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Posts Tagged ‘Portland Trail Blazers’

From bad to worse, Clippers lose Griffin and Paul

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The news went from sad to sinister for the Los Angeles Clippers this afternoon when they learned that they will have to finish their first round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers without both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Paul is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his right hand in the Clippers’ Game 4 loss Monday night. He had surgery Monday morning in Los Angeles. Griffin aggravated the left quad injury that cost him 41 games during the regular season and is done for the remainder of the playoffs, however long that lasts for Doc Rivers and his bunch.

The Clippers and Trail Blazers are tied at 2-2 with Game 5 Wednesday in Los Angeles. The momentum certainly is not on the Clippers’ side right now. They’ve dropped two straight games and now will face Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and a confident Trail Blazers team without their two best players.

Griffin was working his way back into game shape, having played just five games before the playoffs started after coming back from his injury and suspension for an altercation with a team equipment staffer earlier in the season. Paul’s injury, however, sideswiped the Clippers and changes the complexion of this current series and the Western Conference playoff picture. 

The winner of this series will face the winner of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series in the conference semifinals. The Warriors, who will play the next two weeks without their best player and reigning MVP Stephen Curry (knee sprain), lead that series 3-1 and can close out the Rockets Wednesday at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors will have to work for at least the first four games of the conference semifinals without Curry, an opening any opponent would look forward to when facing the reigning champs.

But the Clippers have to scrap any plans they might have had for the future and concentrate on just trying to survive the Trail Blazers, without their two best players.

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

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Numbers preview: Clippers-Trail Blazers


VIDEO: Clippers vs. Trail Blazers: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — If you like great playmaking from points and great shooting on the wing, Clippers-Blazers is the series for you.

Chris Paul vs. Damian Lillard is the best individual matchup in the first round. And J.J. Redick vs. C.J. McCollum is a pretty good sideshow. It will take a five-man defense to slow down these two top-10 offenses and L.A. has playmaking on its frontline, but the focus will be on the guards and any one of the four can catch fire at any time.

These two teams had polar opposite expectations before the season started. Some believed that the addition of some veteran role players would make the Clippers stronger title contenders, while nobody outside Portland thought the Blazers would even make the playoffs after saying goodbye to four starters. But they’ve met in the middle, in what should be one of the more entertaining series in the entire postseason.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the West, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Los Angeles Clippers (53-29)

Pace: 98.0 (17)
OffRtg: 106.5 (6)
DefRtg: 100.9 (6)
NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

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

20160414_lac_shooting

Clippers notes:

  • Only team other than Golden State and San Antonio to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Also, one of two teams (the Spurs are the other) to rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency each of the last five seasons.
  • Shot 58.2 percent in the paint, the highest mark in the league. But they took only 39.3 percent of their total shots from the paint, the lowest rate in the league.
  • Were the best team in the first six minutes of the first quarter, outscoring their opponents by 14.4 points per 100 possessions.
  • Starting lineup – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan – outscored opponents by 19.4 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
  • Scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions (a number which would rank second in the league) with Paul on the floor and just 98.1 (a number which would rank 29th) with him on the bench.
  • Scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions in 35 games with Griffin and 108.0 in 47 games without him.
  • Redick shot 48 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the best mark among 118 players who attempted at least 150.
  • Both Paul and Griffin had a higher effective field goal percentage in losses than they did in wins.

Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)

Pace: 98.3 (12)
OffRtg: 106.1 (7)
DefRtg: 105.6 (20)
NetRtg: +0.6 (13)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_por_shooting

Blazers notes:

The matchup

Season series: Clippers won, 3-1 (2-0 in L.A.).
Nov. 20 – Blazers 102, Clippers 91
Nov. 30 – Clippers 102, Blazers 87
Jan. 6 – Clippers 109, Blazers 98
Mar. 24 – Clippers 96, Blazers 94

Pace: 98.5
LAC OffRtg: 102.2 (20th vs. POR)
POR OffRtg: 95.6 (22nd vs. LAC)

Matchup notes:

Analytics Art: Stars who most improved their 3-point shot


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard powers the Spurs to a record-setting win

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

There’s no denying the robust correlation between a team’s efficiency from 3-point range and their overall success. If the Golden State Warriors’ meteoric rise over the past two seasons wasn’t enough to showcase the significance of that relationship to you, take a look at the PointAfter visualization below. The second tab, plotting every team’s 3-point percentage against their win total, is especially striking.

Premier marksmanship can make up for weakness in other areas. When a star player significantly improves his shooting touch, it adds an entirely new dimension to his team’s offense.

The following five players all increased their 3-point efficiency by at least five percent in 2015-16 while launching at least three 3-pointers each game. It’s no coincidence that four of these players are playoff-bound, too.

5. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.3 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 40 percent

Percent Difference: 5.7 percent

The Hawks have a good problem in that they possess two starting-caliber point guards in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The latter might hold more potential as an explosive force off the dribble, but Teague turned his once iffy jumper into a stark advantage over his promising backup this year.
The 27-year-old reached the 40-percent mark for the first time in his career, boosting his scoring rate to a personal-best 19.8 points per 36 minutes. Teague rarely escapes to the corner in Atlanta’s offense, so his improvement on 3-pointers above the break (39 percent) was essential to reaching those landmarks.

Note: You can see Teague’s shooting percentage in PointAfter’s seven zones by hovering over the above shot chart.

4. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 30.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 37.1 percent

Percent Difference: 6.7 percent

For a large portion of Kemba Walker’s tenure in Charlotte, a lack of spacing limited the progression of the team’s offense. The Hornets rarely boasted several above-average shooters who could usher their scheme into the modern style of the NBA.

Thanks to the rapid improvement of Walker’s jump shot (and some savvy acquisitions by GM Rich Cho), Charlotte is home to one of the league’s top-ten offenses by offensive rating. After ranking last in 3-point percentage last season, the Hornets jumped all the way to eighth behind 3-point percentage champ Troy Daniels (48.4 percent), veteran Marvin Williams (40.2 percent) and their star guard Walker.

Walker more than doubled his raw 3-point total from a season ago while exceeding the league average for efficiency for the first time.

3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.1 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 34.5 percent

Percent Difference: 7.4 percent

Will Barton’s first full season in Denver following a midseason move from Portland in 2014-15 signaled his first with an established role, and he seized the opportunity.

A contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player, Barton took his game to another level in 2015-16 by becoming a bona fide 3-point threat.

The 6-foot-6, 175-pound wing has always been regarded as a good ball-handler for his size. His maturation as a shooter signaled that he can be a weapon without the ball in his hands, too. In today’s NBA, that’s a major plus.

2. Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 36.1 percent

Percent Difference: 8.7 percent

Okay, maybe Aminu isn’t a “star.” But the versatile defender played like one at times for the Trail Blazers, starting all 82 games and enjoying the best offensive season of his career.

His first double-digit scoring season (10.2 points per game) can be tied directly to his marked uptick in 3-point percentage.

With his newfound stroke in his arsenal, Aminu was granted the green light far more often than during his previous three stints with the Clippers, Pelicans and Mavericks. A whopping 49 percent of Aminu’s shots were 3-pointers, up 10 percent from 2013-14 and 35 percent from last season.

As a result, Aminu now has the ability to carry Portland’s offense once in a while. In Portland’s March 31 game against Boston, with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum enduring off nights, Aminu poured in a career-high 28 points on 6-of-11 3-point shooting to guide the Blazers to a 116-109 victory.
If Aminu plays like that during the playoffs, his national profile will surely rise anew.

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.9 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 44.3 percent

Percent Difference: 9.4 percent

It is true Kawhi Leonard‘s shooting cooled off a bit as the season went on. But there was really nowhere for Leonard to go but down after bursting out of the gates on a stunning four-month hot streak.

Leonard converted at least 47 percent of his 3-pointers from November to February. No other player recorded more than two full months with a 3-point percentage over 47 percent (minimum 20 attempts).

Even with the dip in efficiency as the season turned to spring, Leonard’s overall improvement from 3-point range was staggering. After never eclipsing 38 percent in his previous four seasons, Leonard sustained a truly remarkable long-range run and finished fourth in the NBA with a 44.3 percent clip on treys.
That’s one spot below Curry, whose exploits largely overshadowed Leonard and the Spurs during the regular season. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see those two face off when the stakes are raised in the playoffs.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Analytics Art: Lillard, Bryant, Horford among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Relive the Damian Lillard-Stephen Curry duel

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

For those who haven’t been following along, Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour with the Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been going well.

Sure, there’s the elaborate parting gifts and raucous chants from adoring fans, but with their 62nd loss of the season on April 6, the Lakers have now posted the worst record in franchise history (overtaking last season’s 61-loss campaign).

Bryant’s bottom-feeding shooting percentages haven’t helped the cause. Now, instead of riding off into the sunset, the Black Mamba is hobbling to the finish line with the gusto of an injured gazelle. Bryant made PointAfter’s list of the coldest shooters of the week, joining two guys on teams bound for the playoffs.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from April 1-7.

Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard has been on a tear since being snubbed from the All-Star Game. He’s scored at least 30 points in a game 10 times post-All-Star, reaching the 50-point plateau twice during that span as well.

But while Lillard has poured in the points and guided Portland to a playoff berth, he didn’t have a great week to start the month of April.

Interestingly, Lillard’s best performance this week — 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting against the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors — came in a loss. In Portland’s three other games (all wins), the point guard out of Weber State combined to shoot a ghastly 28.3 percent.

It’s worth noting that the Trail Blazers have managed to win games in spite of their leading scorer’s struggles. However, head coach Terry Stotts will only be able to work so much magic in the playoffs without his best player scoring like he’s capable.

Wing: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

There’s a whole lot of red on Bryant’s shot chart over the last seven days. And make no mistake, Bryant is giving the fans what they want to see: his trademarks jump shots. Unfortunately, the volume scorer who never made at least 47 percent of his field goals in a season throughout his career has been shooting blanks at age 37.

From difficult fadeaways to long three-pointers, Bryant is putting it all on display. But in bittersweet fashion, a once majestic show has reached its frustratingly inept final season.

He did amass 34 points in his final game against the Boston Celtics on April 3, but it took the five-time champ 28 shot attempts to get there (39.3 percent shooting). Add in 2-of-12 and 6-of-19 shooting performances from there, and it’s impossible to omit Bryant from this week’s shortlist of worst shooters. That’s not exactly an ideal parting gift.

Forward/Center: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

In his three games April games thus far, Al Horford converted just 36.4 percent of his shot attempts. For a guy who’s made more than 50 percent of his shots on the season, that’s wildly out of character for the big man. His infatuation with the outside shot this month didn’t help.

In a 108-110 April 1 loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the former No. 3 overall draft pick went 0-of-6 from beyond the arc. That lowlighted a 5-of-17 shooting performance for Horford that doomed Atlanta against the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

He went just 7-of-18 against the Phoenix Suns four days later, then hit 4-of-9 shots versus the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.

Usually a reliable efficient offensive center, the former Florida Gator was anything but this week.

This article was originally published on PointAfter (http://basketball-players.pointafter.com/stories/12374/kobe-bryant-worst-shooters-week-damian-lillard-al-horford), a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter (http://www.pointafter.com), a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network (http://www.graphiq.com). Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players (http://basketball-players.pointafter.com)NBA Historical Teams (http://nba-historical-teams.pointafter.com) and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs (yawn) set more marks | Running with Bulls proves hazardous | Pacers need to snap out of it | Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns

No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:

The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.

The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.

None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.

“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”

With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.

Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.

“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”

Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.

It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.

Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.

Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.

If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

***

 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

***

No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

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No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

20160318_west_sos

Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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