sitting back waiting to see if the Memphis Grizzlies close out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 or if those two are headed back to L.A. for one final bludgeoning.
But Westbrook’s absence has changed everything. The Rockets, the youngest team in the playoffs as the Thunder once were, are feeling confident. They have to believe that if they continue to run-and-gun and don’t allow anyone not named Kevin Durant to go crazy that they have a great chance to force a Game 7 back at Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Celtics, logic insists, don’t have as good a chance as Houston because they don’t have a built-in opening like the Rockets with the catastrophic injury to the all-important Westbrook. The Knicks aren’t missing a star player. They possess the league’s scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony (18-for-59 from the field in Games 4 and 5), the Sixth Man in Smith (suspended for Game 4, 3-for-14 in Game 5), last season’s Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler, a more threatening offense and they’re deeper at just about every position, if not at every position.
But, as long as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are wearing green — and add cold-blooded Jason Terry, a champ himself in 2011 with Dallas — the Celtics just don’t die. A raucous TD Garden on Friday will put the Knicks’ veteran poise to the test.
The Knicks must dig down to avoid the No. 1 derogatory label in all of sports — chokers. And the Thunder must figure out how to pick themselves up without Westbrook.
The odds remain steep for the Celtics and Rockets. Then again, as Jason Collins proved this week, there’s always a first for everything.
LOS ANGELES – Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.
Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.
While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.
“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.
L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.
“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)
It’s simple math, and the NBA is realizing it more and more each year.
This season, the league has made and attempted more 3s than it ever has. Both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets have passed the previous single-season, team highs for 3-point makes and attempts. And now, with one game left in the regular season, Stephen Curry is just two 3-pointers away from setting the all-time record for most 3-pointers made in one season by an individual.
Most 3-pointers, single season
* The 3-point line was shorter (22 feet all around) in 1994-95, 1995-96 & 1996-97
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range
In only 12 of his 77 games has Curry hit fewer than two 3s, so the odds are good that he’ll get the two he needs in Portland on Wednesday. The Blazers have the fourth-best 3-point defense in the league, but Curry hit seven treys against them less than three weeks ago.
Curry is the Warriors’ point guard, so most of his 3s have come from above the break. Only 46 of his 268 3s have come from the corners, but Curry has shot the worst from the top of the key. And he’s clearly more comfortable from the right side of the floor…
Stephen Curry’s 3-point shot chart
Curry leads the league with 103 unassisted 3-pointers, but 165 (62 percent) of Curry’s 3s have been assisted, by nine different teammates.
Assists on Stephen Curry’s 3-pointers
Only 39 percent of his 3s from the top of the key have been assisted, vs. 67 percent from the wings and corners. Combine that with his shooting percentage numbers (worse at the top) and it’s clear that he’s a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble.
The way things are going, we may see somebody top 300 3-pointers in a season sometime soon. And it may be Curry. For now, he’ll have to settle for this place in the NBA record book.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are a must-watch down the stretch of this season, for reasons that were ridiculously obvious during a historic (for Bryant) Wednesday night in Portland.
Bryant played the entire game, scored a season-high 47 points and finished with an unprecedented stat line as the Lakers rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 113-106 and move a full game ahead of the idle Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase with just three games to play.
The Lakers have won four out of five to continue their season-defining playoff stand, a charge led by the wicked Bryant, who torched the Blazers with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals — filling the box score in a way that no player before him has. (He also outdueled Portland Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, who was spectacular himself with 38 points and nine assists.)
Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, Kobe is going to make sure their final three games are played with an intensity and at a pace that is playoff-worthy. That’s just who he is and has been his entire NBA career. There have been times when his individual drive and focus have been detrimental to his team (early in his career for sure and again later, when he and Shaquille O’Neal battled for control of the team). There’s no Phil Jackson around this time to balance the scales.
All that said, there is no player I’d rather watch under these extreme circumstances. The Lakers’ season goes into the category as one of the greatest crimes against the game if a crew with Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash doesn’t find its way into the postseason.
Would it have been nice to see the same sense of urgency in December that we all saw last night? Of course. In or out the postseason, a CSI crew will be needed to comb through the scattered wreckage of the Lakers’ regular season. There’s no way it was supposed to go down the way it has.
Kobe’s fingerprints will be all over the wreckage, along with those of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and just about anyone else inside the organization you want to throw in the mix.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.
“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”
It wouldn’t be necessary every night if the Lakers had worked these issues out earlier in the season. They’ve been riding this roller coaster since training camp, with established veterans trying to sort out their roles — first under Mike Brown and since those first five games under Mike D’Antoni. (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Entering last night’s home game against the Suns, the Rockets needed only to win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons. A game against one of the West’s worst teams seemed to make that goal even easier to reach, but Phoenix showed plenty of fight all night and had the game tied with 9.1 seconds to play. The Rockets had their shot to lock up their postseason dream in the hands of All-Star James Harden, who took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that bounced off the rim … but as that was happening, the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal went up through the net and touched the ball on the rim. The result? A goal-tending call … which meant a Rockets victory … which meant a playoff berth clinched … which, in turn, makes it our one to watch this morning.
Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agent — The Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design of the Nets’ uniforms and has been a key figure in the team’s mostly successful first season in Brooklyn. But Jay-Z is never one to rest on his laurels and is thinking of getting into the agent game, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and may soon sell his stake in the Nets to do so:
Entertainment mogul and rapper Jay-Z has started the process of divesting his small share of ownership with the Brooklyn Nets to extend his Roc Nation Sports representation business into basketball, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Selling his share of the Nets is a necessary prelude for Jay-Z to obtain his National Basketball Players Association certification as an agent.
NBA rules mandate that no one individual affiliated with a player representation company can have an ownership stake with an NBA team.
Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company has partnered with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to launch a sports representation business that recently secured New York Yankees star Robinson Cano.
The process is expected to be completed in time for Roc Nation to compete for players entering the June NBA draft, but there’s no guarantee of the timing, sources said. Those within Roc Nation and the CAA alliance aren’t “chasing a clock on this,” one source said. “This isn’t about one draft, but taking the long view of the business.”
