Posts Tagged ‘Portland Trail Blazers’

Morning shootaround — July 20


VIDEO: Highlights of the Summer League quarterfinals played July 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lance is the Hornets’ hobby now | It’s about Klay’s defense | The L-Train runs to Brooklyn | Giving World Peace another chance

No. 1: Lance is the Hornets’ hobby now — His talent is undeniable. His persona is irrepressible. And now Lance Stephenson is the Charlotte Hornets’ hope and challenge, a budding, two-way star who might reach his All-Star potential with his new team or yield to some distracting ways with the validation of a new three-year, $27 million contract via free agency. Al Jefferson, the Hornets’ main man up front, will find out (if he doesn’t already know it) that Stephenson is an adept passer and managed to deliver the ball to Indiana’s Roy Hibbert better than anyone else on the Pacers roster. He also might find out why David West, Paul George, George Hill, Hibbert and Rasual Butler stayed so busy keeping Stephenson on task and occasionally talking him down from emotional ledges. Here is some Jefferson quotage on Charlotte’s strong summer move courtesy of ProBasketballTalk.com:

“I’m excited about Lance,” Jefferson said in the hall outside the Hornets locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center, where he had shown up to watch Charlotte eliminate New York from the Summer League tournament. “We’re all going to be on the same page as far as defense, and defense dictates the offense.

“But Lance is a playmaker. That’s the reason he led the NBA in triple-doubles last year. He’s got this nastiness about his game that you want on your team. I was really excited to hear he signed with us and he wanted to do that. I think he’s got a lot to prove, and he wants to show people he can be a great superstar in this league.”

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No. 2: It’s about Klay’s defense – One of the head-scratching snags in what many see as a helps-both-teams deal between Golden State and Minnesota that would deliver Kevin Love to the Bay Area is the valuation of off-guard Klay Thompson. Thompson became an issue in the haggling early – beyond, as many saw it, his actual capabilities with either team. Turns out, it’s his defense that has been getting short shrift from many of the so-called experts. Golden State’s roster isn’t built to withstand the loss of Thompson’s backcourt defense as long as Stephen Curry is back there handling so much of the offensive load. As USA Today’s Sam Amick writes:

In short, they’re not willing to ditch the defense.

Their recent refusal to include guard and Timberwolves target Klay Thompson in the deal is rooted in this reality, as losing Thompson would not only leave Curry overexposed defensively in the backcourt but is compounded by the fact that Love — much like incumbent power forward David Lee, who would head to Minnesota if this deal got done — isn’t exactly known as a two-way player. From Lacob on down, this is a major part of the Warriors’ internal analysis and something that belies all the initial speculation about how this Kerr era might be defined.
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Thompson, meanwhile, left a lasting impression on his bosses with the way he played in his most recent postseason. Kerr wasn’t part of the program just yet, but he had a front-row seat as a TNT analyst and was just as impressed as the rest of them.

“Klay guarded Chris Paul the entire Clippers series,” Kerr, who spoke about Thompson but did not discuss the Love situation, told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “He has allowed Steph to conserve some energy at the defensive end, and to slide over to a shooter. The versatility that we have defensively between Klay and (new point guard) Shaun Livingston and (small forward) Andre (Iguodala), it’s really important for us…We’re excited about our roster.”

In addition to becoming a scorer on the rise (18.4 points per game last season on 44.4% shooting overall and 41.7% from three-point range), Thompson’s task of guarding the other team’s point guard is significant here. The Warriors need Curry to continue playing like the face of their franchise that he is, but overburdening him with a backcourt partner who doesn’t live up to Thompson’s standards defensively is seen as a major threat to this crucial component.

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No. 3:  The L-Train runs to Brooklyn — Run was the operative word when Lionel Hollins, most recently head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies who spent last season in media gigs, got the call from the Brooklyn Nets to come a-interviewing. Jason Kidd, last season’s coach, had torpedoed his position with a failed power play that sent him in the recoil to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets wanted to fill the void fast, and that’s how Hollins went about landing the job. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe had other nuggets from the erudite and candid Hollins that makes him an asset not just to Brooklyn but to NBA reporters’ notebooks:

“Yeah, it was sudden,” Hollins said of the call from Nets general manager Billy King. “Saturday I was sitting at home with no job and Sunday night I’m flying to New York, Monday I’m having dinner with Billy and his staff, Tuesday I’m interviewing, Tuesday night I’m on my way home, and when I get home contract negotiations had already started, and Wednesday it was a done deal.”
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The Nets still have talent but there are questions. [Brook] Lopez is coming off yet another foot injury. [Deron] Williams underwent ankle surgery during the offseason and there are murmurs that he is in decline. [Joe] Johnson will be 33 when the season begins and the salary cap-strapped club has made no major offseason acquisitions.

“I think that [Lopez], Joe, and Deron are the three big names in the nucleus, and KG [Kevin Garnett] if he decides to come back and play will certainly be in that mix, and I look for him to start and play,” Hollins said.
Hollins has spent the past few weeks trying to find housing in Brooklyn, reaching out to players on the roster, and assembling a staff.

“Yes, I was surprised by the fact that it did open,” he said of the Nets job. “It’s not something that you think. But I always say that every year you go through and all the job opportunities fade away and then something happens where somebody decides to resign, or somebody does what happened in the Brooklyn case. It’s not like I was dead to coaching — I’m watching TV, I worked for NBA TV, I worked for NBA Radio, and so I never shut down from looking and thinking about the game and what I would do in certain situations. It just flows. It’s what I do.”

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No. 4: Giving World Peace another chanceMetta World Peace‘s greatest NBA success came under Phil Jackson in Los Angeles. The New York Knicks already are on the hook to MWP for $250,000 this season, residue of his brief (29 games, one start) stint with them under coach Mike Woodson in 2013-14. So now that Jackson is running the basketball operation in New York and former Lakers guard Derek Fisher is the head coach, it doesn’t take a super-computer to calculate the likelihood of World Peace (who had asked for his release from the Knicks) being invited to training camp on a make-good deal. Marc Berman of the New York Post did some of his customary pot-stirring on the topic:

“[World Peace] has the utmost respect for Phil and Derek,’’ his agent, Marc Cornstein, told The Post. “There’s a history there. They know he’s out there.’’
The Knicks are trying to add another good-sized small forward to the roster. After Carmelo Anthony, only rookie Cleanthony Early is a true small forward. During summer league play, Early is trying to prove he is ready to be Anthony’s backup, but hasn’t shown he can create his own shot.
The World Peace camp has expressed interest to the Knicks. Under the buyout, the Knicks already are paying World Peace $250,000 for next season. If World Peace were invited and made the team, he’d be eligible for the veteran’s minimum, $1.4 million.
The Queensbridge product was disillusioned with his ballyhooed return to New York, which ended with a buyout Feb. 22 after he was buried in Mike Woodson’s doghouse and needed his left knee drained five times. Woodson didn’t like his offbeat act after signing him last July.
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If he doesn’t an invite to the Knicks’ training camp, he may become the assistant coach for the Palisades High girls basketball team in Los Angeles.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers had hoped to bring back Kendall Marshall but Milwaukee stymied that plan. … Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving is like a lot of other Clevelanders: Excited about this LeBron guy. … Coach Doc Rivers showed his loyalty by bringing Delonte West to summer league, but the Clippers have “1,000 guards,” so West’s NBA comeback might have to happen elsewhere. … Former Wizards’ big Jan Vesely is headed back to Europe, and no one in the NBA is stopping him. … Don’t expect to see Kosta Koufos on the Greek national team. … It’s not quite of Kevin Love-Klay Thompson proportions but Golden State faces a decision on Nemanja Nedovic.

