Posts Tagged ‘Raptors’

Morning shootaround — May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks | Warriors’ focus on Lillard pays off | Raptors clean slate with Game 7 win | Is it time for fearless Thunder to fear Leonard?

No. 1: Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks — A long layoff works in different ways for different teams. The San Antonio Spurs used their extended time off before their Western Conference semifinal opener against Oklahoma City to perfection (and blew out the Thunder). Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue hopes his team can do the same. That’s why he’s so anxious to get started against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (7 p.m. ET, TNT), as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t played a game since completing the sweep against the Detroit Pistons one week ago. The East’s top team has been waiting patiently, first for the opponent, and then for the opening game of the next round.

“Very anxious,” head coach Tyronn Lue said following Sunday morning’s practice. “A lot of messin’ around, not messin’ around, but you could tell we’ve been off for eight days and guys ready to start playing and getting ready and getting focused for the game. It’s time and we’re ready to play.”

The wait is almost over, with the Cavaliers set to begin their second-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

“This is a long layoff,” veteran Richard Jefferson said. “You look at San Antonio after a long layoff and they came out and played well so you have to use this rest, but at the same point in time you have to try to stay sharp mentally and physically you have to stay sharp — not just eat, hang out and chill. You have to stay locked in this whole time.”

Lue admitted that he didn’t start formulating his plan for the Hawks until the series ended on Thursday night when Atlanta topped Boston in Game 6. Instead, the Cavs focused on themselves, looking at what they had to do to get better.

“Game 1 is a new series and it doesn’t matter what you shot, how well you played, what adjustments you made in the first series,” Jefferson said. “The second series is different against a better team.”

During off days, the Cavs did conditioning work and players stayed in the gym late, getting extra shots. To stay loose following practice, they played other sports — throwing the football around or grabbing mitts to toss the baseball back and forth.

But this time of year, there’s always the question of rest vs. rust, especially after the rhythm Cleveland found against Detroit in Round One.

“Obviously, you can’t get cute and overthink it,” Lue said. “We have our principles, we know what we want to do going into a game and then if things don’t work and you have to adjust. But we know what we want to do right now and we’re ready.”

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Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

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Morning shootaround — April 17




VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all about Curry’s ankle | Brooks eyeing Lakers | Familiar Raptors headache | Bradley injury could doom Celtics
No. 1: All eyes are on Stephen Curry’s ankle — Yes, the Warriors dominated, owned, locked up and threw away the key on the Rockets from the moment they walked onto the court at Oracle on Saturday. But after a 104-78 thumping in Game 1 all that anybody in the Bay Area — and all around Dub Nation — could think about was Stephen Curry limping off the court with a “tweaked” right ankle. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper says Curry seems to be the only one not worried about the injury, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr was taking no chances:

It was Stephen Curry and ankles, it was the first 48 minutes of what could be months of playoffs, and it was every bit the rout that could have been expected in a 1-8 matchup. He was lucky the Warriors hadn’t wrapped him in a mass of down pillows and called the cops to escort him home at halftime.

“Well, he saw I was writing the five players’ names on the board who I’m sending out there and he saw his name wasn’t on there and he was incredulous,” Kerr said. “And I said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re moving right now.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and of course he’s going to say that. He’s a competitor. He wants to play. But we’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse. Obviously we’re hoping that we’re going to be in the playoffs for the next couple of months. So we don’t want to make any chances.”

Including in Game 2 on Monday. More will be known as the Warriors gather for a workout Sunday morning at their practice facility, namely whether the joint stiffens and swells overnight, but Kerr is calling him questionable for now with Golden State obviously wanting to avoid an ankle that remains problematic for weeks.

“Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out,” Curry said after scoring a game-high 24 points despite playing just 20 minutes, making eight of 13 attempts overall and five of seven behind the arc. “Obviously if it’s not right and at risk of further injury and what not, that’s the only thing that I think we have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can deal with on the court. But you don’t want anything more serious to happen favoring the ankle or what not. So that’s what we’ll pay attention to the next few days.”


