Posts Tagged ‘Randy Wittman’

New Wizards-Bulls feud couldn’t wait


VIDEO: Scuffle leads to suspensions, fines for Wizards, Bulls

CHICAGO – Randy Wittman didn’t think much of the question. Not nearly as much of it as I did, for instance, seeing as how I was the one who asked it Monday night: Would the bad blood and feistiness of the Washington Wizards’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls carry over to the preseason opener for both teams?

“In an exhibition?” Wittman, the Wizards coach, said with a chuckle. “You need a storyline, huh?”

We got a storyline that night. And we got another one Wednesday afternoon, when the NBA announced that four of Wittman’s players were suspended for one game for leaving the bench area during an altercation between Washington’s Paul Pierce and Chicago’s Joakim Noah in the first quarter Monday at United Center.

In the first quarter. Of, yes, an exhibition.

Additionally, Pierce and Noah were fined $15,000 each for their roles in the scuffle. A scuffle that didn’t realize, apparently, that it was supposed to wait another month or so.

“Obviously once we get going and the season winds in here, those things play out,” Wittman had said about 90 minutes before Monday’s tipoff. “Not so much a game like this where a lot of people will be playing, the lineups will be different… I’m sure when it rolls around to November, that will be a little bit different.”

The next round, er, game between the Wizards and the Bulls will be in Washington on Dec. 23, the first of four regular-season meetings in a simmering new rivalry.

Wittman’s instincts must not have been in championship-season shape yet, because things boiled over Monday with 8:57 left in the opening quarter.

Pierce fouled Chicago’s Jimmy Butler hard across the jaw. While the referees gathered to review the play as a flagrant or common foul, Pierce and Noah exchanged words and Noah pushed at the veteran forward. Pierce reacted by poking a finger into Noah’s forehead, which sparked an NBA version of a baseball fight.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was on Boston’s staff when Pierce and the Celtics won a championship in 2008 and has been Noah’s coach since 2010, found himself smack in the middle like a pro wrestling ref dwarfed by the combatants. Chicago fans reacted like it was a Bears or Blackhawks game.

“It was great,” Noah said after the game. “It got all the summer out of me. It feels good to be back on the court.”

That was the problem for Washington: Nene, DeJuan Blair, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas all left their team’s bench area and moved in the direction of the skirmish at the scorer’s table. That brought the automatic suspensions from NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn. They will be served in the Wizards’ season opener or the first regular season game in which each player is physically able to play.

Pierce wasn’t around for the playoff clash last spring, but he and the Bulls didn’t much like each other in his Boston or Brooklyn days, either.

“That’s just the tension between these two teams that’s kind of now carrying over to this year, I feel like,” Pierce said. “I’m a part of it now. Even when I was with the Celtics, that’s how I was with them.”

At the end of the third quarter, Washington’s Kevin Seraphin set a hard screen on Butler and was called for an offensive foul. He stood over the fallen Bulls player for a beat too long, in Butler’s opinion, prompting more shoves.

It was hard not to connect the dots back to last spring and the teams’ heated first-round series. Noah and a member of the Wizards’ security team had a testy exchange at the morning shootaround before Game 3 in Washington. That night, Nene and Butler literally butted heads in an on-court confrontation, with the Wizards’ big man getting ejected and suspended from Game 4.

Then there was the fact the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in five games. It was a sign of Washington’s ascendancy with its precocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while at the same time abruptly ending another season Chicago had begun, at least, with hopes of title contention.

That’s why some folks anticipated chippiness Monday, preseason or not.

“Whatever it was, I guess that’s what it’s going to come down to every time we play them guys,” Butler said. “I guess guys just don’t like us. I’m cool if they don’t like me.”

Said Wall: “That lets you know how it’s going to be for the four times we play them in the regular season. It might get a lot worse than that.”

Grab your calendar now: Dec. 23, Jan. 9, Jan. 14 and March 3. Might as well circle the dates in red, since both teams will be seeing red.

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ‘em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ “

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

(more…)

Sting of Team USA cuts should fuel Wizards’ already focused Wall, Beal


VIDEO:
John Wall’s top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

Randy Wittman didn’t have to dig deep into his memory banks for words to soothe John Wall’s and Bradley Beal’s feelings after they were cut from Team USA last month.

All he had to do was remind them – or maybe educate them, since neither of the Washington Wizards’ young guards was born yet – that Hall of Famer Charles Barkley got cut the first time he tried to make the U.S. national team, too.

“That’s right,” Wittman said, “and by my guy.”

Bobby Knight, a Hall of Famer himself and Wittman’s coach at Indiana University, cut The Chuckster and fellow future legend John Stockton during the Olympic trials back in 1984, when the whole operation was a college-guys affair.

Things changed eight years later, by which point both Barkley and Stockton were established NBA All-Stars, and both earned gold medals as members of the original Dream Team.

So the Team USA future remains bright for Wall, 24, and Beal, 21. No brighter, though, than the Wizards’ own short- and long-term outlooks with those two in the backcourt in 2014-15 and beyond.

That’s why Wittman made sure to put a positive spin on their stint with coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the FIBA World Cup roster representing the U.S., brief as it was.

“They worked all the way up through July,” Wittman said during a lull in the NBA coaches meetings in Chicago this week. “Putting the work in is the main thing a coach wants to see in the summer. They were able to do that.

“I told those guys, ‘Not everybody makes it right from the start. But you’re there, you’ve done it, you’re showing them you’re willing to be there. It’s a process.’ I think the way both those guys are going, they’re going to be on [Team USA] some day.”

Wall suffered some extra ignominy this week when the NBA crew at SI.com – in one of those manufactured exercises of offseason idleness – ranked him No. 31 on its list of the league’s best players. The Wizards point guard, in his Twitter reaction, didn’t seem to appreciate it (though it’s always hard to know true sentiments in 140 characters).

Then again, it might be another scoop of motivation on a pile that’s already high, what with Washington’s postseason showing and second-round exit against Indiana. With center Marcin Gortat re-signed, with Nene healthy and energized by his own FIBA tour for Brazil, with Otto Porter looking improved at the Las Vegas summer league, with DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries added and with Paul Pierce slipping into Trevor Ariza‘s veteran wing spot, expectations are as lofty as the Wizards’ potential.

Wittman, who steered a team beyond .500 and reached the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons as an NBA head coach, likes the old-young mix of his roster. Thirty-eight-year old Andre Miller stabilized the second unit after he arrived from Denver. Washington would love to add aging marksman Ray Allen if it could. And Allen’s old Celtics pal Pierce figures to bring many of the intangibles Ariza provided.

“We were lucky to get a guy like Paul,” Wittman said. “We lost Al Harrington – he didn’t even play that much, but he was instrumental in the locker room, on the road, just his presence and what he said to the players. Getting Paul fills that, too. He’s a voice who’s been through it. I think he still has the ability to really help us on the floor but he can help us off the floor, too.”

Make no mistake, though. Washington’s strength, possibly for the next decade, is that dynamic and budding backcourt. Both of whom figure to be wearing a different red, white and blue uniform one of these even-numbered summers.

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

Wizards’ Wall catches up to series

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Wizards and Pacers meet for a crucial Game 6 tonight

WASHINGTON – Every coach’s fear in the playoffs is that, if a series lasts long enough, talent will out.

That is, for all the crafty strategies and flawless execution and tireless effort devoted to stopping or containing an opponent’s strength or star, and however effective it might be through three, four or five games, what’s behind that particular greatness will bubble to the surface in time. The great ones – teams or players – adjust and re-adjust, and in time refuse to be denied. (It cuts both ways, of course, but you know coaches, mostly worrying about the other guys.)

That’s how the Indiana Pacers ought to be thinking about Washington’s John Wall at the moment, as they try to close out their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Wall spent most of the first four games stymied by the Pacers’ defensive attention in the halfcourt, their diligence in getting back to slow the Wizards’ pace and his own shooting. But in the Game 5 victory Tuesday that staved off his team’s elimination, Wall scored 27 points (17 in the third quarter on 6-of-8 shooting) and served as triggerman for a road-resuscitated Washington attack.