Morning shootaround — July 5



VIDEO: GameTime reports on Carmelo Anthony’s visit with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh as Miami’s “go-to” free agent | Bulls closer to Mirotic arrival | Lakers face empty summer, long season | Blazers’ market woes show in Hawes signing

No. 1: Bosh as Miami’s “go-to” free agent — The pecking order to 2014 free agency seemed clear from the start: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and everybody else. Even James as the marketplace’s big kahuna deserved an asterisk, given the conventional wisdom that he simply was stepping back temporarily to a) allow Miami president Pat Riley some financial elbow room to maneuver for help, and b) hold the Heat’s feet to the fire a little in rounding up that help.
The thinking then, anyway, was that once Anthony made his decision – or gave an indication of his leanings, which in this case suggest the New York scoring star might stay with the Knicks for a five-year, $129 milllion maximum offer – other dominos would fall. Only now it’s looking as if Chris Bosh, Miami’s “third” among three Super Friends over the past four seasons, not only might be one of those tiles but that he might be leapfrogging James in his impact on this summer’s market.
There might be unexpected uncertainty around James – might he actually sign elsewhere? – but there’s no doubting the interest in Bosh, for the same sort of maximum money The King would get, from multiple teams. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com touched on that and the ways Bosh might wind up better off if the doesn’t re-sign with the Heat:

Perhaps the biggest sign pointing to Anthony re-signing with the Knicks is the growing interest from one of his suitors, the Rockets, in Heat free agent Chris Bosh. Bosh possibly going to the Rockets (or to the Lakers or Mavs) proves why the notion of Bosh taking a $10 million pay cut to stay in Miami was never realistic. With the Bulls, Rockets, Mavs, Lakers, Cavs, Suns and potentially others chasing James, Anthony or both, there are more teams than there are LeBrons and Melos (only one of each). Once James and Anthony have made a decision, the teams that lost out will be lining up to create a market for Bosh.
Thus, with James waiting for Heat president Pat Riley to revamp the roster and with Dwyane Wade leaving $42 million on the table at age 32, Bosh is the member of the Big Three most likely to break away. Multiple league sources say there will be a close-to-max market for Bosh if Anthony and James stay with their respective teams. One of those people, an executive with a rival team, said the growing belief around the league is that Bosh would prefer a four-year max deal with another team to a discounted longer deal with Miami.

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No. 2: Bulls closer to Mirotic arrival – Chicago ranks fifth among the five primary suitors for Anthony in terms of the money it can pay him. If the Bulls keep their core intact to stay attractive enough to Carmelo as a title contender, they’ll be limited in cap space and need him to leave more than $60 million on the table for what wouldn’t be a sure thing in the ring department. That reality was starting to sink in for the team’s fans as it learned more about Nikola Mirotic, the Euro-stashed “stretch four,” along with available Lakers forward Pau Gasol from Chicago Tribune beat writer K.C. Johnson:

Per league rules, the Bulls can contribute up to $600,000 of Mirotic’s buyout without that amount going on their books. Exceeding that would be considered a signing bonus and would take away valuable salary-cap space.
That’s space the Bulls most want to use to sign Anthony. But in the wake of reports that the Knicks and Lakers have offered the All-Star forward a maximum contract, the Bulls started their contingency plans by traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday to meet with Pau Gasol and other free agents.
The Bulls face strong competition for Gasol, who has drawn interest from the Knicks, Thunder, Spurs and Heat. The Lakers, who paid him $19.3 million last season, also want him back at a reduced salary.
The Bulls could outbid all of those suitors except perhaps the Lakers. They left their meeting with the impression Gasol’s decision wasn’t imminent.
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Mirotic, who reportedly had issues with his Real Madrid coach that could have hastened his decision to try the NBA, fits the Bulls’ desire to add shooting around Derrick Rose. That process began with the draft-day acquisition of Doug McDermott.

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No. 3: Lakers face empty summer, long season — It’s going to take some getting-used-to, this sense of the NBA getting bigger and better with two of its most storied franchises (ever notice how you only read “storied” in sportswriting?) stuck in extended pit stops. Boston’s basketball version of the Big Dig continues at about the same pace as the tedious highway project there, while the Los Angeles Lakers have almost swapped identities with the old L.A. Clippers in terms of any “wow!” factors. Longtime L.A.-based NBA scribe Mark Heisler, in a piece for Forbes’ Web site, held a magnifying glass up to the Lakers and their currently squished hopes in free agency. He drops a “storied” in there, too:

Just asking: If they wanted to pursue James and Anthony, why, oh, why did they give Kobe Bryant that $48.5 million extension, cluttering up next season’s salary cap with $23.5 million of it?
With Steve Nash waived and “stretched” so his cap charge goes down to $3.2 million, that would have left four more players under contract (Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson) with enough for a maximum offer ($22.4 million in first-year salary for Melo, $20 million for Bron) and $10-12 million to give six more players… after renouncing Pau Gasol.
Thus the Lakers were asking Anthony–and will ask James–to play with the 36-year-old Bryant; two rookies; one second-year second-round pick and eight guys off the waiver wire.
Hopefully, no one laughs in their face but for a storied franchise in what was once the NBA’s destination of choice, that’s not a serious offer.
In fact when the team gave Bryant that extension–at the prompting of Jeanie Buss, the popular member of the family, before Kobe returned from injury and lasted six games–the word around the organization was: We did this knowing that James and Anthony aren’t likely to be on the market and if they are, we’re not likely to have a shot at them.
It’s now clear that the Buss kids weren’t capable of thinking Bryant’s extension through. Many misadventures later, with Kobe as frantic as they are, they’re desperate for a big score, even with James and Anthony the only stars on the market and little chance that either of them would leave.

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No. 4: Blazers’ market woes show in Hawes signing — Maybe fans in downtrodden NBA markets such as Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Orlando can take a little solace in this: You don’t have to be frigid or years away from a .500 record to be considered “unglamorous” as a destination for NBA players. Portland – a terrific Northwest city that offers a swell blend of cosmopolitan and outdoorsy living – feels dissed too, and the Trail Blazers were a fun-to-watch playoff team two months ago.
Apparently, though, Spencer Hawes had a bigger stage in mind when he chose the Clippers over the Blazers for the same mid-level exception payout (which frankly would spend bigger in Oregon than in the L.A. market). That’s how Portland ended up instead with Chris Kaman rather than Hawes, as Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com tells it. And come to think of it, we don’t hear Portland as a destination for Kevin Love, despite the fact that the Timberwolves antsy-to-leave All-Star grew up in the area:

All Portland could offer Hawes was the midlevel exception, which is what he accepted from the Clippers. In fact, according to league sources, Portland offered Hawes the same exact contract — length and terms – that the Clippers will pay out.
At the end of the day, after stops in Sacramento, Philadelphia and Cleveland, the lure of playing in an area he knows all too well being a Seattle native wasn’t enough to prevent Hawes from seeking out a team on the upswing in a major market such as Los Angeles.
The Trail Blazers quickly executed Plan B to perfection, but what’s concerning is the stigma that seems to remain that big-time free agents won’t come to Portland. And no disrespect to Hawes, but he’s nowhere close to being a “big-time” free agent. The Trail Blazers met with Channing Frye this week in Portland, we’re told. He resides in the city during the offseason. One can conclude that he was out of their price range.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Assuming Melo can’t be got, Houston would love to lure Bosh. He’d fit, first of all, and he’d be the adult among their three stars. … Here are some fallback positions for the Mavericks and the Lakers, too, along with the Rockets and the Bulls. … Derrick Rose wouldn’t have pursued a career in sales. Can’t we just leave it at that? Some people’s work personalities are best suited to quiet cubicles. … Mike Budenholzer‘s cachet as coach and the presence of former teammates Kyle Korver and now Thabo Sefolosha might steer forward Luol Deng to Atlanta . … Remember Bobby Simmons, the NBA’s Most Improved Award winner in 2005? He was honored again in June.

Morning Shootaround — June 12


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles and on the court in Game 3 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo opt-out date set; Heat have eyes for Knicks’ star | Love hoping ‘everything works out’ | Rondo impressing Celtics’ coaches | Hall of Famer Ramsay gets Finals tribute

No. 1: Report: ‘Melo opt-out deadline set; Heat might make push for Anthony The Miami Heat are in the midst of The Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and find themselves in a 2-1 series hole. As such, don’t expect Miami’s players — namely its Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — to start speculating or discussing what moves they’ll make this summer when they can all become free agents. Their lack of comments, though, hasn’t stopped a report from surfacing that the Heat may make a serious push to land free agent Carmelo Anthony this summer and team him up with the Big Three (who would have to take serious pay cuts to make this all happen).

ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein have more on the notion of a “Big Four” in Miami. Of course, before there can be any Big Four, Anthony has to officially let the Knicks know he’s opting out of his deal. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more on that move, too.

First, here’s Stein on Carmelo’s opt-out deadline date:

Carmelo Anthony has until June 23, essentially one week before the start of free agency, to notify the New York Knicks if he plans to opt in or out of the final year of his current contract, according to sources familiar with the terms of his deal.

Sources told ESPN.com that Knicks president Phil Jackson is continuing to urge Anthony to exercise next season’s $23.3 million player option and put off unrestricted free agency for one more year.

The Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are all teams Anthony would consider starting July 1, sources say, if the 30-year-old decides to become a free agent this summer.

Jackson’s pitch to Anthony — which sources say he has delivered more than once over the past month — is founded upon the notion that the Knicks will have increased financial flexibility in the summer of 2015 to bring in a marquee free agent to pair with a re-signed Anthony.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on his ESPN New York radio show Tuesday and in subsequent interviews that Anthony and James, members of the NBA’s ballyhooed 2003 draft class and longtime USA Basketball teammates, have expressed the mutual desire to play together before their careers end and will look into teaming up if both wind up on the open market in July 2015.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all have until the end of June, sources say, to notify the Heat whether they intend to opt into the final years of their respective current contracts or become free agents July 1.

And here’s Windhorst and Stein on the potential of an Anthony-Wade-James-Bosh lineup in Miami next season:

The Miami Heat’s immediate focus remains overcoming a 2-1 NBA Finals deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, but discussions have begun within the organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team’s leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.

The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.

Sources say internal conversations within the Heat organization about pursuing this course have run concurrently with Miami’s bid to win a third consecutive championship, with sources adding that James in particular is likely to try to recoup potential salary sacrificed through fresh off-court business opportunities if the Heat’s new dream scenario does come to fruition.

James’ off-court business is booming, thanks to a string of investments paying off massively and the prospect of new opportunities in endorsements and entertainment projects promising to expand his wealth significantly in coming years.

The Heat are in essence trying to emulate some of the longstanding policies employed by their current Finals opponent, as the Spurs have been able to keep Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for more than a decade — while routinely strengthening the supporting cast around them — because their three best players have been repeatedly willing to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on his ESPN New York radio show Tuesday and in subsequent interviews that Anthony and James have expressed the mutual desire to play together before their careers end and will look into teaming up if both wind up on the open market in July 2015.


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks with NBA TV about Carmelo Anthony’s future in N.Y. and more (more…)

Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …


VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …

20140509_aldridge_pop

Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.

20140509_aldridge_curl

The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).

Numbers preview: Spurs-Blazers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers and Spurs Series Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Only one Western Conference team has a winning record against the San Antonio Spurs over the last six seasons. That team is the Portland Trail Blazers (14-7), who the Spurs haven’t faced in the postseason since they won their first championship in 1999.

Through the years, the Spurs have had a hard time slowing the Portland offense down. And this season, doing that has been tougher than ever. The Blazers ranked fifth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and first in the first round.

Of course, the Spurs were the best team in the league in the regular season. They’re looking to get back to The Finals, but have another tough challenge ahead.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the first round.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Beat Dallas in 7 games.
Pace: 94.2 (5)
OffRtg: 110.2 (3)
DefRtg: 106.8 (9)
NetRtg: +3.4 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

First-round notes:

Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Beat Houston in 6 games.
Pace: 95.9 (3)
OffRtg: 111.8 (1)
DefRtg: 109.8 (13)
NetRtg: +1.9 (8)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

First-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at both locations)
Pace: 98.5
SAS OffRtg: 106.8 (10th vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 107.0 (5th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Silver acts swiftly, strongly against Sterling

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Silver on the hurt involved in the Sterling episode

NEW YORK — On Saturday morning, barely three months into his nascent tenure as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver was faced with a nightmare scenario. Approximately 72 hours later, at a tense press conference in midtown Manhattan, Silver responded as strongly as possible by announcing a lifetime ban against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

In addition to the ban, Silver announced a fine of $2.5 million, which will be donated to organizations devoted to tolerance and anti-discrimination. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said. “They have simply no place in the NBA.”

[Complete transcript of the Silver news  conference]

Sterling, the NBA’s longest-tenured owner, was found to have made racist remarks in a recording made public last weekend by TMZ.com. A statement from Sterling, through the Clippers, challenged the authenticity of the tapes and the motives of the woman purportedly responsible for the tapes being released. At the very least, though, Sterling had a history involving issues of race, including settling a 2009 housing discrimination lawsuit.

The news broke Saturday morning. The NBA promised to investigate the tapes before making any decisions, which led to the 72-hour delay between the news breaking and Silver’s announcement.

In that time between, the story became nothing short of pervasive. Everyone from Sterling’s fellow owners to current and former NBA players to President Obama denounced Sterling. Clippers players made a statement prior to Game 4 on Sunday by wearing their team-issued warm-ups inside out. Other teams, including the Heat and Trail Blazers, have worn black socks as a show of solidarity with the Clippers players and coaches.

The Sterling story has undermined and at times overshadowed one of the most exciting starts to the NBA playoffs ever. It culminated today with an extraordinary press conference where questions came from outlets as diverse as the New York Times to “Inside Edition.” The packed room was silent in the build up to the announcement, and Silver’s late arrival mostly served to allow the tension to swell.

After announcing the ban, Silver explained how he came to the decision. Upon hearing the news Saturday morning, the NBA assigned David Anders from the law firm Wachtell Lipton to investigate the allegations. Anders spoke to several of the principles involved and determined that the voice on the tape did belong to Sterling. He concluded his investigation late Monday night.

In the meantime, Silver spoke to various league personnel, including some of those unwittingly swept up in the story, such as Clippers coach Doc Rivers and point guard Chris Paul.

As David Aldridge explained earlier, there was some doubt about how strong Silver’s reaction could be, given the limitations of the NBA’s constitution and bylaws. Silver seemed resolute that the punishment meted out was fully within the NBA’s rights: “We have the authority to react as I recommended.”

When asked why Sterling’s previous incidents involving racial issues never generated any punishments from the league, Silver explained that the NBA didn’t react with a fine or suspension because there were never any official findings of guilt. “I can’t speak to past actions except to say when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted,” Silver said.

In the face of the lifetime ban, will Sterling be willing to sell the team? “I have no idea,” Silver said. He later added, “I fully expect to get the necessary support to remove [Sterling].”

“This will take some time,” Silver said, “and appropriate healing will be necessary.”

Three days in, Silver and the NBA responded in the strongest terms possible. Yet it’s worth remembering that with the possibility of legal wrangling ahead, this episode may not end anytime soon. For now, at least, Silver has had his say.

Morning Shootaround — April 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers dismiss pressure | Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ | West and George Save Pacers | Terrence Ross must step up | Vinsanity outshines ‘Monta Madness’

No. 1: Blazers dismiss pressure — The Portland Trail Blazers were minutes away from a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets before D-League call-up Troy Daniels hit a miraculous 3-pointer in overtime. The shot kept the series alive and, according to James Harden, transferred pressure to the Blazers. Not surprisingly, the Blazers disagree. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian with more:

“The pressure wasn’t on us — it’s never on us,” Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum said. “They have huge expectations. They talk about championships. We just talk about the next game.”

That comes Sunday, when the Blazers host Game 4 at 6:30 p.m., and there’s a feeling around the Blazers that the end result will be different if they merely play they way they did in Game 3, only with a tweak here and there.

The Rockets entered Friday night in desperation mode and coach Kevin McHale altered his starting lineup in hopes of resuscitating his flatlining team, replacing Terrence Jones with mammoth center Omer Asik. He made the move, primarily, to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been unstoppable in the first two games of the series.

Aldridge acknowledged the Rockets “caught” him “off guard” with their new schemes, but he pledged to be prepared for Game 4. Similarly, coach Terry Stotts downplayed Houston’s defense.

“We scored 110 in regulation, so we scored enough points,” he said. “We didn’t lose the game at the offensive end, that’s for sure.”

Stotts was more concerned about other areas, most notably the Rockets’ 22 offensive rebounds and the fact that they attempted 15 more shots than the Blazers. The prodigious rebounding no doubt led to many of those 15 extra shots and directly facilitated Houston’s 25 second-chance points. If even five of those rebounds had bounced the Blazers’ way, today’s narrative likely would be on the probability of a Blazers’ sweep rather than which team carries the most pressure.

“That’s probably our biggest concern right now,” Stotts said of Houston’s 58 offensive rebounds this series.

There are no more secrets between these teams. They’ve played seven times this season and three games have gone to overtime — including twice in the postseason. This best-of-seven grudge match has been wickedly competitive, wonderfully entertaining and wildly unpredictable. The line separating the teams is razor-thin, and likely will continue to be.

So, what about Harden’s declaration the Blazers are now facing the pressure?

It took a playoff-high 37 points — on 35 field goal attempts — from James Harden, an unlikely three from an unlikely player and a new starting lineup for a team that opened the season with championship aspirations to beat a team most didn’t expect to be in the playoffs.

Pressure? That idea elicited a few laughs Saturday from the Blazers after they went through a light workout at the practice facility in Tualatin.

“We were predicted to lose this series — I don’t think the pressure’s on us,” Wesley Matthews said, chuckling. “Actually, we weren’t even supposed to be here. We’re up 2-1, we’ve still got two games at home. We’re not taking that for granted by any means, just like we didn’t take anything for granted all season. We’re going to come out with a better urgency than we did last night, more of a toughness, more of a mental edge than we did last night.”

Added Batum: “We still control the series. We know who we are. We’re still the underdogs … people don’t expect something from us. So we’re going to go out there tomorrow, try to win this game, try to go up 3-1 before we go back to Houston.”

***

No. 2: Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ — From his days with the 50-plus-win Minnesota Timberwolves to the big-three Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett knows how a great crowd can sound. And he doesn’t sense this necessary noise and engagement level from the Brooklyn crowd after Game 3. Mike Mazzeo from ESPN New York with Garnett’s quotes:

The Barclays Center crowd was pretty good on Friday night.

But Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who played in front of some absolutely raucous playoff crowds for several years at Boston’s TD Bank Garden, expected more.

“They could do better,” Garnett said Saturday. “I was expecting Brooklyn to be real hostile, New York-style. I know what it’s like to come here as the opposition, so our crowd could do better, but they were there when we needed them, and we fed off of them.”

Added Pierce: “Well, we know gradually they got into it. Hopefully the next game, it will get a lot better from the start. We want to come out from the jump, from the beginning, and have them in the game. It shouldn’t take a big play from us. We want them behind us. It was a great crowd tonight.”

The Nets beat the Toronto Raptors in Game 3, 102-98. They got off to a slow start, and some of the crowd arrived late due to the 7 p.m. tipoff.

“I mean, I thought the crowd was pretty good,” Joe Johnson said. “We just gotta go out and make them be excited, we gotta make plays on the court. That’s it.”

The Nets finally got going late in the second quarter, when Pierce’s crossover dribble and slam dunk highlighted a 10-0 run. In the final minute, Garnett dove for a loose ball.

When he got up, Garnett was screaming and popping his white home jersey.

“I don’t really know [what I was doing]. I blacked out at that point,” Garnett said. “I have a kid at the game, setting an example, being a role model, all that goes out the door. I’m playing with heart at that point, I’m playing with passion, I’m feeding off the crowd; my friends, my family there; my teammates; J [coach Jason Kidd]. I’m just going. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going.”

Garnett was eager to see what the atmosphere was going to be like. He figured the fans didn’t appreciate it when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said, “F— Brooklyn!” prior to Game 1 of the series.

“I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn,” Garnett said earlier in the week. “So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

The crowd will have a chance to get better on Sunday night in Game 4. Brooklyn leads the series 2-1.

***


VIDEO: Pacers vs. Hawks: Game 4

No. 3: West and George save Pacers — Things were about to get dire if the Indiana Pacers lost yesterday to fall down 3-1 to the Atlanta Hawks in the series. But they rallied in the final minutes, through the play of David West and Paul George, to take a victory from Atlanta and reclaim home-court advantage. It was a critical victory which would not have been possible without West and George, writes Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:

Music played in the postgame locker room. Voices of joy rang out. There was elation, there was relief, and now the Indiana Pacers, 91-88 Game 4 winners over the Atlanta Hawks, have another chance to make things right in this series.

One minute, they were facing a 3-games-to-1 deficit that only eight NBA playoff teams have overcome. Daunting? There’s a 3.7 percent chance of winning a series from that position.

The next minute, they were making heroic plays, the kinds of plays that keep a season on the brink alive for another couple of days — or weeks or months.

When it had to happen, it was the Pacers’ leaders, their best players, who made it happen.

David West and Paul George.

With a lot of help from George Hill, who once again played great defense and scored seven huge points down the stretch.

For a few short minutes, those were the old Pacers, the First Half of the Season Pacers, grinding down an opponent underfoot. This was about shot-making and defense and rebounding and will, the kind of will we haven’t seen often enough in the latter stretches of the season.

West was plagued by early foul troubles in the first two games, but took complete ownership of this game. It was as if he made up his mind, “Enough of this nonsense. Our season’s on the line. Now follow or get out of the way.”

“(West has) the best will I’ve ever been around as a coach,” Frank Vogel said. “He has that whatever-it’s-called inside to find a way to win. Whether it’s making a 3 or a big bucket in the post or making a play with his hands defensively, he finds a way to win a game.”

It wasn’t just West’s 3-pointer. Perhaps more important, it was his late defense against the Hawks’ best player Saturday, Paul Millsap.

“We felt like they were a little too comfortable the two games they won, swinging the ball, coming off screens,” West said. “This game, I thought we were the aggressors. It’s all about making them uncomfortable. Kyle Korver is one of the greatest shooters ever, we’ve got to make him uncomfortable, make all their guys uncomfortable. If they’re walking into shots, if we don’t pressure them, they’ll make those shots.”

West, who has been around the block a time or two, understands that these kinds of opportunities don’t come along often. The postseason is not a divine right. It’s rare to earn the No. 1 seed and have home-court advantage.

“It was all or nothing, and we understood that,” he said. “We were in desperation mode.”

The other guy, George, left it all on the court, playing almost 44 minutes and filling up the stat sheet: 24 points on efficient 10-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. He also helped hold Jeff Teague to a 5-of-15 shooting day.

After talking to the media at the podium, he returned to the locker room and slumped in his chair, too beat to contemplate a shower.

There was no way Vogel was going to take George off the floor in the second half. No way. There will be plenty of time to rest in the off-season, an off-season that would have come early had the Pacers lost this game.

“He missed a couple of 3s in the second half and I thought about (resting him) but against this team, with the speed they have out there, you have to play him, at least for the defensive end,” Vogel said. “He’s guarding an elite point guard all night and doing all of the intangible things on the defensive end.”

***

No. 4: Terrence Ross must step up — One of the best features of the Toronto Raptors this season has been their swingman pairing of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Unfortunately, Ross hasn’t come to play so far in the playoffs and it’s making some consider whether he should stay in the starting lineup. Eric Koreen of The National Post reports:

Ross is a flat line. When he was introduced to the Toronto media after the Raptors drafted him in 2012, it was one of the things he said: Do not expect him to try to get the fans involved with a gesture or primal scream.

Heading into the post-season, it seemed as if Ross might benefit from that. The kid never gets nervous, so extra attention from the officials, louder crowds, a one-on-one matchup against seven-time all-star Joe Johnson would barely register with him. If anybody was going to push a little too hard and take himself out of his game, it was bound to be DeRozan.

It has not worked out that way. DeRozan has pressed at times, and is shooting just 36 percent from the floor in his team’s series against the Brooklyn Nets. DeRozan is adapting, though, and he is playing through the learning process. In contrast, Ross is lost, just another tourist in New York City. He has just 10 total points in 63 minutes of action through three games, and things have actually been worse on the other end. He has lost Johnson and Deron Williams on the perimeter and been knocked off his man by sturdy Nets screens far too easily. When he failed to contain Nets reserve Marcus Thornton in the second quarter of Game 3, Raptors coach Dwane Casey had finally seen enough, sending him to the bench. Ross played just the first five minutes in the second half on Friday, and then was done for the night.

Now, he must consider replacing Ross in the starting lineup.

“We’re still going to look at that,” Casey said. “The decision hasn’t been made but we will look at it. Right now we don’t want to do anything drastic. … It’s not panic time, but we do have to look at that position and get more productivity out of that spot.”

It might not happen, just because the options are limited. They could start Greivis Vasquez, who is already responsible for a large playmaking burden, and would put DeRozan on Johnson permanently — a situation he has struggled in so far. Casey could opt for John Salmons, who has been unpredictable on both ends since arriving in Toronto. Or he could start Landry Fields, the team’s best defender but an absolute offensive non-threat. As always, given the options, Ross represents the highest upside.

Winning this series is not Casey’s only consideration, though. All along, both Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri have emphasized that player development is still a big factor for the Raptors, despite the semi-accidental success they have achieved. That becomes much tougher to live by during the playoffs — after a grinding 82-game season, a surprise Atlantic Division title and the first three coin-flip games of this series that could have been turned by getting something, anything from Ross’s spot. Given the way he is playing, Ross is actively hurting the Raptors’ chances of winning this series.

Certainly, that is not ideal. That does not mean Casey should change it, though. Casey acknowledged that it is far tougher to stick with young players when they struggle in the post-season than it is during the regular season.

“But a big part of the reason we’re here is because of their play,” Casey said. “I’m not blind to the fact that they are our future and the only way they’re going to learn is to go through it. The amount of time might be a little shorter, but they’ve got to get out there.

“Both [Ross and Jonas Valanciunas] are soaking up big minutes. If they weren’t young guys, if that wasn’t our future, our direction, they probably wouldn’t be in there with some of the mistakes they’re making. But, they’re our guys.”

Now, it is on Ross to wake up.

***


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Vince Carter

No. 5: ‘Vinsanity’ outshines ‘Monta Madness’ — Vince Carter‘s corner 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday afternoon gave the Mavericks a 109-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, a 2-1 series lead, and took the spotlight away from Monta Ellis‘ incredible game. Ellis, the same player who helped knock-out the one-seeded Mavericks in 2007, is thriving in the Dallas and his ability to penetrate has been nearly impossible for the Spurs to stop. Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News with more on Ellis:

 Even on a mostly balanced afternoon, one in which Coach Rick Carlisle had all hands on deck in a 109-108 Game Three upset of the Spurs, one player had to rise up to make Vince Carter’s game-winner possible.

That man was Monta Ellis, and it’s not surprising at all when you think about it. He’s the only Maverick who has been here before.

Eighth seeds enjoy success over No. 1 seeds on an infrequent basis in the NBA. It has happened five times in 20 years. But Ellis was on the other side of the Mavericks’ most frustrating playoff start — a first-round loss to Golden State in 2007 after Dallas had won 67 regular season games — and so he’s feeling right at home.

“That series was similar because that Dallas team was a great team, too,” Ellis said. “For Golden State, it was just our time. Now we’re trying to make this our time, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not going to get big-headed because we’ve won two games.”

Carter’s deep corner jumper drove the place crazy, but it was Ellis who led all scorers with 29 points, driving inexorably and sometimes recklessly to the basket, forever on the attack.