VIDEO: Curry tweaks ankle

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Morning shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: Highlight’s from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors were due for a game like this | Lebron’s tweets can cause nightmares | Gentry, Pelicans ready to look to the future? | Curry skeptical he could ever score 81

No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:

Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.

Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.

Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.

So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.

For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.

If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.

Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.

Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.

But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.

The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.

Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.

***

No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?

LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.

Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:

We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.

But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.

James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.

So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?

***

No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:

“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke EvansQuincy PondexterBryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.

Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.

“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”

***

No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:

The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.

The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.

Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?

“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”

Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.

Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”

The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.

He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.

According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).

Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?

“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”

Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.

“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:  It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

***

No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

***

No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

***

No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Report: Toronto’s Valanciunas opts against surgery

VIDEO: Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas fractures his finger.

Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has decided not to have surgery on a fractured finger in his left hand and will instead try rehabilitation, Yahoo reported Saturday.

Valanciunas suffered the injury on his non-shooting hand Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles. There was no immediate estimate on how long he will be sidelined, but coach Dwane Casey was preparing for the possibility of small ball by moving Luis Scola from power forward to center as soon as Sunday against the Clippers at Staples Center, according to the Toronto Star, with Patrick Patterson or James Johnson starting at power forward.

Casey also had the option of moving Bismack Biyombo from backup center into the opening lineup. Another big man, Lucas Nogueira, was expected to join the Raptors from the D-League in time for the game against the Clippers.

“There are different things we can do, we just can’t change all of our sets and all of our defensive schemes,” Casey said, according to the Star. “Luis is very versatile, there’s Patrick, DeMarre Carroll at the four, AB (Anthony Bennett), James Johnson at the four. There are a lot of variables we can have at the four and the five.”

Valanciunas is averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.3 minutes.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.

***

No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”

***

No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”

***

No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

***

No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

***

No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

Morning Shootaround — April 27



VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max | Austin Rivers saves Clippers season | Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season | Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep

No. 1: Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max — The New Orleans Pelicans have a summer to-do-list that starts and ends with taking care of Anthony Davis. The Pelicans’ immediate future rests on making sure Davis is a part of the organization for years to come and that means signing him to a max deal. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more:

League sources say that the Pels will be as aggressive as possible on July 1 in presenting Davis with a five-year maximum contract that makes him New Orleans’ designated player.

Given that the 22-year-old was voted to start in February’s All-Star Game and will likely earn All-NBA first-team status when voting results are announced in coming days, Davis would be in line to start his max deal at 30 percent of the league’s salary cap as opposed to a mere 25 percent as long as he earns just one of those same honors next season — or if he is named the 2015-16 MVP.

Based on the league’s most recent cap projections, Davis will thus be presented with a five-year pact that will eventually top $30 million annually and could exceed $140 million in total value in a deal that kicks in beginning in 2016-17 and run through his 28th birthday.

Can he really turn down those sort of riches and that level of security in the name of flexibility?

Would he turn that down when he’s clearly comfortable in New Orleans and, by all accounts, highly engaged as the young leader of his team?

Hard to see Davis resisting such lucrative insulation, though he certainly does have the option of signing a shorter extension to keep his free-agent future more open.

***

No. 2: Austin Rivers saves Clippers season — He was supposed to be a bit player in this series, a footnote at best. But make no mistake, with their season on the brink in Game 4 in San Antonio, Austin Rivers stepped up and helped save the Los Angeles Clippers. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports explains how Austin Rivers brought tears to his father’s eyes:

When Doc Rivers walked into the locker room, the scene stopped him. Chris Paul called on the Clippers to congratulate the young guard responsible for saving the season and present him the game ball. Everyone clapped. Everyone let out a long, loud cheer for Austin Rivers.

“For a moment, for a half second maybe, I became a dad in there,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports later on Sunday at the AT&T Center. The tears welled in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away and stiffened in the concrete corridor.

To trade for his son, Rivers had to make a case on the move’s merits to a dubious basketball community. He’s had to live with the criticism. They’ve had to live with it together. They had Sunday together, too.