Rival agents are anxious over the possibilities of Jay-Z on the recruiting trail, believing the lure of his iconic business and cultural standing will have a major impact on attracting top prospects and current league stars.
CAA and Jay-Z are taking time to carefully formalize the arrangement on the basketball end, sources told Y! Sports, and are sensitive to making sure he exits the Nets partnership in a way that is respectful to the organization.
LeBron likely to rest down stretch of season — Fans planning on seeing the Heat — and their vaunted Big Three — between now and the end of the season might want to save their money. Already the Heat have been without Dwyane Wade (knee) for five straight games and Chris Bosh sat out last night’s win over the Bucks as he recovers from the flu. LeBron James did play against Milwaukee and had his usual stellar night, but even he is likely to rest some games as Miami comes to the end of their season, writes David J. Neal of the Miami Herald:
LeBron James said Tuesday morning he would be a scratch for some of the last six. Dwyane Wade will travel to Washington for Wednesday’s game, but is no lock to play. Center Chris Bosh called in sick Tuesday and could miss Wednesday’s game at Washington, too.
“He has flulike symptoms, so unless he gets dramatically better [he won’t travel],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee. “It’s something we talked about. I don’t know if we will bring him around everybody.”
Spoelstra said Wade is day-to-day with his knee and ankle injuries. Wade went through Tuesday’s morning shootaround and worked out later in the day.
James said he’s “getting back to form” and his hamstring has “reacted well the last few days.”
But as for the last six games…
“I want to play, but I’m going to go against myself for the first time in my career,” James said. “OK, probably about the third time in my career. I sat out a few games when we had it locked up in Cleveland as well, to really use those games to get healthy as well.”
James started Tuesday with point guard Mario Chalmers and forwards Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.
Hickson, Blazers set to move on separately — By the time J.J. Hickson arrived in Portland on March 21, 2012, his NBA stock couldn’t have been much lower. The Kings had dealt for him before the 2011-12 season with hopes he’d shore up their front line, but Hickson mostly disappointed in Sacramento. After arriving in Portland, though, Hickson’s numbers rose dramatically as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with the Blazers. This season, it’s been even more success for the big man, as he’s averaging a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) for a thin Portland team. Despite the success he’s had in the Rose City, though, it’s unlikely the unrestricted free-agent will be back in the Rose City next season. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more on Hickson and his future:
There are no hard feelings and no regrets, but it appears these are the final days that JJ Hickson and the Trail Blazers are together, with both sides acknowledging this week that the writing is on the wall.
The Blazers, who have given up the most interior points in the NBA, want to find a more defensive-oriented center next season, while Hickson – a power forward who bit his tongue and played as an undersized center for the Blazers – wants to start, and is eager to test his market value when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey this week said he is not ruling out keeping Hickson on the roster, but he doubts the team will have the role, and the money, to pacify Hickson’s desires next season.
“For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center,’’ Olshey said, referencing the Blazers’ 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. “I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.’’
The Blazers figure to enter the offseason with $11.8 million in cap room. A large chunk, if not all of that money, will likely be used to lure a defensive-minded starting center or to absorb the contract of a starting center in a trade. That leaves Hickson on the outside looking in when it comes to meeting his desires to find a team that can both give him chance to start as well as award him a raise from his $4 million salary this season. If he stayed in Portland, Hickson would play behind franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays close to 40 minutes a game.
Andy Miller, who represents Hickson, said Olshey hasn’t flat-out told him Hickson is not in the Blazers’ plans, but Miller said he is under the impression that the Blazers will move in a different direction than Hickson.
“I think Neil has been fairly candid to me as far as where they stand,’’ Miller said. “I don’t feel confident about the situation. Earlier in the season there may have been mood swings and perspective swings where I felt the tide swinging, to where I felt that this would be more than a rental for both sides. But lately, I haven’t felt that way at all. He definitely hasn’t misled me.’’
In the end, it was probably a win-win scenario for Hickson and the Blazers. Hickson, who was picked up off waivers last March after Sacramento released him, got an opportunity to resurrect his career, while the Blazers found a capable center to buy time for rookie Meyers Leonard to develop.
“I think JJ has had a remarkable season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He showed a lot of people what he can do. The most important thing is he sustained a certain level, for the most part of the season, with his energy and his rebounding. The mid-range jump shot, I think, is the biggest area where people questioned whether he could make it, and he turned into a very capable mid-range jump shooter. And he accepted his role. I didn’t call a lot of plays for him and he found his offense through the flow of the game. Although it was frustrating at times for him he accepted it and thrived in it.’’
Hickson said having a chance to start will be at or near the top of his offseason priority list.
“That’s just me being a competitor,’’ Hickson said. “I think everyone in this league wants to start, so of course I want to start, of course I want to play a lot of minutes to help my team as much as possible. That’s definitely one of the factors going into free agency – whether I start or not. Other than that, I’m just looking to win ball games and have fun doing it.’’
Hickson is not sure it would be fun playing center again next season. He said it was difficult enough playing the position this season.
“It was hard to play center. but I took it with a grain of salt and did what I had to do for the team,’’ Hickson said. “I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I definitely was playing out of position, but I sacrificed my position for the coaching staff and my teammates to play a position that my body is not made up for. And we all knew that going into the year I was an undersized (center) and that I would have to play that much harder to make up for what I didn’t have physically.’’
Lowry on first season in Toronto: ‘Very disappointing’ — The good news for Toronto this season? After last night’s victory in Chicago, the Raptors have won 30 games — their most since the 2009-10 season (also known as Chris Bosh’s final season North of the border). The bad news? The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and will do so despite somewhat overhauling their roster in the offseason by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry has had, at best, an up-and-down season in Toronto as injuries and an early-season logjam at point guard with Jose Calderon created an ambiguous-at-times role for Lowry. After the win over the Bulls, Lowry sounded off on his first season in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star:
To say it’s been a tumultuous first year in Toronto for Kyle Lowry would be one of the great understatements of the season.
He has lurched from starter to backup to starter, working for another new coach with teammates that changed frequently over the course of the season and it’s no surprise that he answers quickly and emphatically when asked what it’s been like.
“For me personally? Very frustrating, very disappointing.”
And very up and down.
When he first arrived at the cost of a lottery draft pick and a spare part, Lowry was famously “given the keys” to a franchise that fully expected him to lead it to the playoffs.
He was lauded as a “pit bull” of a defender and a leader, a point guard with scoring skills who would give the Raptors a different look they wanted from their own court leader.
It hasn’t actually panned out that way: Lowry’s been criticized by his coach for gambling too much on defence, he was injured and lost his starting job when he got healthy and the team not only floundered terribly at the start of the season, it’s basically limping home in much the same fashion.
Lowry has not by any stretch of the imagination been the sole reason for the team’s struggles but he’s the out-front guy, the major acquisition of last summer, and in that regard it’s been a huge disappointment.
He has not openly clashed with his teammates or his coaches but the overriding sense around the team is that he’s not the happiest of campers.
His own words reflect that when he’s asked what he’s learned in his first season with Toronto.
“Things just have to be different, things aren’t always going to go the way you think they should go or they may not go the correct way to you, but you’ve got to fight through adversity and keep focused on the biggest prize,” he said this week after a practice here.
Lowry’s tenure as the team’s starting point guard was cemented when the Raptors dealt away Jose Calderon weeks before the late-February trade deadline in order to acquire Gay, who arrived trumpeted as the break-down wing the team desperately needed as well as one of Lowry’s best friends in the world. The Lowry-Gay-DeRozan triumvirate hasn’t exactly thrived after getting off to a torrid start.
“It’s been a challenge for Kyle to come in and not only come into a new culture and a new situation but come in with an established veteran like Jose running the show and knowing the offence, knowing the defensive concepts and trying to fit in,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s been a challenge
“But he’s a veteran, he’s worked at it, he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do, to . . . understand what guys can do and can’t do offensively and definitely defensively.”
Lowry has one year left on a contract that will pay him $6 million next season, although only $1 million of it is guaranteed if the Raptors want to cut him adrift this summer. But having already dealt away Calderon and without significant money to spend in the summer, it seems inconceivable that he won’t be back.
And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place.
“I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”
ICYMI of the night: When we see this off-the-glass dunk LeBron James assists himself on, we are left wondering if the Bucks were playing defense or were watching to see what the reigning MVP would do …:
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The Rockets are three games up on the Lakers for the No. 7 seed, so it doesn’t look like Houston will have to face San Antonio in the first round if everything holds tight. As we all know, that can change between now and season’s end … and maybe it would be great if it did. After the Rockets and Spurs hooked up last night in Houston with a classic down-to-the-wire showdown, a Texas tussle in the first round might be a great new chapter in these teams’ rivalry. James Harden put on the hero’s cape last night, hitting a game-winning leaner with 4.5 seconds left to clinch the victory. Here’s hoping the Spurs (or Rockets) make the movement necessary to make this first-round series a possibility.
Nets’ Johnson banged up — The Nets are two games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead and have gotten improved play from Deron Williams in the last month or so. As close as Brooklyn is to a division crown, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be were it not for the play of Williams — especially considering that his backcourt mate, Joe Johnson, has been struggling of late. Johnson is averaging just 13.3 ppg in March and has struggled with his shot and is now suffering from a bruised quadriceps he suffered in a loss to the Clippers. He sat out Sunday’s win over the Suns, but as Roderick Boone of Newsday reports, the Nets are worried about Johnson’s long-term prognosis:
As for Joe Johnson, he suffered the bruised quadriceps when he bumped into Blake Griffin in the third quarter of the Nets’ 101-95 loss to the Clippers. He said it was swollen and tight Sunday, so the Nets made the decision to sit him out, starting Keith Bogans in his place.
Johnson was unsure if he’ll be able to play when the Nets face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating for me because all these little knick-knacks are starting to happen with me down the stretch of the season,” Johnson said before the game, “and this is the most important part of the season at this point right now. So that’s probably the most frustrating thing. It’s not about where we are playing and who we are playing. I always want to be out there with the guys. I hate sitting out and watching. That’s the hardest part.”
Since the All-Star break, Johnson hasn’t been the same explosive player. He’s averaging 13.8 points, down from the 17.0 he posted before the break, and his three-point percentage has taken a serious dip, dropping by nearly 8 percent.
“Yeah, I’m concerned, because he’s come back and he’s not healthy yet,” coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I just think it’s very similar to what we were talking about with Deron. You saw the difference when Deron came back and felt good and was close to — 100 percent is the wrong word, but when he’s the best he’s felt all year, it made a big difference.
“Every time I ask Joe how it feels, he says he’s OK. Again, he wants to play. But I think that if you look at the numbers and you look at what Joe’s done since the injury, it’s not the same Joe. So yeah, we need to get Joe Johnson back healthy. If he’s healthy, then he’ll play the way Joe Johnson plays.”
That’s why Johnson didn’t shoot down the possibility of taking some time off to make sure he doesn’t play until he’s as close to normal. Last thing he wants to do is jeopardize his status for the playoffs.
“I think my health is more important right now at this point,” he said. “Just to heal up the little wounds because obviously, man, we want to do something major in the postseason, so I don’t want to go into the postseason with these things bothering me.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to find himself in uncharted territory.
“Every year going into the playoffs, man,” Johnson said, “I’ve been extremely injury-free, healthy and ready. This is a little different, but I will definitely be ready when I’m supposed to.”
Is it frustrating for Williams that he and Johnson can’t be together and healthy?
“Yeah,” he said, “but if we are still winning, then everything is all right. We won today without him, so that’s good. But we are going to need him. There’s no doubt about that. We are going to need him and we are going to need him healthy, so the most important thing for him is for him to get rest and for him to get healthy. He’s been battling. He’s been playing through a lot of pain. You can see it, you can tell. So he’s been a warrior out here in the games he has played.”
Report: Blazers to let Maynor test market — So far, the Eric Maynor-Portland Trail Blazers marriage has been a successful one. Portland picked up the steady backup point guard from the Thunder at the trade deadline for Georgios Printezis and a trade exception, and Maynor has done a solid job of spelling presumptive Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard since arriving in Oregon. Maynor, an unrestricted free agent this summer, is someone whom the Blazers would like to retain, but they’re also willing to let him test the market. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on what might be next for Maynor and the Blazers:
In the 14 games since Maynor joined the Blazers, Lillard’s scoring has improved by nearly three points, from 18.4 to 21.2 per game, and his shooting numbers have soared. Lillard is shooting 7.1 percentage points better from the field (41.8 to 48.9) and almost 10 percentage points better from three-point range (34.9 to 44.6 percent) with Maynor on the roster.
