Posts Tagged ‘Portland Trail Blazers’

Morning Shootaround — April 19


VIDEO: Recap Saturday’s four playoff games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors strong from start | Rose returns | Raptors lose game, homecourt | Rockets blast off

No. 1: Warriors strong from start They were the best team in the NBA all season long, and the Golden State Warriors came out Saturday in their first playoff game and delivered a warning to anyone who may have doubted that their regular season strength would translate to postseason success. And when facing arguable the NBA’s best backcourt, it probably doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ long-term chances that their own backcourt is banged up, writes Scott Howard-Cooper …

It’s not a body blow like losing Davis, the superstar, but a thinning depth chart is a huge deal, because New Orleans was facing an uphill battle against the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Hurting in the backcourt while facing the Warriors inevitably leads to a damage report not covered by most insurance policies. Neither went crazy in Game 1 and Curry, the MVP favorite, still had 34 points despite missing nine of 13 from behind the arc and Thompson still had 21 points while missing 11 of 17 field goals. It could, and will, got a lot worse for the Pelicans trying to contain the Golden State backcourt.

Now imagine New Orleans confronting the danger with Jrue Holiday limited to 21 minutes, after playing 25, 15 and 16 minutes the previous three games, and Tyreke Evans probably ailing Monday if he is able to play at all.

“I’m not sure about Tyreke just yet,” coach Monty Williams said. “He tried to come back. They’re going to get him an MRI (Saturday) evening and see where he is. But as far as being painted in the corner, we’ve dealt with this all year long with our team. So it’s not a big deal for us. Obviously we’d like to have Jrue and Tyreke healthy, but Norris (Cole) did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half. We’ll see where (Evans) is (Sunday) and we’ll make our adjustments from there.”

There is that — the Pelicans dealt with injury problems much of the season, with Davis sidelined four times in February alone and Holiday missing half of 2014-15 and Ryan Anderson missing 18 consecutive games just after the All-Star break because of a sprained right knee. And they survived. All those problems and they still clawed their way into the playoffs.

That was the same resiliency on display Saturday, when Golden State built a double-digit lead with the game barely eight minutes old, was up 18 at halftime, and ahead by 25 with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans was done. Except then New Orleans wasn’t, thanks to a 31-18 charge through most of the final period that closed the deficit to 102-97 with 20 seconds left as Davis piled up 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth. The comeback ended there.

Now all the Pelicans need is to play like that for more than 11 or 12 minutes, while possibly playing short-handed.

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No. 2: Rose returns The Chicago Bulls have learned how to survive and advance the last few years even while missing key members of their team — the injury bug has unfortunately been a constant companion for Chicago. So it was a nice change of pace Saturday when the Bulls got a strong performance from Derrick Rose, their point guard who has battled back from so many injury outages the last few seasons. As Steve Aschburner writes, Rose may have gotten knocked down, but he got up again and helped the Bulls get a Game 1 win over Milwaukee …

When Derrick Rose tried to split a pair of Milwaukee defenders in the open court Saturday and seemed almost to eject out the other side — taking contact and landing like a dervish with his legs and knees at improbable angles — an entire fan base held its collective breath.

It was that way, too, for most in the grizzled media who have chronicled Rose’s sad cycle of injury, rehabilitation and re-injury dating back to April 28, 2012. That one was a playoff opener, too — Game 1 of the first round, leaving Saturday just 10 days shy of a gloomy three-year anniversary — when the Chicago Bulls’ point guard first tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Rose’s explosiveness and torque, so vital to his game, set them all on an alternate path from which they’ve yet to stray.

“Man, I’m like y’all,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “When he get hit, I be like, ‘Awww, man…’ I was like, ‘Lord, please, not again.’ When he bounces up, I’m happy. But we’ve been through so many, like, scares, you never want to see anybody go through that kind of pain.

“So whenever he gets a little hit, a little bump, of course you’re gonna cringe. But I’m just happy he was able to get up and keep attacking.”

Gibson is one of the neglected victims of the Rose ordeal. As with center Joakim Noah, wing Jimmy Butler, coach Tom Thibodeau and a few others, they are collateral damage, colleagues and peers who had their own plans and hopes and dreams deferred or maybe derailed by Rose’s knee surgeries.

People focus most frequently on the micro or the macro.

It is either what Rose’s chronic injuries and extended layoffs have meant to him and his MVP-certified career, or how they blunted Chicago’s championship ambitions through most of Miami’s Big Three era and perhaps beyond.

