Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Rubio’

One Team, One Stat: No D in Minny


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Minnesota Timberwolves, who earned the No. 1 pick by playing the league’s worst defense.

The stat

20151013_min_opp_efg

The context

20151013_min_basicsShooting is the most important part of a good offense, and defending shots is the most important part of a good defense. The Wolves were the worst team at defending shots since the 3-point line was moved back (after three seasons at a uniform 22 feet) in 1997.

The Wolves’ defense ranked in the top 10 in opponent turnover rate and opponent free throw rate. But their success in those areas was trumped by how bad they were at keeping their opponents from missing shots…

… inside and on the perimeter. The Wolves ranked last in field goal percentage defense at the basket and 28th in 3-point defense.

To make things worse, Minnesota ranked last in defensive rebounding percentage. So when their opponents did miss shots, they allowed too many second chances.

Injuries, in particular to Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, were a factor. The Wolves allowed just 100.7 points per 100 possessions in 382 minutes with Rubio and Pekovic on the floor together. Kevin Garnett might have made an impact on defense when he was acquired in February, but played just five games after that.

This year’s Wolves are going to be fun to watch. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are special talents who are just just 19 and 20 years old, respectively. Both could be great defenders some day, too.

But the Wolves are probably going to struggle defensively again this season. In fact, through three preseason games, Wolves opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9 percent.

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

Morning shootaround — Sept. 26


VIDEO: Brent Barry reports from Clippers media day

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson to be more involved with Knicks | Pierce talks title, retirement | Skiles wants Magic to get defensive | New vets bring leadership to Boston

No. 1: Jackson to be more involved with Knicks — Team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher won just 17 games in their first full season in New York. Now, to get better, they think they need to get together … more often. Jackson said Friday that he will take a more active, day-to-day role with the Knicks this year. Newsday‘s Al Iannazzone has the story…

Phil Jackson won’t be sitting on the bench, but he will spend more time in the coach’s office and film room this season — at the request of coach Derek Fisher.

Jackson, the Knicks president who won an NBA-record 11 championships coaching the Bulls and Lakers, wanted to give Fisher his space last season. But after the first-time coach guided the Knicks to a franchise-worst 17-win season, Fisher asked Jackson for assistance.

Fisher said he wanted more “one-on-one” discussions with Jackson to see how to prepare himself and the team better, and welcomes counseling from “one of the great basketball minds we’ve ever seen.” Jackson promises to be more involved and hands-on for his hand-picked protege.

***

No. 2: Pierce talks title, retirement — Paul Pierce is home. Paul Pierce is with a championship contender. And Paul Pierce turns 38 years old in a couple of weeks. You can write the script from there, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register writes…

Paul Pierce already has an idea of how this all might end.

The Inglewood native and NBA veteran signs a deal to play for his hometown team, helping the Clippers win their first NBA title. He rides in the parade through his streets, trophy in hand, leaving his career behind him.

That’s the hope.

“I don’t have much basketball left – whether it’ll be this year or another year. To come home and play in front of family and friends and possibly win a championship, it’s like a dream come true,” Pierce said at Friday’s media day. “If we win this year, win a championship, I’ll probably be done with basketball to be honest.

“It’ll be a dream to be home and carry that championship trophy down Manchester Boulevard.”

By the way, all is cool with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. It always was, apparently. Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. Times has the story…

When a Clippers contingent went to DeAndre Jordan’s home in Houston in July to help convince the center to re-sign with the Clippers, rumors abounded that Jordan and Chris Paul had a powwow to clear up their strained relationship.

Only thing is, according to the players, there was no strain.

“I think that there was forced tension because of everything we all heard that we said about each other, which was not true at all,” Jordan said at Clippers’ media day on Friday. “It was just the outside, and we never asked each other about it.

“These guys are my brothers. I talk to them every day. Yeah, there’s times that we bump heads on the court, but five minutes later, we’re good because it’s constructive, it’s for the right reasons: We want to win. … There’s not any tension; we don’t not like each other. And all three of us [Jordan, Paul and Blake Griffin] are going to be here for a very long time. This is our team; this is our unit. There was no clearing of the air. We just had a sit-down to tell them I was going to be in a Clipper uniform this year.”