Maynor will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time in 3 1/2 seasons on Sunday. And he’ll do so with an appreciative group of new teammates that have embraced his arrival as exactly the jolt they needed for the stretch run.
Maynor says he carries no animosity or added motivation into Sunday’s matchup against his former teammates. But he admits it will be “weird” to walk into Chesapeake Energy Arena a visitor and go at his long-time friends.
When Reggie Jackson emerged as a capable backup while Maynor rehabilitated from his injury, he lost his job. And as the trade deadline approached, Maynor was looking for a chance to play, so Oklahoma City granted his wish. He said the sides parted amicably.
“I appreciate everything they did for me for the 3 1/2 years that I was there,” Maynor said. “It was a great 3 1/2 years. But I wanted to go somewhere else and play, get some more minutes. We parted ways. Everything was good while I was there and I always still keep in touch with people there. But I’m happy to get a chance to play.”
And the Blazers — who are 8-6 since his arrival — are happy to have him. Perhaps no one more so than Lillard.
And perhaps the best part of it all is that both Maynor and coach Terry Stotts insist Maynor isn’t 100 percent in sync with his new teammates just yet.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Stotts said. “I’m getting more comfortable with how I can help him from an offensive standpoint. He’s getting more comfortable with our defensive system. He’s still understanding the dynamics of our team.”
How much time he will get to learn those dynamics remains unclear. Maynor will be a free agent at the end of the season and while the Blazers can guarantee he stays by extending him a qualifying offer this summer — making him a restricted free agent — it would come at a price. Maynor’s qualifying offer is $3.4 million, with a hefty $5.85 million cap hold that would eat a substantial amount of the Blazers’ offseason spending money.
Early reviews suggest that the Blazers and Maynor are a good match. But it seems unlikely the team would mortgage so much of its offseason spending power on a backup point guard. It seems more likely the Blazers will allow Maynor to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue him with the rest of the NBA. It’s the same move the Blazers made last offseason with JJHickson and he ended up returning.
Pachulia done for season? — With their win in Milwaukee in yesterday’s matinee, the Atlanta Hawks are maintaining their grip on the No. 5 seed in the East and have won five of their last seven games. While Atlanta is merely .500 in March, they’re holding things together without key reserve big man Zaza Pachulia, who has been out the last 15 games. Chris Vivalamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more on when Pachulia may (or may not) return:
Zaza Pachulia did not accompany the Hawks on the road trip as he continues to rehabilitate a sore right Achilles. Pachulia remains out indefinitely with the injury that will have cost him 21 games, including the past 15, by the time the Hawks return home.
A decision on Pachulia’s status for the remainder of the regular-season could come next week.
Report: Teams interested in Iowa State’s Hoiberg — Fred Hoiberg the NBA player spent 10 seasons in the league, carving out a solid niche as a 3-point marksman, most notably for the Kevin Garnett-era Minnesota Timberwolves. After his playing days were cut short by a heart condition, Hoiberg had a front-office role with Minnesota before returning to his alma mater, Iowa State, where he eventually became coach. In three seasons as coach of the Cyclones, Hoiberg has taken them to two consecutive NCAA tournament berths, ending a seven-season drought of postseason play. His work in Ames hasn’t gone unnoticed by NBA types, writes Adrian Wojnarowskiof Yahoo! Sports, and some teams are showing interest in Hoiberg as an NBA coach:
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has emerged as an intriguing NBA head-coaching candidate, multiple front-office executives told Yahoo! Sports.
After resurrecting the Cyclones program and nearly pushing them into the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament, Hoiberg’s college coaching success, combined with his pro pedigree, has convinced league officials he’s the ideal college coach to make the transition to pro basketball.
”If I had to make a hire this year, [Hoiberg] would be one of the first calls I’d make,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday. “He is a natural for our league.”
Among seven GMs contacted on Sunday, there wasn’t a single one who expressed skepticism about Hoiberg’s ability to make an immediate leap to an NBA coaching job should he have a desire to do so.
Two GMs who expect to have openings told Yahoo! Sports that they planned to feel out Hoiberg’s interest in the NBA once they begin search processes.
Prying Hoiberg out of Ames, Iowa, won’t be easy. He grew up in Ames, graduated from Iowa State and has shown a strong inclination to coach his alma mater for the long term. Long ago, his popularity and loyalty in the community gave him his nickname of “The Mayor.” Hoiberg has long expressed a desire for his children to have a similar upbringing in Ames as he did.
Eight years ago, Hoiberg’s NBA career ended prematurely with heart surgery for an enlarged aortic root. Doctors inserted a pacemaker into Hoiberg and future heart procedures haven’t been ruled out.
Nevertheless, Hoiberg has the perfect disposition, proven Xs-and-Os acumen and understanding of the NBA to make himself an attractive candidate. The Cyclones play a fast, pro-style offense.
“It would need to be a long-term commitment, because he could stay at Iowa State forever,” says one assistant GM who stays in contact with Hoiberg.
ICYMI of the night: A little bit of point guard-on-point guard rejection makes for a nice Monday morning treat … :
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Is it 2005 all over again? The Mavs and Spurs locked up in a classic battle that reminded us of their showdowns of the mid-2000s and, much like those classic matchups, Tim Duncan stepped in the wayback machine and went bonkers on Dallas. Duncan flirted with a 20-20 game (he ended up with 28 points and 19 rebounds) and the Spurs had to sweat out a Vince Carter miss at the buzzer, but San Antonio got the win and clinched a playoff berth, too.
Duncan slowly finding his rhythm– Although Tim Duncan had averaged 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg heading into last night’s game against the Mavs, he didn’t quite feel like his game was back where it could be. Slowed by a knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2, Duncan has been working his way back into form the last few games. Last night, he really hit his stride, going for 28 points and 19 rebounds to pace the Spurs’ to a close win and said after the game he can tell he’s starting to turn the corner on the court, writes Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:
After missing seven of his first 10 shots Thursday, Duncan made nine of his final 10 and finished with 28 points. He was one rebound shy of his second 20-20 game of the season, finishing with 19.
It was his most productive game since returning Feb.13 from a left knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2.
“It’s finally starting to come back,” Duncan said. “My shot’s not there like I want it to be. Other than that, I feel great. I feel healthy. The pain is gone. I’m starting to feel like I can actually play the game.”
Felton hears it from Blazers fans — After one month in last season’s lockout-shortened, 66-game campaign, the Blazers were 12-8 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Their new point guard at the time, Raymond Felton, was averaging a solid 13.3 ppg, 6.7 apg and shooting 42 percent from the field. But after that solid start, both he and the Blazers went in the tank, finishing the season 28-38 and, by season’s end, Felton was the scapegoat (rightly or wrongly) for all that ailed Portland. With Felton returning to Portland last night as a member of the Knicks, he had some strong words for the Blazers before the game and was primed to show his skills, but that isn’t quite how it all worked out, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:
After he arrived into Portland in the wee hours Thursday morning, Raymond Felton checked into a Portland hotel with his New York Knicks teammates and promptly exchanged text messages with Trail Blazers reserve Nolan Smith.
“I’m ready to go,” Felton texted Smith. “Enjoy the show.”
Actually, it was more like a circus.
With a chorus of boos echoing around the Rose Garden every time Felton touched the ball and the Blazers cruising to a convincing 105-90 victory over the Knicks’ junior varsity team, basketball turned into a secondary form of entertainment Thursday night.
An electric sellout crowd of 20,636 flashed gigantic posters with enlarged pictures of donuts and hamburgers and R-rated messages aimed at a player who last year challenged his detractors to visit his Pearl District apartment building if they had a problem with him. Felton was heavily booed during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball, from the moment the Knicks won the opening tip to the final horn.
Over the summer, as he promoted his youth basketball camp in South Carolina, Felton pledged to score 50 points on the Blazers during his next visit to Portland. But his Rip City return didn’t exactly go as he planned.
And every turnover and errant shot was celebrated by Blazermaniacs, who seemed to relish Felton’s miscues as much they did the Blazers’ successes. The never-had-a-chance air-ball three-point attempt in the first quarter. The pull-up jumper that missed everything but the backboard in the second quarter. The grotesque pass into the lane picked off by the Blazers that led to a Damian Lillard fast-break layup just before halftime. The driving layup that was emphatically blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter.
“It was what I expected,” Felton said. “Some boos — some boos the whole time, actually. It was what I expected. It was funny. It made me laugh. But basically we were trying to get a win tonight.”
While Felton drew much of the pregame hype of headlines, Lillard upstaged his counterpart in every aspect but boos. In a performance that summed up his runaway NBA Rookie of the Year candidacy, Lillard was a blur of swished three-pointers, driving layups and pretty passes. He made 11 of 18 shots and finished with 26 points and 10 assists in yet another historic performance.
Mavs react to ex-teammate Jones’ defense — The topic du jour yesterday around the NBA was the late-game defense the Hawks’ Dahntay Jones played on Kobe Bryant in Atlanta’s win Wednesday night. Jones appeared to slide his foot under Bryant as he took a potential game-tying shot and Bryant appeared to land on Jones’ foot as he came down. Bryant ended up with a sprained ankle and, by Thursday evening, the NBA ruled that Jones did, in fact, not give Bryant adequate space to get his shot off. Jones spent the early part of the season on the Dallas Mavericks, and some of his ex-teammates chimed in on the play to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
“It was a 50-50 play,” said Brandan Wright.
Added Darren Collison: “Tough play. That’s all I can say about it.”
There also were a few jokes that it was Jones’ best play for the Mavericks all season. But coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want to hear about the possibility of Bryant being out for an extended period and the Mavericks having a chance to overtake the Lakers in the playoff race.
“I didn’t see the play,” Carlisle said. “And I’m not going to get involved with anything having to do about saying anything happening with Kobe Bryant. I think our owner showed what can happen with that 10 days ago.”
That comment ellicited laughter from the coach and the media assembled before Thursday’s game against the Spurs. When Mark Cuban suggested the hypothetical scenario where the Lakers could amnesty Bryant, he came back with 38 points against the Mavericks.
“We really have to focus on our own thing,” Carlisle said. “Whatever happens externally is going to happen. We control our situation by putting the force and the attitude and the effort into it at as much of a high level as we can. And we got to try to take care of our own games. At the end, if we’ve done our job, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
As Wright said: “I doubt he’ll miss much time.”
Thibodeau again clarifies Rose’s status — It almost sounded like Derrick Rose would play in the Bulls game against the Warriors tonight. But then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau clarified his stance after Thursday’s practice at Oracle Arena in Oakland and said that Rose’s playing remains a day-to-day situation, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
Thibodeau said it’s “unlikely” Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose would play. Thibodeau said Rose “went pretty hard” during the entire practice.
Thibodeau understands as well as anyone how every update he offers on Rose is parsed and analyzed, contributing to the media frenzy. So when he didn’t immediately rule Rose out, he fielded several follow-up questions before adding “nothing has changed” and the “unlikely” status.
Rose has made clear he could miss the entire season after knee surgery.
“It could be in a couple days. It could be in a week. I don’t know when it is. He doesn’t know when it is,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s return. “He has to feel real comfortable and feel the explosion is there. He’s made great progress. We don’t know when that time is. We’ll have a better idea the more we see him go.
“We just have to keep being patient and let him work through it. Each day he feels a little better. He has to have a few days where he feels really good about where he is. It’s not that he’s not feeling good. He’s just not quite there. We’ll know when he gets there.”
One thing Thibodeau stressed is that game outcomes are not affecting Rose’s decision. In other words, the 42-point loss isn’t influencing him to return to help or to turn away from the debacle.
“Nope, nope, nope, nope,” Thibodeau said. “This guy is well-prepared for this. He’s handled his part great. He’s not going to be influenced by anything but when he’s ready. That part is clear.”