Austin Rivers had his finest moment in the NBA on Sunday, scoring 16 points, delivering defense, deflections and a 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to bring this best-of-seven series 2-2 back to Staples Center. He made deft drives to the basket, fearless finishes to stun the Spurs.

For nine years, Doc Rivers coached and lived in Boston. For most of that time, his wife and children stayed in Orlando. Austin completed middle school and high school, spent a year at Duke and moved onto the NBA. Father and son were separated a long time, often coming and going in moments Doc had flown down and stolen an off-night for a high school game or an ACC game on Tobacco Road.

“Listen, we haven’t been together a lot,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “In a lot of ways, I am his coach.”

More coach than father, he’s trying to say. It’s an honest admission, and it comes tinged with a touch of sadness. Nevertheless, Austin Rivers has had to find his own way with these Clippers, earn his own respect. This was a beginning on Sunday, nothing more, nothing less.

***

No. 3: Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season — It’s all about Kobe Bryant next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with a monster free agent summer on tap, the Lakers’ focus will be on Kobe. Lakers boss Jeanie Buss insists the 2015-16 season will be a celebration of one of the franchise’s and NBA’s all-time greats and his 20 years with the franchise. Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk.com has the details:

It’s been more or less known without anybody outright saying it for a while that next year will be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. His contract is up in 2016, which will put his career at 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, and the last three have ended with injuries.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss seems to know the end of the Kobe era is coming, if you go by her comments on a Sunday morning Bleacher Report radio interview:

Bryant has said that he doesn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour when he hangs it up, but it seems pretty obvious that it’s coming. And for the impact he’s had on the NBA and the sport worldwide, he deserves to take a victory lap regardless of what the Lakers do next season.

***

No. 4: Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep — The Portland Trail Blazers insist they will not go away quietly. They will not be swept out of these playoffs without a fight. Their season is on the line tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies and they vow to fight until the very end. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

A little more than nine weeks ago, the Trail Blazers‘ practice court was brimming with confidence and gusto.

They had just made a splash at the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Arron Afflalo to strengthen their bench and add depth for what figured to be a long and successful playoff run. Pundits universally lauded the move. San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich hailed it as a “great addition.” The Blazers boldly pronounced they were poised to contend for an NBA Championship.

Oh how things have changed.

On Sunday afternoon, that confidence and gusto had been replaced with disappointment and dejection. The Memphis Grizzlies have pummeled the Blazers in their best-of-seven Western Conference playoffs series, using muscle, moxie and better talent to build a 3-0 lead. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

And that history hovered over the Blazers like a thick fog Sunday at the practice facility in Tualatin, where they gathered for what could be their final practice of the season. No one said the season was done. Everyone promised to show heart and fight and claw until the final buzzer sounds at the end of Game 4, which is scheduled for 7:30 Monday night at the Moda Center.

But there was no escaping the daunting challenging in front of them. And there was no masking the inevitable gloom that comes with the reality the season is all but over.

“Right now, we’re at the point where we have to just have some heart and have some pride,” Damian Lillard said.

The Blazers spouted off the usual array of clichés, promising to take the series “one game at a time” and “only think about tomorrow’s game.” But history is impossible to ignore. And when the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics on Sunday, they became the 112th team in 112 chances to win a series after building a 3-0 lead.

“You can’t think about it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “You just have to go game-by-game. If you try to think about, ‘Oh, we’re down 0-3 and let’s try to win the series,’ I think that’s when you think about the history. But if you just go game-by-game, just focus on getting Game 4, then anything’s possible.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s summer pursuit of Kevin Love will no doubt be complicated after the “bush league” play from Kelly Olynyk … Knocked down and out, gutsy Jae Crowder embodied toughness of Celtics this season … The Hawks are still a bit salty after their poor shooting effort in a Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn NetsSteals could help the Bucks steal another playoff win if the Chicago Bulls aren’t more careful with the ball … Kevin Love‘s absence in Cleveland with that shoulder dislocation will depend on his personal injury history

 

Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”

***

No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

***

No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.

***

No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.

***

No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the ESPNDallas.com that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:


VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam