OKLAHOMA CITY – The NBA league office’s decision Wednesday to fine Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka and not suspend him for his hit to the groin of Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin drew a humorous reaction on Twitter from Griffin and bewilderment from a couple of Miami Heat stars.
The Flagrant 1 foul initially called in the fourth quarter Sunday in the Thunder’s 108-104 win was upgraded to a Flagrant 2 and Ibaka was fined $25,000. The decision not to suspend him allowed Ibaka to play in Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s always better to play than to sit down watching the game,” Ibaka said after the decision came down.
Griffin expressed his thoughts on the non-suspension by spoofing his own Kia car commercials:
Kid Blake: Who are you? Future Blake: you from the future… Don't listen to anything else I've told you just start wearing a cup.— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin32) March 06, 2013
His Clippers teammate Matt Barnes expressed himself a bit more graphically in his Twitter message:
You can INTENTIONALLY grab or hit someone in the balls & not get suspended, but you push someone & get suspended. #ImConfused— Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22) March 05, 2013
And there was the somewhat odd chiming in from Miami’s disbelieving LeBron James, who came to the defense of his incredulous teammate Dwyane Wade, who was suspended for one game earlier this season for a kick to the groin of Charlotte Bobcats guard Ramon Sessions.
So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking away from him for his groin altercation #strangetome— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 05, 2013
Ibaka said he didn’t see any of the tweets from fellow players, but, yes, he said he heard about them.
“But it is not really my concern,” Ibaka said. “Like I said yesterday about the foul, it wasn’t something I tried to do. The game was physical. I would not try to hurt someone, I am not that type of guy. I like to play hard. And just for all the fans, I did not try to hurt him, and I apologize to all the fans who were watching the game.”
The NBA kicked Dwyane Wade where it hurts, too, suspending the Heat guard for one game for “flailing his leg and making contact with the groin” of Ramon Sessions of the Bobcats on Wednesday in Charlotte.
The one game? Eh. Wade must sit out when Miami (20-6) plays Friday at Detroit (9-22). At 34, 38 and 37 minutes the last three games, the latter two in a back-to-back, the point can be made that the rest will do him good.
Except that this has become about more than the one game. Wade “getting his Rockettes on” against Sessionswas so over the line and has become part of such a growing list of regrettable moments that his reputation is suffering.
Whether Wade is wounded by comments along the lines of Boston’s Rajon Rondo calling him out for “dirty plays” is not known. But Wade should care. A suspension for appearing to purposely kick an opponent in the groin for no reason other than Sessions taking a foul opens the kind of file with the NBA no one should want.
The second-best player on a team with aspirations for a title repeat will be judged from now on through a different, harsher prism. There is a precedent. Wade, for all the good he has done in a career that will lead to the Hall of Fame, also has a history that will work against him if future incidents come up.
During a game in Boston in the 2011 regular season, Wade was hit with a flagrant foul for shoving Kevin Garnett after Garnett had leveled Mike Miller with a screen.
In the 2011 playoffs, Wade got wrapped up with Rondo while going for a loose ball. After Rondo elbowed Wade, he appeared to stick his leg out and sweep Rondo to the court. It resulted in Rondo dislocating his elbow. At the time, Wade said it was inadvertent.
Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose, raking him from behind during an unusual physical play during the 2012 All-Star Game. Bryant had fouled Wade twice previously in the game.
During a regular-season game last April in Miami, Wade threw a forearm at Chicago Bulls guard Rip Hamilton after Hamilton bumped him trying to create space on the perimeter. Wade was called for a flagrant foul.
During the first round of the playoffs last season, Wade threw the shoe of New York Knicks guard Mike Bibby off the court after Bibby lost it getting a rebound.
During the second round of the playoffs, Wade blindsided Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison on a fast break. Wade, who seemed to be reacting to not getting a shooting foul moments earlier, was assessed a flagrant foul.
Many could fade into the background if they were single happenings. Some, like shoving Garnett in defense of a teammate or tossing Bibby’s shoe in a strange attempt to gain a competitive advantage, can even be seen as exactly the chippy attitude a team should want from a star. In totality, though, that is a very long list.
Commissioner David Stern has made it clear that past incidents matter when the time comes to decide on disciplines, and Wade has several. Whether or not Wade cares about his image around the league, it is why he should absolutely be concerned with the reputation in the biggest offices at NBA HQ.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Don’t rub your eyes. It’s real. As of this morning, the Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves are both doing the unthinkable for two teams that have served as league-wide punching bags in recent seasons.
All the fun we’ve had at the expense of Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and Timberwolves boss David Kahn has been silenced by the winning ways, so far, of their respective teams. They are both 5-4 and battling their way to respectability while shaking off whatever adversity comes their way.
For all of the early-season shockers around the league, both good and bad, these two winning outfits have to rank at or near the top of the list of biggest surprises.
Last night’s comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks was another quality notch for Bobcats belt this season. They’re digging out of that ugly hole from last season in the only way possible: with their heads down, their defensive style looking legitimate and contributions from up and down the roster.
It’s more than most of us expected from a team with a new coach (Mike Dunlap), a new star (rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and plenty of other new faces added to the mix and continue to defy the odds. Jordan probably didn’t see this coming, not this soon. They didn’t win their fifth game during last year’s lockout-shortened season until March 12, just so we’re clear about how much progress has been made.
The Timberwolves are thriving on the other side of the conference divide without the services of their biggest stars. All-Star power forward Kevin Love (broken hand) and Ricky Rubio (recovering from torn ACL in left knee) have yet to suit up this season. Brandon Roy‘s comeback has been derailed by yet another knee procedure (he’s expected to miss at least a month) and Chase Budinger is out three months after knee surgery).
But Rick Adelman, as he often does, has found a way to cobble together enough healthy bodies to make the Timberwolves a factor every night. Andre Kirilenko‘s return to the NBA has been a huge boost. He leads the team in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (2.2). Fellow Russian Alexey Shved has also made an impression during his first few weeks of NBA action, showing signs that he’ll be a more than competent backup to Rubio, who, according to Jon Krawcynski of the Associated Press, has already started light practice workouts.
“Just having them five-on-(none) gives you a sense that when you get them back we’ll be pretty good,” Adelman said of having both Love and Rubio on the practice court. “We can’t wait for them. We have to go out there and play. But it gives us a sense.”
Love is expected back at the start of December and Rubio potentially a couple of weeks later, which couldn’t come at a better time. After winning five of their first seven games, the Timberwolves have dropped two straight.
Getting by with a shorthanded roster can last for only so long. Nikola Pekovic, not exactly a household name, leads the team in scoring (15.3), with Kirilenko (14.1), Luke Ridnour (11.4), Shved (10.4) and Derrick Williams (10.4) the only other healthy players scoring in that range.
If they can manage for another few weeks or so, at least until the first wave of reinforcements arrive, both the Bobcats and Timberwolves might remain among the teams boasting .500 or better records around Christmas, too.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Charlotte Bobcats have nowhere to go but up. Last season, they finished with the worst record in NBA history and ranked last in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
While they added No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist this summer, the Bobcats didn’t exactly upgrade their roster in a major way. But they did hire a new coach, who could make a difference, despite the fact that you’d probably never heard of him before he was hired in June.
Mike Dunlap is a numbers guy, which automatically makes him a favorite in this space. And as a numbers guy, he knows that his team had the league’s worst shot selection last year.
The Bobcats took 39.6 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the highest rate in the league. Furthermore, only 16.3 percent of their 3-point attempts came from the corner, the lowest rate in the league. Combine those two numbers and you’ve got a pretty good formula for a pretty bad offense, no matter how much talent you may or may not have on your roster.
Highest percentage of shots from mid-range, 2011-12
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – General manager Mitch Kupchak, signaling his agreement that the Lakers need significant changes after a decisive loss in the Western Conference semifinals for the second time in as many years, said Wednesday the front office will pursue trades more aggressively than in past years.
“Why not?” he said. “Sure. We went through it last year. Other than at the trade deadline, we didn’t do anything last year. But when you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities.”
Speaking at his annual post-season press conference at team headquarters following two days of exit interviews with players, Kupchak made no attempt to gloss over the fact that the Lakers need to make adjustments and that being one of the better teams in the league is not acceptable.
“There’ll be some change,” he said less than two full days after the season ended with a 4-1 loss to the Thunder, nearly one year after being swept by the Mavericks in the same second round. “We’ve got a group of players that are free agents. As you know, Ramon (Sessions) has an option in his contract that he signed with Cleveland. He can extend it a year or he can opt out. I have no idea what he’s going to do. That could be an additional free agent. There will be quite a bit of activity July 1, looking at who we can bring back and dealing with the marketplace.”
Other frank comments from Kupchak as the Lakers head into the offseason after the jump:
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.
Play Lakers GM: What do you do in the wake of another West semifinal defeat?
Steve Aschburner: I start by abolishing World Peace. Sounds nihilistic, I know. But given the rebuild/retool ahead, they don’t need Metta’s shenanigans. Then I trade Pau Gasol, maybe to Minnesota for Derrick Williams in a package. I rebuild around Andrew Bynum because Jimmy Buss will fire me if I don’t. And I ride out Kobe’s angst or swing a deal for him that makes him happy. If that’s possible in every sense.