Deep bond unites Magic’s Hennigan, Thunder’s Presti — First-year Magic GM Rob Hennigan had his work cut out for him when he took the job in Orlando: a Dwight Howard trade situation to navigate and, once that was over, a rebuilding effort that would take several seasons to complete. Luckily, Hennigan had a good mentor in OKC GM Sam Presti, whom Hennigan had worked for and known since their days with the Spurs’ front office in 2004. Hennigan followed Presti to OKC in 2007 and had been there until last summer, when Orlando hired him to direct the team’s new direction. Josh Robbinsof the Orlando Sentinel has a great feature on the deep relationship that Hennigan and Presti share:
Rob Hennigan made one of the most important decisions of his life here, just a short walk from where the Orlando Magic will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
He made that decision with Sam Presti, a friend and mentor, by his side.
It was 2008, and Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, offered Hennigan a job in the Thunder front office. They walked through downtown, discussing the type of team Presti wanted to build, talking about the meaningful connection Presti wanted to create between the franchise and the city. They eventually reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site where, 13 years earlier, Timothy McVeigh detonated explosives in front the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“At the end of the day,” Hennigan remembers now, “I had so much trust and faith in Sam that I wanted to join him and join the organization to try and build something special.”
That belief and confidence in Presti helped lead Hennigan to where he is today, the general manager of the Magic. Presti gave Hennigan two of his big breaks: a coveted internship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004 and a position as director of college/international player personnel with the Thunder four years later.
Hennigan marveled at Presti’s work ethic, his exacting attention to detail and his systematic, disciplined approach to decision-making.
In 2007, the Seattle SuperSonics hired Presti to be their general manager.
A year later, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, and that’s when Presti chose to hire Hennigan.
In 2010, Presti promoted Hennigan to assistant general manager for player personnel.
Then, late last May or in early June, Hennigan and his wife, Marissa, were sitting in a restaurant when his phone rang. It was Presti on the other line, telling Hennigan that Magic CEO Alex Martins had just called. Martins wanted to interview Hennigan for the Magic’s GM job.
Hennigan couldn’t believe it.
But it was true.
In the days that followed, Presti helped Hennigan organize his thoughts for the job interviews.
In June, the Magic hired Hennigan.
Hennigan, 30, and Presti, 36, still talk and text all the time, more about life in general than their jobs.
After seven years working together, Hennigan already has learned lessons from him.
“I think the most important thing I learned from Sam is to always put the best interests of the organization above everything else,” Hennigan says. “It takes great discipline, conviction and patience to do that, but Sam has showcased an ability to do that as well as anyone.”
ICYMI of the night: They don’t call Tim Duncan the “Big Fundamental” for nothing, kids:
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Between the late-game heroics of Monta Ellis in Houston and the all-around, game-long goodness of Steph Curry in New York, it would have been easy to pick either of those games as our one to re-watch this morning. Those two games are definitely worthy of another look, but rather than pick one over the other, we’re going in a different route as we often like to do. Our choice instead is Mavs-Grizzlies from the Grind House in Memphis. It wasn’t as pretty offensively as the Bucks-Rockets or Warriors-Knicks games, that’s for sure, but watching the Grizz go on a franchise-record 24-0 run to climb from a 25-point hole sure was something. We’re a fan of solid big man play around here and the Grizzlies’ combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were at their best, pounding the Mavs for a combined 43 points and 22 rebounds.
Nash reinventing himself in L.A. — The dreams Lakers fans had of Steve Nash directing the offense, pick-and-rolling teams to death with Dwight Howard and harmoniously fitting in with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt haven’t all come to pass as expected this season. First, there were the early weeks of the season that saw Nash recovering from a leg injury. Nash recovered from a leg injury. Then, once Nash returned, he was the off-guard in L.A. while Bryant put on his best Magic Johnson impression. Now, Nash is finally getting comfortable in his role in Lakerland — although it is far from the one he used to play as point guard for the Phoenix Suns. USA Today’s Sam Amick has more on the changes Nash has gone through:
Two-time MVPs aren’t typically asked to reinvent themselves, but 39-year-old Nash is doing just that for a Lakers team that has seven weeks to salvage its season and avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs. At 28-30 — and with those summertime proclamations of league-wide dominance seeming so far away now — they are 2½ games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
And so, Nash — the Picasso of point guards, a masterful orchestrator of offenses — has been asked to change. He plays off the ball, watching Bryant take his old job for long stretches before he’s able to put his old hat on. He does what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, his friend and longtime coach with the Phoenix Suns, has asked them all to do: sacrifice.Since changing to this counter-intuitive style in a Jan. 25 win against the Utah Jazz, with Nash handling roughly half the playmaking duties he did before and his assist numbers during that time (5.5 a game) barely half his norm over the past eight seasons, the Lakers have won 11 of 16 games.
“His desire to figure out a way to make it work is remarkable,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “He’s always prodding, always making the sacrifice. Yet you have to catch yourself and say, ‘This is a two-time MVP.’ He could certainly say, ‘No, I’m not changing. You’ve got to do it my way.’ How many two-time MVPs are as accommodating as he is?”
This isn’t exactly what Nash and D’Antoni had in mind when they reunited Nov.12 — largely because of the broken left leg Nash suffered Nov. 3 that kept him out for seven weeks. They envisioned Nash as the engine in D’Antoni’s high-octane system, ignoring how an aging team might fare in a system that pushes the accelerator every time out.
Yet Nash insists he’s content with the compromise in large part because this decision was never just about basketball. His agent, Bill Duffy, calls the three-year, $27 million sign-and-trade deal that brought Nash to Los Angeles from Phoenix a “family values contract” because of how Nash bypassed opportunities in Toronto and New York last summer so he could be closer to his three children.
“Ten out of 10 times, I make the same decision again,” Nash told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “I’ve gotten to see my kids probably four times as much as I’d seen them if I’d have gone back East. That’s first and foremost. Second of all, it’s a great experience to play for the Lakers organization. … I’m happy here.
“I’m beyond playing for the credit or the adulation. I feel secure in myself as a player. I just want to help this team, regardless of what it means for me personally.”
“If L.A. wouldn’t have worked, I honestly think he would’ve considered retiring,” Duffy says. “He said that three or four times from July 1 to July 5 (during free agency), and I was saying, ‘If he wants to retire, I have to respect it, but let’s piece this thing together so you can get what you want and continue to play.’ “
“It’s been different. It’s been an adjustment,” Nash says. “But I want to embrace these challenges. I’m at a stage of my career with a new club where I’m playing with Kobe — he’s a great player — and finding that balance and accepting and embracing that opportunity is key. It’d be nice, in some ways, to have a bigger impact on the game. You have to balance it with all the guys, all their needs and personalities. I embrace it.
“I really appreciate it. I could still be in Phoenix and have the ball in my hands the majority of the time and probably be out of the playoffs again, so it’s worthy of trying something new — especially since the upside here is potentially great.”
Red-hot Horford keeps Hawks soaring — As our own Sekou Smithmentioned in Hang Time just a few days ago, the Atlanta Hawks in the post-trade deadline world are operating like the Atlanta Hawks we saw the first two months of the season. Elite-level hoops has returned thanks to the standout play of Al Horford in particular, who burned the Jazz last night with a career-high 34 points (two days after a career-best 22 boards in Detroit), punishing a solid Utah frontline featuring Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors. As the Hawks move into the second half of their six-game road trip (they’re 3-0 thus far), a perfect run is within reach, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Hawks led by as many as 20 points and held off a late rally en route to a 102-91 victory over the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
Al Horford was at the center of the victory as he scored 16 of the Hawks’ 20 fourth-quarter points on the way to a career-high 34 points.
“He was big,” coach Larry Drew said. “We were running plays for him. When the shot wasn’t there he was passing the ball. He got everything within our offense. The guys were doing a good job of finding him. He is really playing at a high level right now. I mean an extremely high level.”
The Hawks (33-23) won their fourth straight and sixth in the past seven games. It was also the fifth straight road victory for the Hawks, who surpassed the 100-point mark in each. The Hawks have won four straight over the Jazz.
Horford continued his torrid streak over the past seven games, scoring over 20 points in each. He added 15 rebounds. Over this stretch of games, Horford is averaging 25.4 points (178), 12.4 rebounds (87) while shooting .681 percent (79-116).
The Hawks sealed the game by opening the third quarter on a 24-12 run to lead by 20 points, 80-60.
“The start of the second half was the bigger of the two,” Josh Smith said of the Hawks’ first- and third-quarter efforts. “We wanted to be able to control the momentum of this building. It’s a hostile environment. They have awesome fans who definitely heckle the visiting team. We knew we were going to receive a big punch in the second half and being able to answer in that third quarter was huge for us.”
The Jazz got to within eight points in the fourth quarter but there was not stopping Horford. He and Smith scored all 20 of the Hawks’ points in the final period.
“It was one of those things where in my mind I was like we’ve built this lead and we’ve worked too hard to give it up,” Horford said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to lose so you do whatever you have to do. We just kept fighting. I just kept fighting. I’m proud of my teammates.”
Grizzlies comeback an astounding feat — We gave the “Hang Time Grizzlies” some love above in our recap of the night, but Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has some more interesting tidbits from Memphis’ club-record comeback against Dallas last night:
The Griz tossed aside a 25-point deficit and changed the makings of a lopsided loss with their defense to earn a dramatic 90-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks before 16,017 fans who still might be wiping their eyes in disbelief.
“Grit, grind, heart, sacrifice I could name 10-15 words (to describe) this,” forward Zach Randolph said after the Grizzlies extended their winning streak to eight games. “It was one of those games.”
A game in which:
• Griz coach Lionel Hollins called time out twice in the first 3 ½ minutes.
• The starters were benched in the first five.
• The Mavs racked up 38 points in the opening period and enjoyed a 51-29 lead with 5:25 left in the second quarter.
• Memphis outscored Dallas 36-4, which included a franchise record 24 unanswered points, during a stretch that bridged the second and third quarters.
• Dallas looked feeble throughout a five-point third quarter — a Memphis franchise-record low for an opponent in any quarter.
“A lot of it was pride,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We felt the grumbling in the stands. We were embarrassed.”
Stotts has Blazers going right direction — After a surprising 20-15 start that had Portland in the thick of the playoff race, the Blazers have gone 6-16 since and are more or less assured of a place in the Draft lottery. But with the emergence of likely Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard, as well as the contributions by J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, things are looking somewhat bright in the Rose City. Depth has been a problem for the Blazers all season, but as John Canzano of The Oregonian notes, coach Terry Stotts has Portland headed for a breakthrough sometime soon:
Because the only difference-maker Portland really needs is Terry Stotts. He’s been here all year, and if owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey get Stotts some depth this summer and add some smart peripheral pieces, I’m convinced he’ll be the Blazers coach who finally breaks through.
Nate McMillan was at his best in 2009-10, overcoming an absurd run of injuries to finish with the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. But Stotts is staying relevant with a roster that was broken from Game 1, refusing to make excuses or join the rest of us in declaring this season done. Stotts lost again Wednesday, this time, 111-109 to a more dangerous, deeper, better NBA team that ran circles around the Blazers but could never quite get away.
Yes, even after a loss, it’s clear that Stotts is doing a terrific job.
This season isn’t headed to the playoffs. Nobody is going to hang a banner commemorating it. But we’re witnessing the finest job of Blazers coaching in more than a decade, and Stotts very nearly pulled it off again against the Nuggets. Forget the playoff teams, forget the teams that won more games, and just look at the lineup and teaching that Stotts used to combat the 48-minute relay-race the Nuggets put on.
Those who have spent time around Stotts this season say he’s a master at compartmentalizing a larger task. He walked into a meeting earlier this season with the Blazers facing a daunting road rip, and according to support staff and players announced, “We have six games in front of us. Let’s break down these six games.”
The coach proceeded to splinter off the games, making each stand alone. By the time he was finished talking, nobody was focused on the road trip. Everyone was locked onto what it was going to take to win a single game, the first one.
“I’m doing a different kind of teaching now,” Stotts said. “The stuff I was doing early was more about getting people to understand what we wanted. Now, we’re taking that further, and focusing on the next level.”
Former NBA center Greg Oden will not decide on his next team until July, sources close to the situation told FOX Sports Ohio.