***

No. 3: Skiles wants Magic to get defensive — When Scott Skiles took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008, they went from last in defensive efficiency to fourth in his second season. Now, Skiles is hoping to lead similar improvement with the Orlando Magic, who ranked 25th defensively last season. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins was at Magic media day on Friday…

Skiles intends to imbue the Magic with a brand-new identity: defensive-minded and hard-nosed. On several occasions Friday, he said the Magic need to transform themselves into a team that ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage defense.

Last season, they finished 28th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 46.3 percent of their shot attempts.

“There’s been a lot of talk, even before I came here, about turning into a good defensive team,” Skiles said. “It hasn’t happened, and we need to do it.”

The Magic know all about Skiles’ goals. He has spoken with all of the players since he was hired in late May, and he has told them that they need to make significant strides defensively if they’re going to climb out of the NBA cellar and approach a winning record.

***

No. 4: New vets bring leadership to Boston — After squeezing into the playoffs with a young team last season, the Boston Celtics are looking to another step forward. It was another summer where Danny Ainge wasn’t able to acquire a star, but the Celtics did add a couple of veteran big men to their rotation. NBA.com‘s Ian Thomsen was at media day in Boston and takes a look at how David Lee and Amir Johnson could make an impact…

Lee, the 32 year old power forward, should fit in beautifully. The Warriors were able to win the championship last season in no small part because Lee (along with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut) was willing to accept a reduced role for the good of the team. As Lee pursues a new contract next summer, his view of the bigger picture promises to affirm his identity: He will help the Celtics intangibly by keeping the focus on team goals.

He fills many needs for the Celtics. Lee, a two-time All-Star, is a strong rebounder, a smart passer and a versatile scorer. After sitting for most of the season, he was able to identify his team’s needs and make an impact instantly when the Warriors went small midway through the NBA Finals, helping to launch their comeback from a 2-1 deficit against the Cavaliers. Because the Celtics lack a singular playmaker in this era of leading point guards, Lee’s ability to make quick decisions with the ball should be crucial.

Neither Lee nor free-agent Johnson (whose two-year contract is non-guaranteed for 2016-17) has a reputation for selfishness. Both will be expected to provide leadership by example for the young Celtics. Johnson, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, will be asked to play minutes at center, along with Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy is out 8-10 weeks after undergoing back surgery … The Wizards have offered Bradley Beal a less-than-max extensionThe Wolves still like Ricky RubioJared Sullinger lost weightAn oral history of the best in-game dunk we’ve ever seen … Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is going to camp … and the Nuggets waived Kostas Papanikolaou.

ICYMI: The best buzzer-beating highlights from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top 10 Buzzer-beaters

Spain And France Still Battling … On Twitter!


VIDEO: Spain and France served up an instant classic in Thursday’s EuroBasket semifinal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Apparently, an overtime thriller in a EuroBasket semifinal wasn’t enough for certain members of the Spanish and French national teams. Hours after Pau Gasol led Spain to a rousing comeback win over Nic Batum, Tony Parker and the host nation team, members of their respective camps turned to Twitter to continue the fight after Thursday’s game.

Both Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert lobbed shots (nothing vicious) back and forth in an intense rivalry that stretches back years, highlighted in the last year by a French upset of Spain on their home soil in last year’s FIBA World Cup and now Spain’s return of serve today.

Spain locked up their spot in next summer’s Rio Olympics with the win. France will have to earn a spot in a FIBA qualifying tournament in 2016. In the meantime, we need the players on both sides to, uh … keep it classy.

 

Mitchell to serve as Wolves’ interim coach as Saunders battles cancer


VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talked about the Timberwolves’ prospects for the 2015-16 season during Summer League

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sam Mitchell will serve as the Minnesota Timberwolves interim coach to start the 2015-16 season as Flip Saunders focuses on his battle with cancer.

The news was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Thursday afternoon.

The Timberwolves held a Friday morning press conference to make a major announcement, where Mitchell was introduced as the interim coach.

Saunders has been undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed earlier this summer with what is considered to be a treatable form of Hodgkins Lymphoma. Mitchell earned NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2007 with the Toronto Raptors and coached the Raptors.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets | Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number | Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota | Jack ready to lead Nets

No. 1: Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets The Houston Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, and as part of their efforts to strengthen their squad for the coming season, they traded for former Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who had been charged with two driving violations and would seem to benefit from a change of scenery. As Lawson told Fox 26 in Houston, he’s looking forward to playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale and feels he can help push the Rockets to the next level

Guard Ty Lawson, acquired by the Houston Rockets in a trade with the Denver Nuggets in July, is already building a relationship with head coach Kevin McHale.

The two had dinner while Lawson was in Houston last week.

“Kevin McHale, he’s a cool coach,” Lawson said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I sat down and had dinner with him, probably like a week ago.

“He just keeps everything real. He’s played before, so he knows what we’re going through. He makes everything straight forward, no grey areas. It was fun. We talked about everything, not just basketball, just life. He even had some stories when he used to play. It was a fun dinner.

“So I’m excited to play for him.”

Lawson believes the trade to the Rockets will be good for his career.

“It’s a huge chance,” Lawson said. “(The Rockets) went to the Western Conference Finals and could have won, but you just needed a couple of extra pieces. So I’m excited to be playing in a situation where I know I have a chance to win.”

Lawson recently completed a 30-day program for alcohol rehabilitation after getting two DUIs in a seven-month span.

Rockets guard James Harden said at his basketball camp last month he spent some time with Lawson in California, and has no concerns about Ty’s off-the-court issues.

“He’s more focused that ever,” Harden told reporters in August.”

Lawson agreed.

“Definitely, I’ve been through a couple of things, going through it,” Lawson said. “He used to hang out with me. He knows the person I am. I feel like he has no worries about me or my game. So I’m just ready.”

Lawson looks forward to playing with Harden, especially because they are close friends and considers the move to Houston as a breath of fresh air.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Lawson said. “I was like before I even came to the team I was talking to James. I was like ‘man get me over there.’ I’ll be that piece to (help) get over the hump. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

***

No. 2: Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number During a ceremony yesterday to announce “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Atlanta, the Hawks surprised their former center by announcing their plans to retire Mutombo’s number 55. As Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mutombo was caught off guard by the announcement, but couldn’t have been happier

Dikembe Mutombo was at a loss for words.

The former center and soon to be Hall of Famer will have his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. The announcement was made by Hawks CEO Steve Koonin during a ceremony in Fulton County Tuesday declaring Sept. 1, 2015 as Dikembe Mutombo Day. The news came as a complete surprise to Mutombo.

Mutomobo’s No. 55 will be raised to the Philips Arena rafters on Nov. 24 during a nationally televised game against the Celtics.

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Mutombo will have the fourth jersey number retired by the franchise joining No. 9 of Bob Pettit, No. 21 of Dominique Wilkins and No. 23 of Lou Hudson.

Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his NBA tenure. He is the league’s second leading shot blocker and is 19th in rebounds. He was a two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the league for his many humanitarian efforts.

***

No. 3: Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota — At four seasons in and at 24 years old, Ricky Rubio is still in the early stages of his NBA career. But the NBA rumor mill never stops, and this summer, with the Wolves still rebuilding, Rubio’s name has popped up a few times as a player being targeted by other franchises. While in Dubai at a basketball camp this week, Rubio spoke to Gulf News and said if it’s up to him, he plans to stick around in Minnesota

But Rubio, in Dubai to add star power to the BasicBall Academy summer camps at the Dubai World Trade Centre, denied he was about to move to the Big Apple or anywhere else.

He told Gulf News he believes he will stay with his first and so far only NBA team.

“I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded,” said the flashy playmaker. “You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it.”

When asked if he wanted to stay with the long-suffering Timberwolves, Rubio gave a firm: “Yes.”

And why wouldn’t he? It is an exciting time to be a Minnesota Timberwolf — even after a 16-win season in which they failed to make the NBA play-offs for the 11th straight time, the longest streak in the league.

The reasons for optimism include a pair of youngsters for whom the NBA sky is the limit at this stage of their fledgling careers.

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, 20, is coming off a superb debut campaign, in which he showed in flashes why he was once considered North America’s best high-school prospect since LeBron James. The 6ft 8in Canadian displayed the skill and athleticism to suggest he could soon become one of the league’s best wing defenders, as well as one of its most versatile scorers.