Fran Blinebury: I get on the phone to Orlando and find out if there’s any way to re-start the conversation for Dwight Howard. Does it take Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol together? Done. Gasol is fading into the twilight of his career and for all there is to like about Bynum on the nights he plays, that happens too infrequently. Howard has his own flaws, but combining with Kobe Bryant puts him back into the championship picture immediately, restores his damaged reputation and transitions the Lakers for the post-Kobe Era. I also do not sign Ramon Sessions to a long-term contract at significant cost. Not nearly enough bang for the buck.
OKLAHOMA CITY – In the quiet of the near-empty Thunder locker room, as the last player to leave after the Monday victory that sent Oklahoma City to the Western Conference final, Derek Fisher passed on the chance to make noise. He would help beat the Lakers, but he would not bash them.
“It obviously feels good to advance and beat anybody we face,” he said.
Except that it wasn’t anybody this time. It was the team that dealt him at the trade deadline in a shock to Fisher and most around the Lakers. It was the organization that felt it needed to replace him for an upgrade at point guard and then needed to move him to clear a wide berth for Ramon Sessions to be the successor.
Surely this was not just another victory for a player who has known many.
“If I came here just to beat the Lakers, then maybe so,” Fisher said. “But the idea was to come here and have an opportunity to win a championship. That journey is still in front of us. We’ll keep working at it.”
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – Before anyone else in Los Angeles points another finger at Pau Gasol, Mike Brown, Ramon Sessions or any of the other convenient scapegoats in the wake of a second straight second-round playoff exit, look in the mirror.
Stare long and hard and ask yourself if you didn’t see this coming. Didn’t you realize last season, when Andrew Bynumwas heading to visitor’s locker room in Dallas without his jersey, that this team was fatally flawed and had no chance of overcoming its own internal obstacles?
Like an aging heavyweight champ who gets K.O.’d in his last bout and then comes back into the ring the next time without truly understanding what went wrong, the Lakers got popped against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. This time, it came by believing in their ability to overcome any obstacle with sheer talent alone.
Avoiding the sweep this time around shouldn’t ease the sting for Lakers fans, either. They knew (better than most) what they saw from this group during last season’s semifinal flame-out against the Mavericks exposed the team’s flaws.
Why would anyone, Kobe Bryant included, be surprised at Gasol’s struggles against the Thunder when you saw him crumble against the Mavericks?
You replaced a living legend in Phil Jackson with a good coach in Brown, but if Jackson couldn’t get this team over the proverbial hump in his final season, why would anyone assume Brown would be capable of pulling it off now? And Sessions was supposed to be the anti-Derek Fisher — a younger, more athletically gifted point guard capable of matching up better against the league’s younger and more athletic guards. He proved to be just as ill-equipped to handle Russell Westbrook as Fisher would have been.
This is a mess of the Lakers’ own making, whether they admit it or not. They are the ones that tossed Jackson’s hand-picked successor, Brian Shaw, aside in favor of Brown. They saw the cracks in their foundation and opted for some instant sealant instead of legit fixes.
LOS ANGELES – The Lakers and Thunder, after playing 2 hours 43 minutes without overtime Friday night, return to Staples Center tonight for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals and the rarity of a postseason back-to-back.
It is a particular challenge for the older Lakers at a time they need a win to avoid what would be a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 deficit as the series shifts back to Oklahoma City.
“It’s going to take a mental commitment on our part in order to fight through the fatigue we might feel (Saturday),” Pau Gasol said after the Lakers grinded out a victory in Game 3. “It’s going to be all will and desire and effort. Just pushing ourselves through everything and anything that we might be feeling or going on out there.”
The Lakers are playing on consecutive days in the playoffs for the first time since May 22-23, 1999, in the second round against the Spurs.
“It’ll be a little different,” Steve Blake said of a back-to-back in the regular season compared to the playoffs. “The intensity. A back-to-back during the regular season, sometimes the first quarter can be a little bit lull. But I don’t think it’ll be that way tomorrow night.”
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – On days like Thursday, when the shades to the second-floor office of Jeanie Buss — the Lakers’ executive vice president of business operations — are open, 10 gold championship trophies shine down on the court at the practice facility. At home games, the title banners hang prominently on an inside wall at one end of Staples Center.
Ramon Sessions notices. Not that he needed much reminding of playoff expectations after he arrived from Cleveland in a trade-deadline deal, but the pressure of delivering in the postseason has been hammered home. Little that happens in the previous months matter.
Sessions is in the playoffs for the first time anywhere as his career moves to a unique level of pressure because he replaces a point guard known for postseason clutch. That was the thing with Derek Fisher — he could drive Lakers fans mad with poor shooting and susceptible defense the first 82 games and still head into summer a hero.