Oden’s agent, Mike ConleySr., has said Oden is 100 percent and could become a future All-Star.
Oden, 25, is currently taking classes at Ohio State — the school he led to the NCAA title game in 2007, when it lost to Florida. The Trail Blazers drafted the 7-footer one spot ahead of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.
Sources told FSO earlier this month that Oden was leaning heavily toward signing with the Cavs. However, no commitment has been reached by other side.
“We’ll see,” Cavs general manager Chris Grant said last week. “We’ll still talk to them and see what their position is and see what his goals are. Just like any other free agent, if something happens that makes sense, we’ll do it.
“If not, that’s OK. Who knows? From our standpoint, we have no idea.”
Howard surprises a few fans — Lakers fans are a pretty loyal bunch, especially in California. So when fans were presented with the opportunity to show off their team gear at an adidas photo booth in L.A., throngs of them showed up. None of them knew, however, that Dwight Howard (and adidas pitchman) would be there, too (H/T Pro Basketball Talk):
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.
Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.
The national guys aren’t perfect either. And if they’re not careful, they may be featured here, where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.
Here are a few moments from the season thus far that made us laugh, made us smarter, or made us shake our heads.
Denver analyst Scott Hastings really shows his colors here. First, he infers that the official should take a previous J.J. Barea complaint into account when making a call. Then, he disparages Barea’s size. And finally, he infers that the number of fouls that Kenneth Faried had at the time should have affected the call. Oof.
2. Mid-game education
Game: Golden State @ Minnesota, Nov. 16 Broadcast: Minnesota
One of the biggest problems with some NBA broadcasters is that they’re behind the curve in regard to advanced stats. When a play-by-play guy or analyst references points per game and/or field-goal percentage as a measure of offensive or defensive quality, those of us who know and believe in advanced stats just want to squirm and/or mute your television.
So when one of these guys takes the time to educate their audience about pace and efficiency, it’s worthy of a mention. This clip starts out on the wrong foot with a graphic citing PPG, but Dave Benz and Jim Petersen quickly turn the conversation toward efficiency.
Hopefully, talk of pace and efficiency will be the norm (and not the exception) in the near future.
3. Foul? What foul?
Game: New Orleans @ Portland, Dec. 16 Broadcast: Portland
There are a lot of times when broadcasters need to hold their tongues until they see a replay before questioning an official’s call. Let’s just say that Mike Barrett and Mike Rice don’t do that very often.
On this play, Barrett (play-by-play) first questions the idea of Nicolas Batum‘s foul being a flagrant. Rice takes over from there, seems to ignore an obvious blow to the face of Anthony Davis, makes a silly remark about the official not wanting him to eat dinner on time, and then takes a grade-school-level shot at Davis’ eyebrow(s). Oh yeah, like Hastings in the clip above, he infers that a previous call should somehow influence this one.
One more thing: Broadcasters should know that referees will err on the side of caution when initially determining whether a foul was a flagrant or a common foul, because one can be reviewed and the other can’t. If the refs initially call a flagrant, they can review the play and change it to a common foul. If they don’t call a flagrant initially, they can’t review it or change it. So if there’s any doubt, the best thing to do is call a flagrant foul and check the replay.
Ian Eagle is a Hang Time favorite, because he’s calls games straight, he’s got a quick wit and he certainly isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Here, he regrets his premature assessment of Greg Stiemsma‘s perimeter game.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2013 trade deadline will be remembered more for the lack of movement than for any deal that was made. We had a handful of transactions in the final hours before the deadline, but the best player dealt this week was a guy who has started a grand total of 52 games over seven seasons.
That would be J.J. Redick, who is heading to Milwaukee in a six-player trade. The Bucks are also getting Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith from Orlando. The Magic will receive Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris in return.
Redick is a role player, but one who should help the Bucks, who have struggled on both ends of the floor as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, dropping below .500 for the first time since early December. Now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, they’re just three games in the loss column ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia.
The Bucks were reportedly the leaders in the race for Josh Smith, who is surprisingly staying in Atlanta … for the next few months or so. The Hawks apparently did not have a deal they liked, and will have to hope for a sign-and-trade deal in July if they want something in return for Smith. Our own Sekou Smith says that the Hawks will have “no chance” to re-sign Smith.
Atlanta did make a minor move, sending Anthony Morrow to Dallas for Dahntay Jones.
As much as the lack of a Josh Smith move was a surprise, so was the fact that the Utah Jazz stood pat. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, the Jazz have both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on expiring deals. We don’t know if the Jazz had an opportunity to upgrade their backcourt this week, but maybe, like the Hawks, they’d prefer to let one (or both) of those guys walk in the summer.
The Boston Celtics made a minor deal, but held on to both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the stretch run. They’ll be adding Jordan Crawford to their backcourt, sending Jason Collins and the contract of Leandro Barbosa to Washington in exchange for the volume scorer who has been out of the Wizards’ rotation for the last couple of weeks.
The Heat sent Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick to Memphis.
The Bobcats traded Hakim Warrick to the Magic for Josh McRoberts.
In order to get under the luxury tax line, the Warriors are sending Jeremy Tyler to Atlanta and Charles Jenkins to Philadelphia.
The Raptors traded Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick to the Suns for Sebastian Telfair.
The Thunder sent Eric Maynor to Portland.
The Knicks sent Ronnie Brewer to OKC for a pick.
In addition to Smith, Richard Hamilton (Bulls), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors), Kris Humphries (Nets), Ben Gordon (Bobcats), DeJuan Blair (Spurs) and Evan Turner (Sixers) aren’t going anywhere. The Denver Nuggets didn’t get a shooter, the Brooklyn Nets didn’t get any of their targets (Smith, Millsap, etc.), and the Los Angeles Clippers will try to get past the Spurs and Thunder with what they have.
The new collective bargaining agreement certainly had a role in the inactivity. The new, steeper luxury takes goes into effect next season, so contracts that don’t expire this season are a heavy burden to bear. Two years from now, the repeater tax goes into effect, so there’s plenty of incentive for teams to get under the tax line this year as well.
And now that the deadline has passed, we can get on with the remainder of the season, knowing that the landscape hasn’t changed one bit.