“We need to ride a hot hand whenever we can find it,” Carlisle said. “Ellis down the stretch was great. The ‘and-one’ was big.’ ”

Ellis’ ability to deliver in the clutch and his willingness to do it in selfless fashion are making all things possible.

Keep in mind he was a 21-year-old backup guard on that Warriors team. He never would have guessed that seven years later Golden State’s upset of Dallas would be his only taste of playoff success.

“I’m just going out and playing basketball like I have all season,” Ellis said. “The points may look like it was me, but it was a total team effort. We’re playing as a team. We’re winning.”

Ellis insisted that nothing about his post-season play is designed to suggest he was overlooked around the league when Dallas signed him for three years and $25 million — far below what most 20-points-per-game scorers command.

“I don’t make anything personal,” he said. “I’m just on a better team. I don’t have to go out and get 65 percent of the team’s points or anything.”

While Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki struggled from the floor in a Game One defeat — each went 4-for-14 for 11 points — the Mavericks’ shooting guard has picked up the pace by averaging 25 points in the two Dallas wins.

Nowitzki has not yet had his first 20-point playoff game — he averaged 25.9 in the post-season before this series — and while he shot a higher percentage Saturday, he has had trouble freeing himself from the attention he’s getting from Tiago Splitter and the occasional double teams.

But Ellis is being Ellis. He’s willing to attempt some of the more improbable hanging drives to the bucket you’re likely to see. They don’t all connect, but he was 12-for-22 from the field Saturday including 3-for-7 from three-point land. The Mavericks will take that from last season’s free-agent bargain every time.

As three-time champion Tony Parker said afterwards, “I thought we did pretty good (against the point guards), it was more Ellis that was hurting us today.”

And then, having led the way for 47 minutes and 58 seconds, Ellis stepped into the shadows and ceded the spotlight to Carter.

Eight-seed madness ensued.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sacramento Kings will draft the best player available. … Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr may meet this weekend to discuss the Knicks’ coaching vacancy. … The NBA continues to investigate the alleged Donald Sterling recording. … Former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley died Saturday at age 77.

ICYMI: NBA TV’s Inside Stuff ventured to Toronto to find out why Amir Johnson is so important to the Raptors …


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Amir Johnson

Blogtable: Flukes and real wins

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


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: TNT’s Marty Snider looks ahead to the Blazers-Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday in Houston

> Playoff-opening win that’s more likely a harbinger: the Warriors in L.A. or the Blazers in Houston? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look at Mr. Blogtable, dropping words like “harbinger.” OK, I’ll play along: You mean precursor, foreboder and bellwether of what we can expect as each series plays out? Forced to choose, I’ll go with Portland. The Clippers already have fired back against Golden State, in a big way. Their talent level is superior, when accounting for both ends, and L.A. has been seen as a legit contender to reach The Finals. Few have argued that Houston can go that far. The Rockets’ gap vs. the Blazers is narrow and LaMarcus Aldridge might just prove he’s better than both Blake Griffin and Kevin Love among elite power forwards by the time these playoffs end. I still don’t think either the Warriors or the Blazers will advance, but as far as putting the bigger scare into its foe and possibly pulling off the upset, yeah, gimme Portland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWarriors winning. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 46 points, James Harden missed 20 shots and the Blazers still won by just two points in overtime. That will be tough to repeat three more times. Golden State goes home for next two and Steph Curry hasn’t heated up yet.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Blazers in Houston, no question. The Warriors without Andrew Bogut should not be an even match against the Clippers and I think we saw that in Game 2 with Blake Griffin being allowed to actually play. The Clips are by no means perfect, but this is a team that is getting better the longer they play together. As for Houston, losing that late lead is the same kind of stuff they pulled early in the regular season so that’s a bad sign. Portland has more weapons. Damian Lillard can hang with James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a far more offensively skilled player than Dwight Howard. Now, this should be a great series, and a long one, but I like the Blazers’ chances. They secured the all-important road split and nobody likes to play at their place no longer named the Rose Garden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Now you’re forcing a lot of people to look up the definition of harbinger. Anyway, the Blazers in Houston. I don’t think the short-handed Warriors are capable of winning the series, though they probably don’t hate the skepticism. But Portland went in with a real shot against the Rockets. Game 1 was just the affirmation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: This is unfair, because we’ve already seen Part 2 of one of these movies. But Portland’s Game 1 win in Houston could certainly foreshadow the rest of the series, because LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will continue to be tough matchups for the Rockets, especially if Patrick Beverley isn’t 100 percent. If they choose to double-team Aldridge, Portland’s shooters will get better looks. If they choose to use Omer Asik more, their own offense will suffer. James Harden will play better, but Houston’s defense might not.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with the Blazers in Houston. The 4-5 matchup on both sides of the conference divide in a given year always seem to provide a pretty fair fight. But this one has some serious issues for the Rockets to deal with in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. After fighting the good fight for Dwight Howard the past couple of years, I’m starting to agree with the masses (well, the talking heads at TNT and NBA TV) that he’s no longer the force of nature he was earlier in his career. And if he’s not, that means the Rockets don’t have two stars that can match the Blazers’ two stars.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I feel like the Blazers in Houston was the truer picture of what that series could be. Mainly because the Blazers/Rockets Game 1 was both teams at the fullest of their powers. We were one extra-session Harden jumper from this game going into infinite overtimes. But to me that opening Clippers/Warriors game was one of the worst games I’ve seen Los Angeles play in the last few weeks. Blake Griffin was in foul trouble throughout (he finished with 16 points in 19 minutes) and how often do you see Chris Paul with a 4:3 assist-to-turnover ratio? Even with all that, the Clips still were in the game down the stretch and nearly pulled off the win.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew examines Golden State’s problems in Game 2

Aldridge’s passion grows Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Blazers knock off Rockets in OT of Game 1

HOUSTON — They’ve all seen him do some of those things before.

LaMarcus Aldridge can take the ball on the left side of the basket in the low block and spin like the winds inside a hurricane as he blows into the lane.

Standing 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he can also use his size and sheer strength to back a defender down and move relentlessly toward the basket.

Then there are those ridiculous turnaround, fadeaway jumpers that practically scrape the ceiling when the big man lets them fly.

Those are all part of the splendidly versatile package of tricks that all of his Trail Blazer teammates have seen time and again.

What was new was the fire. That flame that seemed to lick at his heels from the opening tip. That hot smoke that seemed to pour out of his nostrils on every possession, every shot, every play at either end of the court.

It was more than just a franchise playoff record of 46 points and 18 rebounds that burned the Rockets 122-120 in overtime on Sunday night. It was that match-in-a-dry-meadow spark by Aldridge that said this something entirely different.

“As far as the passion, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” said point guard Damian Lillard. “With how animated he was with the calls. Guys couldn’t stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When your best player and your leader is playing like that, it fires you up.”


VIDEO: Aldridge discusses Portland’s Game 1 victory

If there is a time somewhere down the line where the Blazers raising a trophy over their heads, this might go down as the game that lit the fuse.

In eight NBA seasons, Aldridge has always taken shots. This was the night when he took responsibility. For himself. For his team. For showing them that he could show them how.

Brandon Roy’s veteran leadership of his early career is gone now. The hope and promise of Greg Oden as the No. 1 draft pick and cornerstone has vanished.

Now it’s his team and here was the occasion when Aldridge recognized that fact and acted on it. They have cutting edge talent in Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews. What they’ve needed is for Aldridge to bring the hammer.

He was not just hot and good an making shots. He was wickedly tuned in to everything that was happening — stomping his feet at made baskets, barking at calls — and did all that he could to affect every outcome.

“Every guy on this team comes to me and talks to me and they believe in me and tell me that I can dominate a game,” Aldridge said. “I’m always hearing that from my teammates. I’m always hearing those positive affirmations from them. I think I finally understand it.

“I made the playoffs three years in a row and you kind of get comfortable. Then I missed it two years in a row, so just being back here I am very excited about it and I am looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the past. I try to tell every guy that the playoffs is like another level, another season, and tonight I wanted to lead in that way.”

He did it when he helped get the Blazers off to an early start and he did it when he wouldn’t let them get down on themselves when they fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.

Aldridge even did it when he eventually fouled out of the game with 1:06 left in the overtime period with the score tied.

“I went to Damian and said ‘take it over,’ “ Aldridge said. “He’s a very confident guy. He’s very skilled. So he took over and he made big plays at the end.”

Not before Aldridge made the big plays all night long. Before the game, he saw Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who now does TV color commentary for the Rockets, but spent 11 1/2 seasons in Portland as the best Blazer of all-time.

“When I walked by him I said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ ”Aldridge said. “I meant in every stat possible. He said I still have some work to do, but he said I can do it. I always joke about trying to break all his records.”

No jokes here.

This was LaMarcus Aldridge as even his teammates hadn’t seen him before. Passionate, driven, showing the way.


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge sets a Blazers playoff scoring record in Game 1

Morning Shootaround — April 20



VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ | Clips falter late | Pierce embraces villain role | Nowitzki savors playoff berth | Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity

No. 1: Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ — The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggle on Saturday night as they lost Game 1, and their home-court advantage, to the Atlanta Hawks 101-93. The demise of the Pacers can be directly linked to their diminished defense, which used to be the heart of their squad. The anchor of this defense, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, said after yesterday’s loss that he’s the “main culprit” for the team’s defensive failures. Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star has more from Hibbert:

Roy Hibbert was the player — more than any other on this roster — that Pacers coach Frank Vogel rooted his team’s smash-mouth identity around when he took command four seasons ago, dispatching a run-and-gun offense in favor of the inside-out game in which Hibbert could thrive. The Pacers would rule the paint, and Hibbert’s 7-2 frame would serve as their backbone.

It worked wonders for 3 1/2 seasons, and Hibbert’s ascent mirrored that of the team’s. While the Pacers became a championship contender, their All-Star center rose to a runaway pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

That, of course, feels like ages ago. Now, Hibbert is mired in his worst slump in years, one that’s pulled the Pacers into a 1-0 hole to an Atlanta Hawks squad quick to capitalize on the ever-disappearing big man Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Yes, the “What’s up with Roy Hibbert debate?” rages on.

The player Pacers fans grew to know over the past few seasons was, again, noticeably absent.

“I’m gonna keep working at it,” Hibbert said dourly after the game, his head down, his words sparse. “I’m gonna come in and keep doing what I do in practice, work on my hook and get in position down low. Hopefully when I’m called upon I can do it consistently.”

Do it consistently is everything he hasn’t done over the past two months. And he’s been even worse in the past two weeks: Since being benched versus Atlanta on April6, Hibbert has gone 7-of-37 (18.9percent) from the field for all of 17 points in five games.

Not the sort of play you want from a player raking in $14.2million this season.

“We’re an inside-out team,” Lance Stephenson said. “When Roy’s going, we’re great. We got to get everybody in the post going.”

“We just have to get certain guys under control as a team,” Hibbert said. “I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust.”

Indiana, meanwhile, was never able to garner consistent offensive production from Hibbert or David West, the tandem the Pacers can typically rely on to do the dirty work down low. What was supposed to be a significant Indiana advantage turned out, for one night at least, to be a draw.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint and the post,” said [David] West, who finished with eight points and battled foul trouble most of the night.

Hibbert’s offensive performance was all the more bizarre. After sinking a hook shot in the lane 43 seconds into the contest, Hibbert was nonexistent on that end of the floor for nearly three quarters.

***


VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1

No. 2: Clips falter late — The Los Angeles Clippers led the Golden State Warriors 103-102 with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. But they struggled in the closing minutes with turnovers by Darren Collison and Chris Paul proving to be too much to overcome as the Warriors won 109-105 to steal home-court advantage in the series. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more on the Clippers late-game struggle:

The moment was right in front of the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, there to be seized by two teams that have much disdain for each other.

When the time came to grab hold of that moment, when Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series hung in the balance, the Clippers failed.

“I don’t want to say it was the pressure of the playoffs. It was just the way the game went,” said J.J. Redick, who had 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, four for five from three-point range. “. . . We want to beat these guys. They want to beat us. And sometimes that leads to mental errors.”

On Saturday it also led to Blake Griffin playing only 19 minutes 14 seconds because of foul trouble.

Griffin eventually fouled out with 48.3 seconds left, less a minute after he’d tied the score at 105-105 on two free throws with 1:31 left.

He tried to give the Clippers the lead, but missed a layup and a follow tip-in try. Then Griffin fouled David Lee while trying to get another offensive rebound, his sixth, sending him to the bench with 16 points and three rebounds.

The Clippers didn’t score again.

“I kept putting myself in a hole and a bad situation fouling,” Griffin said. “I can’t say whether that affected other guys or not. It affected our team, obviously. Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job.”

With or without Griffin, the Clippers botched opportunity after opportunity.

Chris Paul finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But he had six turnovers, and missed two key free throws late in the game.

“I’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Paul said.

“We made too many mistakes to win the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you do that, you lose the game.”

The Clippers now have lost Game 1 of a playoff series six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

They lost the series each of previous five times that has happened.

“I told them going in, you would love to win all your home games,” Rivers said. “But if you don’t, you don’t. And you’ve got to win one on the road, maybe two on the road, to win the series. I’ve said that to them all year. You have to be prepared for all that. We have to win a game on the road now.”

***


VIDEO: Postgame: Pierce and Williams

No. 3: Pierce embraces villain role — The Toronto Sun mocked the age of the Brooklyn Nets on the cover of their Saturday newspaper, saying Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are older than dinosaurs. This jab proved meaningless as Pierce led the Nets to a 94-87 victory over the Raptors, taking home-court away from their division rival. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News has more on Pierce’s willingness to play the role of villain:

Paul Pierce enjoys being the villain. He wears that hat well in opposing arenas, like a badge of dishonor.

So as he was leaving Air Canada Centre — after one of those clutch performances that justified GM Billy King making the trade last July — he motioned to the crowd to keep the boos flowing, taunting angry fans by throwing his headband into the seats, only to have it hurled back in his direction.

By the third time, though, the headband didn’t return.

“Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir.

This is why the Nets acquired Pierce — for clutch final moments in crazy, pivotal games, and for the attitude it requires to come out on top.

Dubbed a “Dinosaur” on the front page of the local Toronto paper because of his age, the 36-year-old Pierce buried the Raptors in Game 1 of the opening round, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of a wild 94-87 victory that started with a profane insult from Toronto’s GM and ended with a broken shot clock.

“Truth-asaurus Rex 1, Raptors 0,” Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game.

“(I’ve seen Pierce do that) countless times, man,” Garnett said. “I knew when he hit that three, I knew he was in a rhythm. And then the ball just found him and he was just classic ‘Truth.’ Epic.”

The 37-year-old Garnett was also called a “Dinosaur” on the Toronto Sun cover but had no hard feelings.

“It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball.”

.***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Spurs

No. 4: Nowitzki savors playoff berth — The Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game since they defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals to win their only NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki. After missing the playoffs last season, the 35-year-old Nowitzki realizes the importance of this playoff run as another one is not always guaranteed. The Associated Press reports on how Nowitzki plans to carry the load for the Mavericks in their opening round series against the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs:

The 7-foot Nowitzki — relatively new father and old hand in the postseason after missing it last year for the first time since 2000 — is just happy to be back in what he calls the big dance, a phrase he stole himself.

“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio against the Spurs, the defending Western Conference champions, who finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”

Nowitzki, 35, started his 16th season not really knowing where his likely Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off his first knee operation, a setback that had a lot to do with the end of Dallas’s 12-year playoff streak.

He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native Germany longer than usual during the off-season.

Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.

Sure enough, his scoring average rose for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked much as they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.

“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load, not only in scoring, but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”

The Mavericks’ president for basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, openly wondered whether Nowitzki had to do anything else for Dallas, then remembered whom he was talking about.

“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the [Roger] Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”

In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas’s football-leaning sports history. And Nowitzki’s contract will end when his 13th trip to the playoffs does, so the team’s owner, Mark Cuban, has to decide how much life is left in those legs.

One thing seems certain: Nowitzki will not play anywhere else.

“There’s a lot of guys who’ve been able to score,” Cuban said. “But it’s that mental toughness, competitive aspect, the type of person he is and the example that he sets, not just for basketball fans in North Texas and around the world, but for every future Maverick that walks into the clubhouse.”

Nowitzki has a new scoring sidekick in Monta Ellis. His 14th straight season of leading the Mavericks in scoring could be his last. Carlisle will always be trying to limit his minutes, and there’s no telling when the production will drop.

But it’s not very likely to be during the next couple of weeks, even if the Mavericks are swept in the first round.

“If I didn’t like to compete still, I might as well go home,” Nowitzki said. “That’s why I’m still playing, because I love to be out there trying to help my team win games.”

Nowitzki will certainly have a sense of familiarity in the playoff opener. It will be the sixth time he has seen Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has been there for all of them.

“He’s been everything,” Popovich said of Nowitzki. “He’s needed to rebound more, and he did. He’s had a myriad of shots that every year we see new things whether it’s his fadeaway or his drives or his spins, pump fakes.

“He worked himself into a position offensively where he’s impossible to guard. But he’s still pretty much the same thing.”

Even though nobody was sure where Nowitzki was headed when the season started.

***


VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Rockets

No. 5: Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity — Wesley Matthews path to the NBA, and the playoffs, has not been an easy one. But despite the struggle and doubters, Matthews has prevailed to become the starting shooting guard for the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Bruce Ely of The Oregonian reports on the Matthews’ story:

Wesley Matthews this week scanned a pack of reporters in Portland and named them, one by one.

“Wrote me off,” the Trail Blazers guard says. “Wrote me off … Wrote me off … wrote me off before I even got here.”

At various times, they said he was just a shooter. Not good enough to start. Overpaid.

“I know what’s out there. Shoot, Jesus had haters,” Matthews says. “I know I’m going to have doubters if Jesus can’t be loved all the way.”

To him, the perceived slights are like food, nourishing his hunger to be better, to prove he belongs, and on Sunday, there figures to be a feast before him when the Blazers open their best-of-seven playoff series in Houston.

The pregame buildup of doubts and slights might as well be a replay of his life. The “abandonment,” as he calls it, by his father. The conspiracy he and his mother swear existed to strip him of Wisconsin’s top high school basketball honor because he chose Marquette over Wisconsin. And that unnerving Christmas Eve phone call to his half-sister that was picked up by a sobbing aunt, who said 20-year old Tesa had died in her sleep.

Each time, Matthews has triumphed. He and his father are now “solid” and either talk or text daily. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball honor by having a historic state tournament performance. And he discovered Tesa had a newborn, and he has since developed a relationship with his niece.

“You are never going to be able to write me off. No matter how bad you may want to, no matter how much you think it will be better for me to be somewhere else, or doing something else, you are never going to write me off,” Matthews says. “Because here’s the thing about me:

“I’m going to find a way.”

He set career highs by averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and making 201 three-pointers, the second most in franchise history, and he did it with a steely stare and an I-told-you-so defiance. His persona is best captured in his Twitter staple, a message followed by the hashtag “worstbehavior.” Sometimes, he just tweets #worstbehavior.

“It’s almost like a no-mercy type thing,’’ Matthews explains. “Relentless. Going to give you everything I have, every single time. Love it or hate it, I’m giving you everything I got.’’

His mindset comes from years of practice, and years of mentoring from his mother, Pam Moore, who at Wisconsin became one of the most decorated track athletes in Big Ten history. She was a mix between a drill sergeant and principal, hounding Wesley about his practice habits and schoolwork.

There were simple rules: No C’s on report cards, no slacking in practice (she would watch from the stands in basketball and the car in soccer), and absolutely no losing. Period.

“My mom,’’ Matthews says flatly, “is tough as hell. And her mom is tough as hell.’’

Moore summed it up this way:

“We didn’t allow quit, we didn’t allow defeat,’’ Moore says. “It wasn’t acceptable. No one should beat you, and if they did, you would have to deal with me. I would be the one who determines if a kid is physically stronger or faster than you.’’

Moore says she was the mom in the stands coaching and yelling.

“Everybody knew my mouth,’’ Moore says with a chuckle.

And even today, in Madison, the competitive itch hasn’t left her. On the road, she says she can’t stand to follow, which has led to “my share” of speeding tickets.

“I don’t like driving behind people. I need to be ahead of people,’’ she says. “I still have a problem with that. I’m just a competitor.’’

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Matthews often asks to defend the toughest player, from Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry. And perhaps it’s no surprise he itches for the chance to have his number called for a chance at a last-second shot. He has been trained to win, and the only way you win is by going hard.

“My foot is rarely off the gas, and if it is, it’s always hovering over it,’’ Matthews says.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blake Griffin accidentally (?) dosed a Warriors’ fan with water after he fouled out. … Durant’s arms are long. … Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert … twice. … Robert Covington was named D-League Rookie of the Year after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. … The new buyers of the Milwaukee Bucks gave a lengthy interview in which they state their hope to follow the Spurs/Thunder model and have construction for a new arena begin within 12 months.

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Paul Pierce’s jumper with 51.5 seconds left against the Raptors silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd and secured the Nets’ victory. Pierce was mic’d up during the play, and had some interesting things to say after his clutch shot. 


VIDEO: Mic’d Up: Paul Pierce