The fourth-year point guard, an All-Star reserve this year, had carried the weight of the Wizards’ 3-1 deficit through the first four games, taking heat for his 11.5 ppg and 31.4 field-goal percentage. The inexperience at which he, backcourt mate Bradley Beal and coach Randy Wittman had scoffed looked real and very much in play. Wall was starting to withdraw and sound defeated. “It’s definitely tough and frustrating,” Wall said, after a Game 4 finish Sunday in which he passed up a game-tying shot. “I’ve been as aggressive as I can be.”

Or so Wall thought. Then Wittman pulled him aside Tuesday morning in Indianapolis and gave him license to play “like a wild man.” Teammates such as center Marcin Gortat noticed Wall’s retreat personally and made sure to pick him up.

“John was a little bit different [Tuesday],” Gortat said late that evening, after a career night of his own (31 points, 16 rebounds). “For the first time in 102 or 103 games we’ve had this season, he didn’t want to talk to anybody. … He didn’t rap before the game, he didn’t laugh before the game.”

Gortat had seen all sorts of folks assure Wall he would play better in Game 5. Gortat didn’t make hang his support on that, though.

“When the 25th person approached him, it was me, and he was like, ‘I don’t want to hear [anymore].’ I was like, ‘No, John, there’s just one thing I want to tell you: I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it’s gonna go. I’m with you,’ ” Gortat said.

“We can’t put pressure on a guy who plays for the first time in his life in the playoffs. He’s whatever, 23 years old. You can’t just blame the kid for everything. Every time our team loses, we blame him. I understand he’s a leader, he’s the head of the snake. But there’s another 12 guys on the team, there’s another six, seven coaches. We can’t do this kid like that.”

Wall played as if unshackled. He got a pair of layups in the early minutes and helped rev the offense to 13 fast-break points while building a 45-38 lead. But it was more than that – the Wizards only scored four points on the break in the second half, yet outscored the Pacers 57-41. It was a pace thing, in Wittman’s view, all flow and timing while maxing out what was available in the 24-second clock. Even the fat rebounding edge (62-23) can partly be attributed to the rhythm with which Washington played, with Wall conducting.

“He gets the ball moving from side to side and we get bodies moving and the ball moving,” Wittman said. “We are not a team that can iso or a team that can do a two-man game. We have to have five guys moving and I thought he was the spark behind that.”

At this late stage of the series, with Wall’s confidence replenished, that will not be easy. The Pacers’ best bet? Stay in front of him as much as possible and funnel penetration toward 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert. Even if it means going under screens, anyone’s best chance against Wall’s wild-man speed is to make him a shooter. Otherwise he gets defenders on their heels, first physically and then mentally.

Beyond that, only a quirky shakiness that settles into Washington’s game at the Verizon Center might help. He’s been one of the Wizards who, all season, has performed better on the road than at home.

But this series may have lasted long enough to cure that ill, too.

Blogtable: Coaching musical chairs

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


BLOGTABLE: Sold on Heat? | Unrest in coaching ranks | Clippers-Thunder lessons


Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

New Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

> What’s with all the coaching unrest? Do you think there are coaches in the playoffs that could be whacked? Would that be smart?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Smart? I seldom think it’s smart to fire a head coach. But that’s something owners can do and a lot of these owners like to do … well, something. Paying off a fired coach while hiring a new one doesn’t bite you on the salary cap or in luxury taxes, so what the hey? The shorter player contracts in the league now might have made me think coaches would last longer – you can change the roster more quickly to suit a guy’s system – but it seems like it has shortened their shelf life as well.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWasn’t it just yesterday when Frank Vogel was supposedly sitting out on the curb like a Hefty bag on trash day? I supposed a sweep or five-game loss to Miami could put him back out there. I don’t think that’s smart. If the Thunder don’t get past the Spurs, Scott Brooks is on shaky ground. If they don’t get past the Clippers, he’s probably out.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I was looking at this yesterday and 21 of the NBA’s 30 teams either have an opening or a coach that just completed his first or second season with that team. Mark Jackson was the fourth coach over the last two years to be fired after a 50-win season. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported during the first round that Frank Vogel is coaching for his job. No word on how far he has to get the Pacers, or just how ugly they have to get. While there’s no reported guillotine hanging over Thunder coach Scott Brooks’ head, there’s always speculation. Smart to fire a playoff coach? Denver did it and they missed the playoffs. Memphis did it and they’re out in the first round. Unless there’s a Doc Rivers sitting out there, it’s probably not a wise move.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: What’s with all the coaching unrest? There’s nothing unusual going on. Coaching unrest is typical. It doesn’t have to be right. It’s the way of the NBA world, and it’s understandable. If expectations are not met, changes are going to be made.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Every situation is unique. Mark Jackson’s disconnect with Joe Lacob had nothing to do with Mike Brown’s disconnect with Kyrie Irving. So there’s no easy answer for why so many coaches (and so many coaches of good teams) have been fired. But it’s clear that the job requires success on several fronts.  You have to have strong relationships with your players, strong relationships with your front office and ownership, an offense that works, a defense that gets stops and an ability to make adjustments within a game and within a playoff series. Most importantly, you need some talent on your roster. If there’s an issue with any one of the above, it may not matter how good a coach you are otherwise.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This a question better suited for the front-office types and owners around the league who keep shuttling coaches off to the unemployment line after successful seasons. Because it honestly makes no sense in some of these cases to make the changes that are being made. This idea of turning over your entire basketball operation to a front office novice (like they did in New York and now Detroit) is a bit interesting. Those are test cases that will determine whether or not teams go down that path in the future. But there are coaches (Frank Vogel in Indiana, Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City) who could make it to their respective conference finals and still not avoid the executioner’s ax when the season ends. It’s a sad but true fact of life for coaches in this day and age.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s always easier to change coaches than players. It’s not always the smartest thing, but it’s easiest, and that is often the way things work around the NBA. To me, the two remaining coaches who must be sitting on the hottest seats are Randy Wittman and Scott Brooks,. Frank Vogel might be in the mix there, too, but I don’t know how you can fault Vogel for his players playing like they had their skills abducted by the Monstars in “Space Jam.” Wittman’s task was to get to the postseason, which they have, and they still might make the conference finals, so I’d guess he’s safe. Which leaves Brooks, who might not have the deepest roster to work with but continues to leave fans wanting.

Fun gone, Pacers cannot stand success

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gortat’s big game helps Wizards beat Pacers, stay alive

INDIANAPOLIS – As they lick their wounds again and assure themselves, again, that they’ll be all right, the Indiana Pacers might be revealing what their biggest problem is in this Eastern Conference semifinal series and perhaps has been for a while.

They aren’t fearful of the Washington Wizards. They aren’t overmatched or intimidated, and they certainly aren’t taking the Wizards lightly.

The Pacers are jealous of the Wizards.

Oh, to be younger and inexperienced and unencumbered by expectations. To be the underdogs – ahh! – who had the ability to surprise and overachieve and feel good with each little victory, regardless even of the outcome of games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were that team.

With the Miami Heat grabbing all the attention from The Decision of July 2010 going forward, with the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose playing peek-a-boo as regular-season heroes and a legit but hobbled contender, it wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were the Wizards.

On the rise. playing with abandon. Making names and reputations for themselves, with little or no anxiety over disappointing someone. That’s the Indiana team that earned all the respect and preseason predictions heading into 2013-14, that’s the Indiana team that had all the fun.

But that Indiana team is gone forever, erased by the Pacers’ success through the first four months (46-13 through March 2) and weighed down ever since by the expectations, knee-deep praise and dealing with the shift from chasers to chased.

You scoff? Who had more fun in Game 5 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the on-the-brink Wizards or the three-games-to-win-one Pacers? The game was a rout, with Washington leading by as much as 30 while pounding their hosts in all sorts of NSFW ways on the glass.

Nearly tripling the other guys in total rebounds (62-23)? Whoa. Wizards coach Randy Wittman paused and admitted he never had seen anything like that. For much of the night, Marcin (The Dream) Gortat had as many boards as the whole Indiana team. The upstarts wound up with nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pacers grabbed defensively (19).

Gortat attacked Indiana from the start like he sensed their vulnerability, the tentativeness that has hovered over the East’s No. 1 seed since March. He tossed in hook shots, threw down dunks, mixed in a turnaround or two from the baselines and growled loudly enough that Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi sought cover.

But frankly, they had company on a Pacers squad that, lately, might not say boo if you took their jerseys, their dogs and their parking spaces. If Larry Bird wasn’t sick to his stomach watching his team’s performance Tuesday, then the smirking assassin everyone remembers from his Boston Celtics days either has been lobotomized or gelded.

“It’s everything: Shocking. Disappointing,” said forward Paul George, who would have had to ring up another 39 to keep his team in this one. He didn’t, scoring 15.

“We’re better than that. No way we should allow a team on our floor to outrebound us by 40. Regardless of if we’re playing a team full of 7-footers. That’s unacceptable.”

It was, in short, the kind of performance a bunch of newbies might be permitted to have – not far off Washington’s 63-point mess in Game 3 – but not the big, bad leaders of the East.

“Not when you’re a group that’s been together for a while,” George said, agreeing. “Not with a group that, like us, has been together, been through so much. A lot of adversity. It should be easy to treat a game like it’s a win-or-go-home game, especially when you have the opportunity to close them out. We’ve done it before in other series, where we took care of business when we needed to. So it’s no excuse for this one.”

No excuses, just explanations. Gortat having the night of his life, banging and scoring enough for both himself and the barely visible Nene. Wittman had his players pressure up defensively this time, exploiting Indiana’s unreliable ball handlers and, more important, dialing up the game’s pace to more than walk-it-up.

And then there was John Wall, Washington’s point guard who had sputtered through most of the first four games. He is kind of a one-man Indiana in terms of his career arc and the expectations heaped upon him now, four years in with an $80 million contract, All-Star acclaim and impatience among Wizards fans for something beyond individual achievements.

Gortat spoke after the game of the shell into which Wall had retreated all day Tuesday, no rapping, no laughing, hardly any words. Wittman did what he could to try to shake him loose from it.

“John was down on himself a little bit this morning,” the Wizards coach said. “I told him, the point where he’s getting in his career, he’s an All-Star and now he’s in the second round of the playoffs for the first time, that ‘you have to have a thick skin. You have to forget quickly and you have to move on.’

“I told him I wanted him to come out tonight and just play like a wild man. ‘If you have 20 turnovers, you have 20 turnovers. I want you, though, energizing our guys, racing the ball up and down the floor, defensively getting after it,’ and he did that.”

Wall played with an abandon the Pacers, however much they once had it, lost around the time our clocks sprung forward. He finished with 27 points – 17 in the game-breaking 31-14 third quarter, when he topped the Pacers by his lonesome – and was woofing by the end.

Wall had more fun, and a sense of relief and rebirth, than the entire Indiana squad. Over on the other side, George was trying to explain, and maybe sell, what had gone on with his team at the absolute worst time. And you could sense some longing for the days when he and the Pacers were the ones trying to make their bones.

They’re at the other end of the expectations now.

“We get too happy. We get too happy,” Paul said. “We don’t carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we feel like, because we’re starting to play a little better, that things are just going to get right. We don’t bring that edge, that these are must-win games.”

The Pacers claimed they tried to play Tuesday as if they were facing a Game 7. They failed, instead inching closer to a real one.

Much to prove in G5 for Pacers, Wizards

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Let’s Go! Wizards-Pacers Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – Both the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards have opportunities to prove something Tuesday night in Game 5 that doesn’t have much to do with the conclusion or extension of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Sure, the Pacers hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. But this one is important unto itself for what it might say about the Pacers or, more accurately, permit them to say about themselves.

All is well? You’re right where you were supposed to be? Maybe, maybe not. Indiana has had false starts before over the past month or so. Victories over Chicago and Miami, nailing down the East’s No. 1 seed, ousting Atlanta from Round 1 – those all supposedly were all-clear signs, only to have Indiana veer soon enough off the rails again.

Now they have the Wizards where they want them – on the brink of elimination, on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court – and a chance to smack down what had been a hot team and a trendy East semis pick just a week ago. The Pacers got an other-worldly game from Roy Hibbert in Game 2, pounced on a stinko performance by Washington in Game 3 (hey, almost every playoff team has one at some point) and rode on Paul George‘s lean shoulders to their comeback from 19 down in Game 4.

This would be the one, then, in which the Pacers could do themselves and their fan base proud. Start their engines, stomp on the pedal, click off 48 minutes worth of counter-clockwise laps and send the Wizards from the Brickyard to the graveyard. By ending this in a gentleman’s sweep, by asserting some real No. 1-ness over the conference’s No. 5 seed, by skipping the drama and drain of another trip to Washington and grabbing some flex days for themselves before opening the East finals at home, they could convince a few more skeptics and add legitimacy to their claim of being, y’know, back.

They also could back up what their coach, Frank Vogel, said last Sunday about playoff experience, something the Wizards are just now sampling. Remember, this season, this postseason push, is the culmination of something Indiana has been building for four years. One round, two rounds, three round, with its sight set on The Finals now.

That’s why the questions about playoff experience – habitually dismissed by Randy Wittman when asked about his youngish Wizards – get embraced by Vogel.

“I actually think it’s a big deal. It’s a big factor,” Vogel said. “I think experience in the playoffs gives you confidence. Not just overall experience, but experience as a group.  This group has been there. They’ve got an incredible young nucleus and they have veterans that have been there, but not this unit. I think it’s a factor and hopefully it continues to work well for us.”

Wittman wants to cast that theory aside, at least until his players get their exit interviews. After Game 4, the Wizards’ newness to all this was offered up as an explanation for getting outscored 57-37 in the second half. And for a failure to execute with 6.1 seconds left and a chance to tie. And for every mishap before or in between.

“Why do I want to talk about inexperience? All that is is an excuse,” Wittman said. “I don’t want our guys looking for an excuse. They’re gonna grow, they’re gonna continue to do the things that they’re gonna do. This is a process. All right? But right now, I’m not blaming any of this on any youth or inexperience or who’s been in the playoffs and who hasn’t. We’re in the fight. We’ve got to stay in the fight. No excuses. And we’ve got to do down and win a game.”

The Wizards will need John Wall to do better than 11.5 points a game on 31.4 percent shooting, and to have more of a plan when he drives the ball besides simply shying away from the 7-foot-2 Hibbert. The big fellow has been in Bradley Beal‘s head, too, but with George blanketing Beal on the perimeter, the middle might be Beal’s best bet.

George, after his 39-point burst in Game 4, is going to require more professional defense than Trevor Ariza gave. The Nene who caused such fits for Chicago and center Joakim Noah in the first round is scoring just 11.8 points and pulling down just 4.3 rebounds a game in this series. He’s shooting 35.7 percent.

And then there is the third quarter, an Indiana strength all season and current a Washington crisis. The Pacers have controlled those 12 minutes after halftime in all four games, with a combined scoring edge of 42. The rest of the quarters the Wizards have been plus-19. It hasn’t mattered.

“We haven’t been able to figure that out,”  Washington’s Al Harrington said Sunday. “That’s been us all year. [In the] third quarter, we just always seem to come out slow and sluggish. And then we find a way to ramp it up toward the end of the quarter and throughout the fourth quarter. In the playoffs at this time of year, you can’t afford that, especially against a good team.”

Indiana can reassert itself as that and sway some remaining doubters. Washington can learn on the fly and claim the knock-knock-knocking stuff is overrated.

That’s what is on the line in Game 5.

Wall seeks break-out game, Pacers pray

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers-Wizards: Game 4 Preview

WASHINGTON – John Wall‘s breakthrough this season for the Washington Wizards, beyond staying healthy, has been his ability to take the team’s pulse, on the fly, and more often than not provide precisely the right mix of scoring, playmaking, defense, leadership and pace.

It’s a tricky formula, crafted from feel rather than from recipe, tweaked from night to night, subject to the competition, swings in momentum and assorted circumstances. And at the moment, it’s off. Way off. “New Coke” off.

Wall’s growing maturity in reading a game hasn’t averted Washington’s 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven series with the Indiana Pacers. Even when he reverted to some me-first tactics in the ugly Game 3 Pacers victory, his teammates didn’t prosper, the payoff wasn’t there and the fourth-year point guard never could find the right gear.

“John was trying to push it,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the 85-63 loss. “I didn’t think we had [four other] guys running with him the way we are capable of doing,”

Springtime is for graduations, but this is a school with few shortcuts to a degree. As eager as Wall and the Wizards are to startle the NBA again (having already beaten Chicago) by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, class still is in session for the playoff newbies.

Playoff games come rapidly. Series, even those that go long, begin and end in a fortnight. Guys like Wall and Bradley Beal can learn as they go, but a lot of what they’re uploading now won’t fully get processed until they’re done. The Wizards will be better for this – whatever this is, all the way up to The Finals – in the coming years. But it’s coming at them now.

“I can’t even process it or even think about it,” Wall said after practice Saturday at the Verizon Center. “Basically you’re trying to prepare yourself and think about each game, and look forward to the next one. We’ve put [Game 3] behind us. Watched film today of what we need to do and what we’re capable of doing.”

The video from Friday’s game revealed plenty of the former, in all its conspicuous absence, but not much of the latter. There wasn’t a Wizard among them who played well; forward Trevor Ariza was the best of the bunch with 12 points and 15 rebounds, but Washington needed something more like Ariza’s Game 1 output offensively (22 points).

The rest of them missed shots, missed free throws or turned over the ball, and Wall did all three, with the additional culpability of not dictating the pace better for their offense. Forty-eight hours after bemoaning their inability to run – they had just a lone fast-break point in Game 2 – the Wizards knew they had failed again in merely tying Indiana, 8-8, in that stat in Game 3.

Wall knew, too, that “pace” is bigger than a few quick, breakout baskets.

“It ain’t just about pushing and trying to get fast breaks,” the point guard said. “It’s about putting pace into the game and getting a lot of possessions. That’s when we’re at our best.”

“Just after misses or makes, I think we still have to push the ball. Sometimes when they make it, we try to walk the ball up the court. Then you’re getting into your offense at like 10 or 11 seconds – then you’re basically going to stay on one side of the court the whole time. We’re a better team when we get it up there at 18, 19 seconds and go side-to-side to make those guys move.”

Spotty ball movement contributed to Washington’s 32.9 percent shooting (24 of 73). That led to Wall forcing a few things, which led to his seven turnovers. In this series so far, he is averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. In the two losses, Wall has missed 18 of his 26 shots and owns a minus-25 in the Wizards’ 26-point scoring deficit.

While Beal, the 20-year-old shooting guard, has boosted his performance in the postseason – from 17.1 points per game to 19.6, from a 14.3 PER to 17.7 – Wall has not. He is shooting 34.2 percent (15.8 percent on 3-pointers), his offensive/defensive ratings have flipped (106/104 in the regular season, 98/102 now) and his own PER has fallen from 19.5 to 14.5.

Wall, 23, continues to work and learn daily from Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was a master of mid-range shots and pace (without nearly Wall’s foot speed). The point guard and Wittman talk 1-on-1 almost daily, and especially after games. “We’ll sit down again [Sunday] morning and go over some things that I think he’ll be able to take advantage of,” Wittman said. “But we’ve always done that.”

The Pacers don’t expect that chat to get too intricate. “I think our guys are just running back and praying because it’s obviously a very tough assignment to stop him in the open court,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys made some spectacular plays in those open-court situations, but you can just hope to limit him as much as possible, he’s so electric.”

Paul George said his team remembers all too well the 37 points Wall hung on them in April 2013 when he shot 16-for-25. “We understand that at some point, he’s going to have a good game,” said George, an East All-Star teammate of Wall in February. “He can single-handedly beat us.”

Wall claimed the Wizards’ loss in Game 2 was his responsibility, though it seemed more like a leadership move than an accurate assessment. He was back to exuding confidence Saturday in spite of the second defeat.

“I think I’m going a good job. Nobody on our team’s really shot the ball well this series, to be honest,” Wall said.

“The Game 2 loss was definitely mine. But other than that, I just run my team as much as possible. Try to get those guys going. I know my team feeds off how I get into the paint, how I get guys open shots, and also create for myself. So unless I’m doing that job, then I’m not doing my job.”