Next season, Wiggins will be joined by skilled seven-footer Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in July’s NBA Draft and a potential future star.

And Rubio, himself still only 24, said he can’t wait to take the court with the emerging duo.

“They have a lot of talent,” said the 6ft 4in guard. “I have a little bit more experience than them that I can share. I really can teach them what I learned. They have a great future and I can help them achieve their goals.

“I like to have athletic players next to me, the way I play. It suits my game.

“[Wiggins] can be as good as he wants. He has a lot of talent. What surprised me about last season is the quickness of how he adapted to the league. He was fearless about the big stage, to play against LeBron James and the bigger names. There are a lot of ways he can score. It is hard to stop him. If you stop one of the ways he scores, he can score in other ways.

“I have seen [Towns] working out this summer in Minnesota. I can tell he is a great player and not just like a big centre, he can really shoot the ball, he can play in the pick-and-pop and he is really going to surprise some people.

“We have a lot of young talent with a big future but we have got to start doing it because it has been a building process for the last couple of years. We have to start putting it on paper and start winning games.”

***

No. 4: Jack ready to lead Nets The NBA is a point guard-heavy league right now, which means if you don’t have an elite point guard, you’re going to, at the very least, struggle night after night against some of the league’s top talent. This summer, the Brooklyn Nets bought out former All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and next season will hand over the reins to… Jarrett Jack? Jack certainly believes he’s the man for the job, as he explained to the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps

Though Jack is more than confident he will be able to prove his detractors wrong, he’s also aware that no matter what he says now, those questions won’t be answered until the regular season begins.

“It does [motivate me], but it’s not like I’ve got the article pinned up on my wall,” Jack said Tuesday after an appearance at a Nets basketball camp in Southampton. “But my thing is that all you can do is show and prove … wait for the opportunities and then take advantage of it, and just help your team win. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to realize it.

“When the season comes and I have my opportunities to go out there and show them that I believe different … that’s the response. You don’t have to respond to it, because your play is going to be the response to whatever they think.”

For a Nets team that will enter this season full of questions, the one surrounding its point-guard play — and whether the trio of floor generals it has assembled will be good enough to get it back into the playoffs — is as important as any outside of the health of Brook Lopez.

There were few tears shed when Deron Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer, allowing him to return home to Dallas. Though Williams’ personality won’t be missed, he was productive last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Jack, on the other hand, had the worst plus-minus of any player on an NBA playoff team, with the Nets being outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he played, compared to outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions when he sat.

“You never want that attached to your name,” Jack said. “It’s something I have to improve on. … Hopefully this year I can reverse it.”

The Nets are banking on it, as well as the fact that Jack, who went to Las Vegas last month with Joe Johnson to organize a team workout while the Nets were playing there during the NBA’s annual summer league — will help lead a group that will have better chemistry and cohesion this season with the lingering questions about Williams now behind them.

Jack simply sees it as an opportunity to prove he’s a full-time starter in the NBA, something he hasn’t done since starting 39 of 45 games for New Orleans in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jack said. “I’m super excited for training camp to get here, and these daily tests I’m going to have to show people what I can do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Bledsoe says the Suns want a playoff berth, and they’re “not trying to get the last spot, either” … Carmelo Anthony has partnered with Vice media to launch his own sports channel … The Pennsylvania community he called home came out to remember Darryl Dawkins yesterday

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time | Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too | Horford talks Dominican hoops | Burke ready and able

No. 1: Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time — There’s lots of optimism in Minnesota about basketball, and it doesn’t center on the Lynx for a change. No, the former WNBA champs could take a back seat, popularity-wise, to the Timberwolves this season. Over the last two years, since the Kevin Love trade, the Wolves have gradually stockpiled assets and young players and believe the best is yet to come. This represents a change for a franchise that really hasn’t been on radar since Kevin Garnett left for the Celtics. Anyway, Ricky Rubio is in Manila doing promotions and was asked about the Wolves. He didn’t hold back and saved his best props for Andrew Wiggins, as Naveen Ganglani of Rappler reports …

The 6-foot-4 Rubio, who averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.7 rebounds a game last season with an effectiveness rating of 15.24, said that health will be a big factor in order for the playoffs-starved franchise to reach their goal.

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance,” said Rubio, who’s about to enter his fifth year in the NBA — all with Minnesota. “We [all] have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

Wiggins is the key factor. Good enough to win last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, the former Kansas Jayhawk averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per contest in his freshman campaign as a pro.

What’s more impressive than his statistics or athleticism is that he’s already displayed a great feel for the NBA game despite being just 20 years old, making pundits believe he can one day blossom into a top-5 player in the league.

His point guard is thinking even further.

“I think Wiggins is going to be an MVP one day,” said Rubio, who missed a large chunk of last season due to a severely sprained ankle injury.

***

No. 2: Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too It’s pretty common for players on the verge of stardom thinking they’re ready to take the next step, but in Kawhi Leonard‘s case, he might be on to something. Lots of the attention this summer in San Antonio was generated by LaMarcus Aldridge defecting from Portland and, to a lesser extent, David West from Indiana. And yet, lots of the Spurs’ upcoming season will depend on Leonard and whether he’s ready to be an All-Star. To hear him say it, he is. And Leonard doesn’t say much. But he has plenty of confidence in himself and is big on the Spurs, which is why he decided to stay and sign an extension. This is what Leonard told David Zink of the Press-Enterprise

Moreno Valley’s Kawhi Leonard usually lets his game do the talking.

But Saturday morning, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year delivered an important message to the young athletes who attended his basketball camp at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.

“I want the kids to know that it’s not a myth that somebody from their city plays and wins in the NBA,” said Leonard, who helped Riverside King High to consecutive CIF-Southern Section titles in 2008 and ‘09. “I just want to influence them to work hard and do whatever they want to do in life, whether it’s to be a basketball player or scientist … if they believe in themselves they can do anything.

“That’s why I have this camp.”

On Saturday, about 90 boys and girls spent the day at the free camp rubbing elbows with one of the great, young NBA talents.

Quiet and unassuming, Leonard, 24, is a relentless competitor who has taken the NBA by storm, carving out his spot among the elite players while playing in a San Antonio Spurs system that values hard work and unselfish play.

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

***

No. 3: Horford talks hoops in the Dominican — Al Horford is the elder statesman of the Hawks, who won 60 games last season and reached the East finals for the first time, so he’s more qualified to discuss the state of the franchise than anyone else. He also won a pair of championships at Florida under Billy Donovan, now the coach of the Thunder, so while conducting a clinic with Basketball Without Borders, Horford let it fly about those two subjects and more to Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated

The NBA and FIBA’s Basketball Without Borders program held its first-ever camp in the Dominican Republic this week, and along for the ride was Hawks big man Al Horford, for whom the events held added weight.

Horford was born in Puerto Plata, lived in the country until the age of 14 and continued to visit every offseason to see family and help run basketball clinics. His father, Tito, also taking part this week, was the NBA’s first Dominican-born player. The Basketball Without Borders traveling contingent also included Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva, whose parents are Dominican, and Horford’s former Florida teammate Corey Brewer of the Rockets.

SI.com caught up with the All-Star center in the midst of his trip for a window into his experience and his take on a busy off-season for the Hawks, who are preparing to follow up on a 60-win campaign and the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

SI.com: Given that you grew up in the Dominican, how meaningful is it to be a part of the first-ever camp there, and especially to be there with your dad?

Horford: It’s a pretty awesome experience. We’re very grateful that the NBA has brought this caliber of camp to the Dominican Republic, and we get to have an impact in the community as well. I’m excited, my family and I, this has been a week-long celebration, just being able to teach kids, spend time together and make a difference down here.

SI.com: As a kid, you chose basketball over baseball. Obviously baseball’s still the main thing there, but do you get the sense that interest in basketball has changed over the years?

Horford: No question. Baseball’s our dominant sport, obviously, but more and more, you’re starting to see kids from a very young age start to play basketball and really be interested in the game. There’s a big following here. People follow us, they know what’s going on in the NBA, and people here want to play basketball. It’s funny, you drive anywhere in the city, you’ll see courts and people out there playing at all hours of the day. It’s pretty impressive.

***

No. 4: Burke ready and able There’s been plenty of worry in Salt Lake City over the knee injury suffered by Dante Exum, which will likely sideline him for all of the 2015-16 season. But Trey Burke says, have no fear. With the Jazz down a point guard, Burke feels it’s time to start carrying himself like a veteran and help fill the void of Exum, who was expected to see increased playing time in the Utah backcourt. Here’s Burke discussing Exum and the clang to Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune

Trey Burke was sitting on the concourse at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, signing autographs with a silver marker when a fan struck up a conversation with the Utah Jazz guard.

“Now for the most important question,” the man said after a while. “Utah or Michigan?”

Burke smiled and said he’d be rooting for his alma mater when Jim Harbaugh and company visit Salt Lake City on Sept. 3.

After some lighthearted razzing, the man chuckled and turned to the woman at his side and said, “He’s the perfect point guard except that he’s from Michigan.”

The couple laughed.

Burke, too.

He knows he has been far from perfect since he led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament championship game, won college basketball’s player of the year award and became the first point guard drafted in 2013.

“I haven’t hit the goals that I have for myself,” Burke said between fulfilling autograph requests and posing for pictures at a community fair. “But I feel like they’ve been two solid years. I’ve been learning a lot, especially over this summer and last summer. But I know I have a lot of room to improve and I’m willing to work on those areas.”

Burke knew he was facing a crucial year ahead even before knowing that starting point guard Danté Exum could miss all of next season with a torn ACL. Burke had shown flashes over his first 146 games in the NBA, but he also struggled for stretches when he was getting beat on defense or missing too many shots. So as he prepared to his third season with the Jazz, Burke said he was as motivated as ever to prove himself.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Glen Davis believes the Clippers would’ve beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference finals even though the Clippers have fewer banners in Staples than Taylor SwiftCan the Rockets really sign Kevin Durant? … They love LeBron in the Philippines.

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

***

No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

***

No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

***

No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

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 — June 29


VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

***

No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.

***

No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of TwinCities.com provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”

***

No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Morning Shootaround — April 12



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Clippers get tough | Gasol goes down | Surgery for Rubio | Rose is blooming | Cousins, Gay sidelined

No. 1: Clippers grit and grind over Grizzlies — There’s nothing like a big win in front of the boss and that’s what the Clippers got with first-year team owner Steve Ballmer enjoying himself from courtside at Staples Center. There’s nothing like a big win coming down the stretch and that’s what the Clippers got with a victory that jumped up to the No. 3 seed in the West. And there’s nothing like using your opponent’s style against him, which is what the Clippers did by getting tough in their 94-86 victory over the Grizzlies. Ben Bolch of of the Los Angeles Times had the blow-by-blow:

“We just had to grit and grind a little bit,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said, using the catchphrase favored by Memphis.

The Clippers (54-26) moved into a three-way tie with the Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the West, though the Grizzlies would own the No. 2 seeding by virtue of holding the tiebreaker that puts them atop the Southwest Division.

The Clippers hold a tiebreaker with San Antonio by virtue of having a better record against West opponents, provided the Spurs do not win their division.

“I guess it’s more confusing now,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers joked of the playoff picture. “When you figure it out, let me know.”

***

No. 2: Gasol joins Grizzlies’ growing injury list — It was painful and difficult for the Grizzlies to lose a vital clash — aren’t they all right now? — with the Clippers as they jockey for position in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. But more significant may have been center Marc Gasol leaving the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. He joins Mike Conley and Tony Allen on the injury list with the start of the playoffs just a week to go. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Falling in the Western Conference standings might now be the least of the Grizzlies’ concerns.

They keep losing key players to injury.

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter Saturday night and didn’t return in a 94-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

Gasol logged nearly 10 minutes. He tried to continue playing but eventually asked out of the game and went to the locker room for treatment. Gasol returned to the Grizzlies’ bench in the second quarter. However, the 7-footer never re-entered the game and was ruled out at halftime

***

No. 3:  Ankle surgery shuts down Rubio — Though there were a couple of big pluses to the Timberwolves’ season — Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — the season is coming to a painful finish. In the same week that center Nikola Pekovic went under the knife, guard Ricky Rubio now faces surgery for an ankle injury that has nagged him for months. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tells the tale:

That’s the ankle Rubio so badly sprained in a game at Orlando at season’s beginning, an injury that has never really healed even though he played 22 games on it this season before he was essentially shut down for the season nearly a month ago.

Rubio visited a specialist in Los Angeles when the Wolves played the Lakers there Friday. The Southern California Orthopedic Institute’s Dr. Robert Ferkel will perform surgery in Van Nuys, Calif., that’s intended to give Ferkel and the Wolves’ medical staff more information about what is still causing Rubio soreness and pain.

Wolves coach and chief basketball executive Flip Saunders said the surgery will “clean up” tissue around the ankle and give everyone involved a better look.

“We don’t know how minor or major it is,” Saunders said before Saturday’s 110-101 loss at Golden State in which Wolves rookie Zach LaVine scored a career-high 37 points and Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry again dazzled with circus shots and 34 points of his own. “It wasn’t responding the way we’d expect it to respond. We’ll know more after they get in there.”

The Wolves won’t know a recovery timetable or an expected return to basketball work until after the surgery. Rubio said recently he is fully committed to getting healthy so he can play again for a Wolves team that’s invested $55 million in him for the next four seasons.

***

No. 4: Rose is looking Bullish — With the playoffs fast approaching, the Bulls need Derrick Rose to round back into his All-Star form and their franchise player took another step Saturday night. Playing in his third game since Feb. 23 and first at home, Rose took another step on the road to recovery with a solid performance in a win over the Sixers, and Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com was there to see it:

“Every game I play is a stride,” Rose said. “Every day I go in there and work out, do my rehab or training, it’s a stride. It’s a step forward. So every day is a positive day, even if I have a bad game or if I’m having a bad day, I try to erase it the next day.”

Rose has played better every time he has stepped on the floor this week since playing 19 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic. The biggest difference in this contest is that Rose played more minutes — almost 29 — than the 20 he had been averaging in his first two games. Rose also got the feel of playing in the fourth quarter, something he hadn’t done in the past two contests.

He doesn’t seem to be surprised with how well he’s seeing the floor, despite the fact he has missed so much time over the past few years. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Saturday’s game marked just the fourth time in Rose’s career that he had at least 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. It’s the first time he has accomplished that feat since the 2011-12 season.

“When you miss three years, damn near, you see everything,” Rose said. “I’m just being patient a little bit more and there’s no point in me forcing anything by the way that they’re playing me. They’re not double-teaming me, they’re letting me do whatever I want to do, it’s just all about me catching rhythm.”

***

***

No. 5: Cousins, Gay done for the season — In reality the Kings have been in “wait-til-next-year” mode for quite some time, losing games, changing coaches twice and sinking back down toward the bottom of the standings. But coach George Karl seems to have made that official with the announcement that DeMarcus Cousins and probably Rudy Gay will join Darren Collison on the bench as the Kings play out the string on the season. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the scoop:

DeMarcus Cousins (sore right foot), Rudy Gay (concussion) and Darren Collison (core muscle injury) have all been out, with Collison not playing since Feb. 5. Cousins has missed the last three games and Gay has missed five of the last six games.

“DeMarcus, I think, is done for the year,” Karl said. “I don’t know what’s going to be sent out but the report I got is it looks like they want him to stay off his legs for the rest of the year. I don’t think as an organization we’re going to take a chance on Darren. I would say Rudy is borderline out for the season, too. We’re hoping maybe for a game but I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow. Because he doesn’t play tomorrow, I think they’ll go into the protocol, the concussion protocol, that I don’t understand but I think it’s going to be difficult to get him in either game against the Lakers (next week).”

Cousins leads the Kings averaging 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds. The Kings are 4-16 this season without their All-Star center.

Gay is averaging 21.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 68 games.

Collison, who had surgery to repair his injury last month, averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 5.6 assists in 45 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Word is the Knicks are already zeroing in on free agent Greg Monroe … Patrick Beverley is determined to return from wrist surgery to join Rockets in the playoffs … Brett Brown wants to see Joel Embiid play in the Summer League … Lakers plans to bring back Tarik Black next season … The Knicks and Magic make history with a historically bad quarter … Clippers pick Lester Hudson over Nate Robinson … It’s all over but the shouting for the once-great Heat.