Falling in between, though, are teammates who have had to soldier on, facing and failing against the Heat or, last year, the Wizards. Gibson, Noah and the rest knew how undermanned they were in those postseasons, yet there was nothing to be gained from saying so.

So they did their best, took their lumps and wondered along with the rest of us whether Rose (and his doctors) ever were going to put it all together again.

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No. 3: Raptors lose game, homecourt The Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans have combined to give the Raptors one of the most prominent home court advantages in the NBA. But it wasn’t much help yesterday in their Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, when the Raptors couldn’t get a bucket in overtime and lost not only the game, but also their home court advantage in the series. But it wasn’t all about missing shots, writes John Schuhmann, as for the Raptors it was also a function of getting beat on the boards by the Wizards …

You could say that both teams played great defense. But as anyone who thought DeAndre Jordan deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration will tell you, the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure a rebound. The Raptors didn’t do that enough, and that’s why they’re in a 0-1 hole after the Wizards’ 93-86, overtime victory.

Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 1, turning them into 20 second-chance points. The Raptors allowed only 73 points on 96 initial possessions, but the second chances made the difference.

The Raptors used a 21-8 run to send the game to overtime. But on the first possession of the extra period, Otto Porter tipped a John Wall miss out to Bradley Beal. The second chance resulted in a Paul Pierce three that gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Later in the overtime, Nene grabbed offensive boards on three straight possessions. Only one of them produced points for the Wizards, but the all kept the Raptors from building on the offensive momentum from the fourth quarter.

“They got three straight offensive rebounds that broke our back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That took our will, our mojo that we had going in [to overtime].”

The Wizards averaged 28 seconds per possession on their first six possessions of the extra period, helping them build a seven-point lead and sending Raptors’ raucous crowd to the exits.

Jonas Valanciunas‘ solution for the rebounding problem was simple.

“Be tougher than them,” he said. “Show that we can battle.”

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No. 4: Rockets blast off Down in Texas, arch-rivals Dallas and Houston met for Game 1 in their first round series, and a key member of the rivalry wasn’t able to make it through without feeling some physical pain. The Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets in the offseason, and their prize free agent had a knee injury in the second quarter that kept him from ever really establishing a rhythm in Houston’s Game 1 victory over Dallas, writes Fran Blinebury

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lob City has been fun in Los Angeles, but the Clippers still have title aspirations … Toronto GM Masai Ujiri dropped another curse word to get the Raptors fans fired up … The Blazers have battled injuries all season, and now Arron Afflalo may be unable to go Sunday … Ty Lawson posted video of Brian Shaw‘s pregame scouting rap that he tried earlier this season …

Numbers preview: Blazers-Grizzlies


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Grizzlies – Blazers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers are two teams that looked like legit contenders at one point or another this season.

The Grizzlies held the second best record in the Western Conference and third best mark in the NBA for most of the year. The Blazers had a top-five defense through March 15 and were one of a few select teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But both teams suffered injuries late in the season that derailed their quest for the 2 or 3 seed. Portland lost Wesley Matthews for the season to a torn Achilles on March 5. Memphis was without Tony Allen (calf strain) for its last nine games and also dealt with foot and ankle injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Appropriately, these two teams have found each other in the 4-5 matchup. Portland is the 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division, but Memphis will have home-court advantage (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the FedEx Forum) because it finished with a better record.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Grizzlies-Blazers, 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

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

Pace: 96.5 (13)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 101.4 (10)
NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Pace: 94.2 (26)
OffRtg: 103.1 (13)
DefRtg: 99.9 (4)
NetRtg: +3.1 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
Pace: 94.5
POR OffRtg: 98.6 (18th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 108.8 (4th vs. POR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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In West mix, home-court advantage not necessarily a big deal


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Discussing Stephen Curry and the Warriors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just six days left in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture isn’t very clear. Four teams are tied with 53 wins and could each finish second, third, fifth or sixth in the conference.

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Thursday’s loss at Golden State put the Portland Trail Blazers two games behind the rest of the group. The fourth seed is theirs thanks to their Northwest Division title, but they’re likely to be on the road to start the first round.

Three of the other four teams will have home-court advantage. The 2 seed will host the Dallas Mavericks. The 3 seed will host the 6 seed. And the 5 seed will likely host the Blazers.

But how much does home-court advantage matter?

Since the league went to seven-game series in the first round in 2003, only 37 of 180 series (21 percent) have gone to seven games. And in only three of those series did the home team win all seven games. So in 177 of the 180, the winning team won at least one game on the road.

The home team won 28 of the 37 Game 7s. And going back to 1948, the home team has won 80 percent of the 119 Game 7s in NBA history. That seems like a daunting figure for any team that starts and ends a series on the road.

But the home team is often the much better team. The home-court advantage doesn’t show up as much when you’re looking at two teams that are evenly matched.

There have been 62 series (all rounds) since 2003 that were played between teams that were within *four games of each other in the regular season. And the team with home-court advantage has won only 29 (47 percent) of those 62 series.

*Or within three games in the 2011-12, lockout-shortened season.

20150410_within_4

Furthermore, 13 of those 62 series have gone to seven games, and eight of the 13 Game 7s (including each of the last three – see below) were won by the road team.

Last three Game 7s between teams that were within four wins of each other in the regular season:
— Brooklyn (road) over Toronto in 2014
— Chicago (road) over Brooklyn in 2013
— Clippers (road) over Memphis in 2012

If you go all the way back, the home team has won 30 of the 44 (68 percent) of Game 7s played between teams that were within *four wins of each other in the regular season. That’s a high percentage, but not as drastic as the 80 percent for all Game 7s. There are plenty of recent examples of good teams overcoming those odds and, as noted already, most series don’t get to Game 7.

*Adjusted for shorter seasons in the 50s and 60s.

This year, we could see three first round series played between teams that finish within four wins of each other: the 3-6 and 4-5 series in the West, along with the 4-5 series in the East (with Chicago, Toronto and Washington in the mix).

There’s no reason why those teams wouldn’t want home-court advantage. But in recent series played between equally good teams, it hasn’t proven to be a difference-maker.

Morning shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Curry wants MVP | Kidd opens up on Giannis benching | Blazers’ Afflalo injures arm vs. Warriors | George helped Pacers, even as he healed

No. 1: Kerr: ‘Better believe’ Curry wants MVP — If you missed it last night/this morning, Houston Rockets star James Harden chatted with our Fran Blinebury and didn’t pull any punches when it comes to talk of this season’s Kia MVP. Said Harden, “I feel as though I am the MVP. I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league and we are.” Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors has yet to make such brash statements, but he has said plenty with his play — and did so again last night. He dropped 45 points on the Portland Trail Blazers and broke his own record for 3-pointers in a season to boot. Afterward, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that Curry is as hungry for the MVP as any other name in the mix, writes Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group:

Until the playoffs arrive, the Warriors will take motivation where they can find it. On Thursday night, fueled by a determination to avoid their first three-game losing streak in a long season, they rode 45 points from Stephen Curry to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 116-105 at Oracle Arena.

“We’re a prideful team,” said Curry, who added 10 assists for his first career 40-10 game. “We know we’ve clinched a lot already in the regular season. It’s just about how many wins can we get at this point … for us to build momentum into the playoffs.”

Curry scored 19 fourth-quarter points, 15 in the final 5:16 as the Warriors finally pulled away. He shot 8 for 13 from the 3-point arc to break his own NBA single-season record for 3-pointers. He has 276 and counting.

Asked about his star guard’s performance, coach Steve Kerr said, “Nothing left to say, except he’s the MVP. He never talks about it, but you better believe he wants it.”

Curry is aware of the constant MVP chatter but said he forces it out of his head when the game begins.

“Finally played a fourth quarter, so I wanted to get out there and make some plays,” said Curry, who has sat out 17 fourth quarters. “It was fun. Never go out there with that as a motivation. You get sidetracked if you start doing that, kind of playing outside of yourself.”

“He’s our MVP,” teammate Klay Thompson said, “and he should be for the league because he does it on a nightly basis and he’s at his best at crunch time.”

Oakland native Damian Lillard, who scored 20 points for the Blazers, was effusive after watching Curry shoot 17 for 23. “Our coverages didn’t matter,” he said. “He made shots with a hand in his face, off balance and deep. He made everything.”

 


VIDEO: Stephen Curry breaks his own mark for 3-pointers in a single season

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It’s the Warriors and everybody else in the Western Conference


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Are the Rockets legit contenders?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With 13 days and 105 games left in the regular season, things are starting to clear up a bit.

The only two teams that are locked into their playoff position are the two No. 1 seeds, Atlanta and Golden State. And while the Cavs seem to have the 2 seed locked up and the Wizards would have a tough time climbing out of fifth, Eastern Conference matchups are generally in flux.

The Raptors and Bulls are currently tied for the 3 seed. The Bucks got a couple of big wins last week, but still have some work to do to hold onto sixth. And the 7 and 8 seeds are still very much up for grabs. Both Brooklyn and Boston have tough remaining schedules and Miami just lost Dwyane Wade again.

The Western Conference is a little more clear. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are in a tight race for the No. 2 seed. The Portland Trail Blazers need just one win (or a Thunder loss) to clinch the Northwest Division and a top-four seed. The Dallas Mavericks would have a tough time moving out of the 7 seed and the 8 seed is down to just two teams (Oklahoma City and New Orleans).

That clarity allows us to start looking at potential matchups and where we might find an upset or two.

The Warriors’ first victim

20150403_gsw_okc-nop

Overall, the Warriors are 20-4 against teams 2-9 in the West. Andrew Bogut missed each of the last three losses, which took place in December and January. The only time they lost to a good West team with Bogut in uniform was Nov. 11.

Statistically, the Warriors the best team we’ve seen since the 1995-96 Bulls and the best team in the league by a wide margin. At this point, it’s fair to ask if, in predicting the NBA championship, you would pick the Warriors or the field.

The Pelicans have the tie-breaker, but the Thunder have a 1 1/2 game lead and an easier remaining schedule. New Orleans plays five of their final eight games on the road (three of seven for OKC) and six against teams over .500 (four for OKC).

Serge Ibaka‘s return would make the Thunder a stronger opponent, but there’s nothing to suggest that the Dubs wouldn’t win their first series in four or five games.

Hosting the Mavs

20150403_dal_hou-mem

Though Dirk Nowitzki had a couple of rough shooting nights in Houston, all four Mavs-Rockets meetings have been within five points in the last five minutes.

Dallas’ games against Memphis haven’t been as close, in part because the Mavs haven’t been able to slow down the Grizzlies’ bigs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to average 39.5 points on 55 percent shooting in the four games.

The 3-6 scrum

20150403_3-6

The Rockets and Spurs play each other twice next week, while the Grizzlies and Clippers each have one more meeting.

The Blazers would probably prefer to see the Grizzlies stay in the 2-3 spots, rather than fall into fifth. But that’s the only 4-0 sweep within this group.

So, while both Houston and Memphis should be gunning for the 2 seed, everybody else should be prepared for a competitive first round series.

The playoffs are 15 days away and they’re going to be great, even if the Warriors look like the clear favorite.

Morning Shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 21

Aldridge re-injures hand in loss to Grizz | Pacers on the brink? | Steve Nash’s retirement felt hardest in Phoenix | Grizz move Green to bench

No. 1: Portland’s nightmare road trip — When it rains, it pours. After surviving an early-season injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to survive and become title contenders. But then Wesley Matthews went down for the season with a torn Achilles, and though they vowed to carry on without Matthews, the Blazers have had what they call a “nightmare” road trip. Now, with Nicolas Batum and Aldridge battling injuries, as Joe Freeman writes in The Oregonian, the Blazers may have reached their toughest point of the season:

A five-game trip that started with so much promise went from bad to worse on Saturday night as the Blazers not only lost 97-86 to the Memphis Grizzlies, but also lost two more key players to injuries.

If you’re counting, the Blazers have four players — three starters and their top backup big man — dealing with varying levels of injuries. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also happen to be in the middle of a four-game losing streak, the longest of the season. That impressive victory over the Toronto Raptors was only seven days ago, but it feels like seven months.

How might one describe that five-game trip?

“A nightmare,” Aldridge said.

And his health is reason No. 1 for that harsh reality. Aldridge injured his left hand — the same body part that already features a torn thumb ligament — with 4:37 left in the first quarter against the Grizzlies, when Tony Allen smacked it as he lunged for a steal.

On the play, Aldridge collected a pass from Damian Lillard just above the left elbow and drove toward the hoop. Zach Randolph charged from the middle and Allen blitzed from the left, reaching at Aldridge with his left hand to dislodge the ball, smacking Aldridge’s hand in the process. The four-time All-Star instantly winced and cupped his left hand with his right, a sight that no doubt sent a shiver across Rip City considering he has played with a bum left thumb since Jan. 24.

He played the rest of the  quarter and gave it a go in the second for six minutes, but did not play after halftime, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The good news? The results of in-game X-rays were negative. The bad news? After the game, Aldridge’s hand was swollen, in pain and he said he could not bend it.

“It didn’t exactly go the way we planned,” center Robin Lopez said of the Blazers’ five-game trip.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Blazers (44-24) actually held their own in the second half against the second-best team in the Western Conference. Less than 24 hours after an embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic, the shorthanded Blazers trimmed an 18-point Memphis lead down to seven in the fourth quarter, causing 17,898 at the FedExForum squirm in their seats down the stretch. With Dorell Wright raining threes, snatching steals and completing smooth coast-to-coast layups, Lopez scoring inside and rebounding and Damian Lillard doing it all, the Blazers made things interesting.

But the Grizzlies (49-21) were too deep and talented to wilt completely, and in the end, Mike Conley (21 points, nine assists) was too good, Green (23 points, nine rebounds) was too smooth, Tony Allen (10 points, 11 rebounds, six steals) was too menacing and their long-range attack (11 for 18 from three-point range) was surprisingly too effective.

Lillard finished with 27 points and seven assists, CJ McCollum added 13 points and six rebounds and Wright had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. But it was all for naught. And as the Blazers walked away from that postgame scene in the locker room, they chose not to dwell on the injuries or the losing streak.

Instead, they chose to look forward. They’ve no doubt reached their toughest moment of the season. But they insist they have plenty of fight left.

“We’ve got our backs up against the wall right now,” Lillard said, before adding, “I’m not concerned. We’ve just got to play better. If we play better, just keep doing what we’re doing, keep believing in each other, I think we’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses the team’s loss in Memphis

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade, Heat rising fast | Warriors pass big test vs. Hawks | Noah trying to remain optimistic about role, minutes

No. 1: Wade feeling great in Miami — Many may have figured the Miami Heat would fade from the Eastern Conference playoff picture once All-Star forward Chris Bosh was lost for the season due to blood clots on his lungs. But in the 13 games since that news came down, Miami has gone 8-5, which includes last night’s thrilling home win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That win — and much of Miami’s success of late — came courtesy of a fourth-quarter scoring surge by Dwyane Wade, who told ESPN.com’s Chris Wallace that he’s feeling better than ever:

Dwyane Wade credits improved health and a recent change in his workout routine as the driving forces behind his recent surge in production amid the Miami Heat’s push to make the playoffs.

“This is the best I’ve felt in years right now,” Wade said Wednesday. “You question it. And you try not to question it, like ‘Why? Why couldn’t I feel like this the last two years?’ But it is what it is. I’m feeling like this now, when I need it individually to (carry) more of a load to help this team.”

The quiet moment of reflection for Wade came as he sat in his locker after he scored 32 points to help rally the Heat late in a 108-104 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the seventh consecutive game Wade has scored at least 25 points, marking his longest such streak since eight in a row in 2010.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the team’s strategy has been simplified in recent weeks as Wade started to regain his form after dealing with three separate hamstring injuries before the All-Star break.

Wade has averaged 29.1 points and shot 53 percent from the field over the last seven games.

“He understands the moment right now,” Spoelstra said of his expectations for Wade. “We don’t have to talk about it. It’s, ‘Here’s the ball. Make a play for the team.’ Quite frankly in the fourth quarter, the best offense really was to get the ball to Dwyane and let him create some kind of action.”

With LeBron James back in Cleveland and Bosh sidelined for the rest of the season to recover from blood clots in his lungs, the bulk of the leadership and production has shifted to Wade. An 11-time All-Star in his 12th season, Wade said he recently started his workout routine a few hours earlier than normal on game nights and has been spending more time on the court with assistant coach and former NBA forward Juwan Howard to simulate the bigger defenders he faces on switches.

But the ultimate source of Wade’s success is his health. He reached toward the side of his locker Wednesday night and knocked against the wooden frame, having played in 14 of the past 15 games. Wade leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring after adding 15 of his 32 in the final period Wednesday, including the Heat’s final eight points of the game.

“It feels good, man,” said Wade, who is averaging 21.8 points, 5.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 49 games. “I’ve taken a lot of criticism and I’ve worked very hard on my body to get to the point where I know, fourth quarter, it shows. That means a lot to me. When everyone is tired, I go up a notch. And for an old guy, that’s not bad at all to have that extra level to go to.”


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade knows he must drive Miami’s playoff push 

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Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

***

No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

***

No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …