Posts Tagged ‘san antonio spurs’

Mavs, Suns put playoffs in own hands

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets a record, but the Suns get the win

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies, the team supposedly no high seeds want to see in the first round, is on the outside looking in. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a favorite to win the West, is 0-4 in the last month against the current No. 7 and No. 8 seeds they very well could face.

Following a busy Sunday in which the San Antonio Spurs showed zero fear for the slumping Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns outlasted the Thunder again and the Dallas Mavericks sweated out a two-point win at Sacramento, the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race continues to be as unpredictable as it is tight.

The Mavs and Suns have put their playoff fates in their own hands. Beyond that, any sorting out with 10 days left in the regular season remains premature because No. 7 Dallas (47-31), one-half game up on No. 8 Phoenix (46-31), which is one game ahead of No. 9 Memphis (45-32), all play each other in the season’s final five days (see remaining schedules below).

Anything remains possible. Everything’s on the table.

The miracle Suns, predicted at the start of the season to be a franchise banking on a high lottery position, have bounced back strong after arguably the season’s most devastating loss at the Los Angeles Lakers a week ago, followed by a heartbreak home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the last three nights, Phoenix has won at Portland and beat OKC, 122-115. The Suns also outran the Thunder on March 6, 128-122. Meanwhile, it makes OKC 0-4 over the last month against potential first-round foes Phoenix and Dallas. Of the Suns’ five remaining games, four are on the road.

Dallas has rebounded from a disappointing 4-4 homestand and looks to finish its road trip 4-0. The Mavs play a third consecutive West bottom-feeder Tuesday when it visits the Jazz. After holding on for dear life against the Clippers on Thursday, they followed up with wins at the Lakers and Sunday’s 93-91 nail-biter against the Kings.

An interesting twist in the schedule has Dallas playing host to San Antonio on Thursday, then the Suns playing at San Antonio on Friday and then at Dallas on Saturday. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could opt to rest multiple players in either game of the back-to-back considering the No. 1 seed is all but sewn up.

As for the Grizzlies — who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Phoenix, but not Dallas — they’ve dropped four of six, and were no match for the Spurs in Sunday’s 112-92 trouncing. Next up is a home date with Miami on Wednesday before absolute must-have games against Philadelphia at home and the Lakers on the road.

Here’s how the remaining schedules shake out for the Mavs, Suns and Grizzlies:

No. 7 Mavericks (47-31)

Tuesday: at Utah

Thursday: vs. San Antonio

Saturday: vs. Phoenix

April 16: at Memphis

=================

No. 8 Suns (46-31)

Wednesday: at New Orleans

Friday: at San Antonio

Saturday: at Dallas

Monday: vs. Memphis

April 16: at Sacramento

=================

No. 9 Grizzlies (45-32)

Wednesday: vs. Miami

Friday: vs. Philadelphia

Sunday: at L.A. Lakers

Monday: at Phoenix

April 16: vs. Dallas

Blogtable: Believing in the Spurs

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


BLOGTABLE: Buying into the Spurs | Fixing Indiana | West 5-6-7-8



VIDEO: Sam Mitchell takes a look, through SportVU cameras, at how the Spurs share the ball

> What more is it going to take to convince you that the Spurs not only can win the West, but can win it all? Are you already convinced?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: All I needed was one close-up look Monday night. Granted, San Antonio was playing a lost group in Indiana, and holding the Pacers below 80 points has become all the rage throughout the NBA. But the Spurs also stuck them for 103 points, with the second unit inflicting damage well after the starters sat down. San Antonio is a well-oiled drill team. Every other contender has some flaw(s) by comparison. There’s no such entity as a “LeBron stopper” but Kawhi Leonard has as good a chance to slow him as anyone. Other than a horribly timed injury, I don’t see much stepping between the Spurs and the Larry O’Brien trophy. Other than that man from Miami doing something really memorable …

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No need to convince me. They came within 28 seconds of winning the championship last June.  Now they are deeper, healthier, better.  At this point, the Spurs are the team to beat.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Convinced. Have been. For a long time. I think the Spurs are better now than they were a year ago. The addition of Marco Belinelli was brilliant, and Manu Ginobili, who looked ready to buy the farm last June, is somehow rejuvenated. Everything you’d ever want in a basketball TEAM is right here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s any doubt? How can anyone not be convinced? They score, defend, shoot well, have experience, have closers, have coaching and limit chances for opponents by hitting the defensive boards. Offensive rebounding is a problem, but the Spurs could finish No. 1 in the league in field-goal percentage, so it’s actually not a problem. They make so many baskets that players are simply out of practice with what to do when the ball does not go in. I was convinced about San Antonio from the start of the season, even if the Clippers were my pick to win the West. This is just being more convinced.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A win on Thursday would help, because they’ve lost nine of their last 11 meetings with Oklahoma City, having been scorched by OKC’s offense in a lot of those games. The Spurs are the best team in the league, but the Thunder, with their athleticism and that Kevin Durant guy, are obviously a bad matchup for them. The West is so good that a 1-2 matchup in the conference finals is far from a guarantee, but it’s hard to pick the Spurs when they’ve done so poorly against the next best team in the conference. So a win on Thursday, especially since they’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of both rest and location, would help convince me that San Antonio can win title No. 5. At this point, I’d be more likely to pick them in a series against Miami than in one against OKC.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: When you really think about it, last season the Spurs were one measly rebound away from winning it all. But when they got to Game 7, they just didn’t have anything left in the tank. So I’m still not convinced the Spurs can win it all this season. Sure, Ginobili seems to be back to being GINOBILI!, and all the other guys just keep doing what they do. But they’ve had guys miss chunks of the season throughout the year dealing with injuries. And while Pop has always tried to manage his team’s minutes with an eye on the long haul, I’m still not convinced these Spurs can keep pounding that rock for 100-plus games.

Stefanos Trianafyllos, NBA Greece: Excuse me, but I am one of the true believers — and that’s not only because I was a San Antonio fan before the Tim Duncan era. The story is getting older than the Spurs themselves. “They are too old, they cannot make it again, they will run out of gas.” No, no, no. The Spurs just keep pounding that rock, as the favorite motto of Greg Popovich applies. Before the playoffs it’s always the same: they can make it ’till the end, IF they stay healthy (that’s the tricky part with age). Especially when nobody expects them to do so. And you know why we wouldn’t be surprised? Because they have done it over and over again.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: I’m still convinced from last year. They were a missed free throw, 1-in-a-million 3-pointer or a rebound away from the 2013 NBA title. They have a complete lineup with a great coach and a system that works well. What they need though is a little bit of luck and most importantly health.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I don’t need any convincing! They were essentially moments away from winning it all last season and seem to have come back bigger and stronger this season. Couple that with their incredible coach and the experienced core players who have been there and done that, and this team deserve to be favorites. The only concern for these guys is health and managing their aging stars, but if they’re all there come the pointy end, this team has as good a chance as any.

Morning Shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers lose No. 1 spot in East | Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns | Cavs readying for major deal? | Gasol recounts ‘scary’ vertigo bout | Gay weighing next move

No. 1: Pacers lose grip on No. 1 in East — Practically since the Eastern Conference finals ended and the Indiana Pacers walked off the court as the losers in Game 7, they have focused and told anyone who will listen how getting No. 1 in the East is their goal in 2013-14. And for every day of the season heading into last night’s Spurs-Pacers game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana held up its end of the bargain. But the Pacers have stumbled of late and after last night’s embarrassing 103-77 loss to San Antonio (and the Miami Heat’s win vs. the Toronto Raptors), they no longer have that lofty perch. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indianapolis last night and takes stock of a locker room that is in a true funk:

Be careful what you wish for. Someone might snatch it away. That’s not quite how the saying goes, but it’s the queasy version that applies now to the Indiana Pacers.All season long, from back in training camp through the many trips and back-to-backs, despite the physical dings and emotional drain of trying to go wire-to-wire, the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as their goal within a goal. They get that, and any Game 7 against their rivals from Miami would be played in Indiana.

It was a marvelous carrot for an 82-game schedule that wields some serious sticks. A rabbit to chase and, once claimed, to flex. A fix for what slipped away last year, when the Pacers did so many things right in Game 6 against the Heat, only to step on that plane to South Florida for one more.

And then, on the final night of the season’s fifth month, it was gone.

The Pacers just hit the snooze button on their own nightmare.

“Good for them. We don’t deserve it,” center Roy Hibbert said in a home dressing room that was more demoralized than angry. “We’ll see, in the playoffs. But we’ve got to figure things out. Miami is a good team. They’ve had a couple hiccups themselves. But we don’t deserve that No. 1 seed.”

Indiana forward David West, who hinted at a variety of basketball and chemistry issues ailing his team now, said: “We’ve got to concede that we haven’t played basketball well enough to deserve the top spot. That’s pretty much it. We haven’t played well enough. We haven’t been a good-looking basketball team for quite some time now. That’s on the guys in this locker room.”

Not “a good-looking basketball team?” West was given another crack at his description of the Pacers at the moment. “We’re probably the most downtrodden, 50-plus win team in the history of the game,” he said. “We watch film from a few months ago, we don’t even recognize ourselves.”

Said Hibbert: “We should all go to group therapy. … We’ve been spiraling. Now we’re splintering a little bit.”

“We’re not playing the game the right way right now,” Paul George said after scoring 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and, later, citing a severe lack of screen-setting. “We’re not playing for one another. It’s tough to score on any team in this league when you’re trying to do it against the whole team.

“San Antonio is the perfect example. It’s hard to guard them because they move the ball, they share the ball. And it’s regardless of who’s shooting. They want the best shot on offense. That’s the problem we’re having right now.”


VIDEO: David West and others talk about Indiana’s loss at home to San Antonio

***

No. 2: Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns — As was pointed out by our own Sekou Smith in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Clippers star Blake Griffin has solidified his place of sorts as the NBA’s third-best player this season. So when Griffin suffered a back injury that took him out of the game in Houston on Saturday (which L.A. won), concerns were raised about whether or not he’d be healthy for the Clips’ playoff run. Griffin sat out last night’s win in Minnesota and plans to do more of the same so he will be ready come playoff time, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Blake Griffin stood erect with his back up against the basketball stanchion for support, contemplating whether it was wise to push through back spasms that forced him from the game Saturday night in Houston or to rest.

Griffin decided to rest rather than play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. He probably won’t play at Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Clippers have seven regular-season games left before the playoffs start in about three weeks, and they want make sure Griffin is 100% healthy.

“This part of the season is important, obviously, as far as [playoff] positioning and everything else,” Griffin said. “The last two years in the playoffs, I’ve been banged up. I haven’t been 100%. I don’t want it to be that way this year. So I’m trying to be smart about it and I’m trying to be proactive and not do anything to make it a prolonged, healing process.”

Griffin suffered a sprained right ankle before the Clippers played Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, limiting his effectiveness.

Over the last few weeks, Griffin has had his back wrapped up in ice and heat because of off and on back spasms.

“Most of the time it’s manageable,” Griffin said. “It felt like Saturday wasn’t really manageable. That was the reason for not coming back in.”


VIDEO: The Clippers win in Minnesota without Blake Griffin

***

No. 3: Cavs positioning selves for major trade? — When a playoff-hopeful team (like the Cleveland Cavaliers) signs a player who has never been in the NBA (in this case, Scotty Hopson), it might be seen as a move to add some last-minute depth. But according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Cavs’ signing of Hopson yesterday is about anything but that. According to Windhorst, the Cavs’ roster move was one made with an eye toward allowing Cleveland to possibly pull off a major trade this offseason:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to put themselves in position to make a major trade around June’s NBA draft, sources told ESPN.com.

To help facilitate it, the team made an unorthodox but strategic move Monday by signing point guard Scotty Hopson to a two-year, $3.8 million contract. Hopson has never played in an NBA game but will get a check for $1.35 million just for the Cavs’ final seven games of the regular season, sources said.

The Cavs are interested in Hopson, a 6-foot-7 University of Tennessee product who went undrafted in 2011, as a prospect after he played well in Turkey this season. But this move is also aimed at expanding the team’s options in June and July.

Team owner Dan Gilbert approved the last-minute spending in an effort to set his team up to be hunters over the summer. It’s the second significant move made by acting general manager David Griffin, who traded for Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline.

The second year of Hopson’s deal, worth $1.45 million, is nonguaranteed. The Cavs now have a stockpile of nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts that could be attractive in trades around June’s draft.

Combined with the contracts of Alonzo Gee, Matthew Dellavedova and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs have a trove of options to use as trade bait for a team that wants to clear salary-cap space. In addition to their all their own draft picks, the Cavs also own future first-rounders from the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat.

At this time of year, teams routinely sign prospects to contracts with nonguaranteed second years. For example, the Brooklyn Nets signed guard Jorge Gutierrez to such a contract last week. The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton to such a deal two weeks ago.

But these contracts were given out at the league minimum, which is commonplace. The Cavs are taking the extra step of using their more expensive mid-level exception, known as the “room exception,” to create a larger contract for Hopson so he becomes a more valuable trade piece.

***

No. 4: Gasol recounts ‘scary’ bout with vertigo – The Lakers host the Blazers tonight as part of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 ET) and L.A. should have forward/center Pau Gasol back on the court. The big man’s return to the lineup hasn’t been easy and his season overall has been marred by injury, with his last injury being perhaps the most frightening. Gasol hasn’t played since a March 23 home win over the Orlando Magic as he dealt with a bout of vertigo. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more on Gasol’s return and more:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man recounted the “scary” experience Monday.

“Just really light-headed, dizzy, drowsy state for five to six days at home without really moving much,” Gasol said. “Just laying (down). Let my system kind of readjust. Because it was scary. A scary moment for me and my family and the ones that love me.”

Gasol left the Lakers’ 103-94 win against the Orlando Magic on March 23 at halftime because of dizziness and nausea. The 13-year veteran received immediate medical attention in the locker room and was taken by ambulance from Staples Center to a local hospital for overnight observation.

“It was a nightmare,” said Gasol, who has missed the Lakers’ last four games because of the illness. “I was feeling terrible. Everybody that saw me, they felt bad because I was extremely pale. I was kind of shivering. I couldn’t really move. I had three liters of IV fluid. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t sit. They had to take me to the hospital on a stretcher. So, the whole experience was not pleasant.”

The cause of Gasol’s vertigo is undetermined. He does not believe that he was struck in the head against the Magic. Doctors surmised that it could be related to the persistent upper respiratory infection that plagued him for much of the first half of the season.

Or, it simply could have been a new virus that caused the inner-ear infection that threw off his balance and brought on the vertigo.

“They could only guess a couple things but nothing for sure,” Gasol said.

“It was scary,” Gasol said. “Luckily I’m a pretty calm person. I usually take things lightly for the most part. I don’t react emotionally very easily, so that kind of plays in my favor. Because I don’t dwell. I don’t overthink. I don’t think of the worse-case scenario. I don’t get nervous. So that kind of helped me out. But a lot of things could have gone through my mind at that point where after a few hours, I couldn’t really move. I couldn’t really move my eyes even because it would make me nauseous or I would vomit and stuff like that.”

The 33-year old has been visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist on a daily basis since being released from the hospital last week after an MRI on head came back normal. He went through a non-contact practice Monday and will test how he feels at shootaround Tuesday to determine if he will play against the Blazers.

“We’ll see how my body reacts when I get up tomorrow after the exercise today,” Gasol said. “I would love to (play).”

Gasol wore a medicinal patch behind his left ear on Monday and continues to do treatment to recoup his balance.


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks about his bout with vertigo

***

No. 5: Kings’ Gay weighing next contract move — Swingman Rudy Gay has played in 68 games this season, the last 50 of which have come as a member of the Sacramento Kings. The team picked him up in an early December trade with Toronto Raptors and the move has somewhat paid off for Sacramento: Gay is third in points scored (1,012) and second in ppg (20.2). Sacramento, however, has the third-worst record in the Western Conference and must make decisions about its future and roster. That’s where Gay comes in: he has a player-option on his contract for next season and as he tells our Scott Howard-Cooper, he’s weighing what his next move will be:

He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”It is long after another loss at Sleep Train Arena, this time to the Knicks, in a near-empty locker room after most teammates have left. Gay is sitting in front of his stall, showered and changed and contemplating the unexpected search for career stability.

Memphis for 6 ½ seasons, and then suddenly Toronto and Sacramento in a little more than 10 months, and the career intersection over whether to stay in the current contract with $19.3 million on the books for 2014-15 or declare himself a free agent is approaching. In that setting, feeling so undefined about the future is actually understandable.

“What does my gut tell me?” Gay says of the looming decision and possibly decisions, plural. “I don’t know. My gut tells me different things every day.”

There is this, though: A lot of his comments land on the side of staying with the Kings, whether under the existing deal or by becoming a free agent that would mean giving back a large portion of the next season’s money in exchange for a the security of a larger payout over longer time. It’s light years from Gay committing to Sacramento — and in fact he says he doesn’t want to put numbers on the chances he stays “because right now I’m giving it my all and for me to tell them I’m going to be gone next year, that wouldn’t be fair” — but it is interesting.

The thought of another life change? “It’s tough moving around when you have a family. I have a kid on the way. It’s tough. I want to be settled, obviously, and I want to be comfortable. That has a lot to do with it.” (Which is double-sided, of course. Gay may decide to hit free agency now to get the next move out of the way, rather than another season in Sacramento and the open market in summer 2015.)

And the money. Of course the money. No way he walks away from $19.3 million, right? He’s staying in the deal and will be a King at least next season, right?

“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”

But people say no one leaves that kind of money on the table.

“They’re not in the NBA,” Gay says. “Those people don’t do the job and work as hard as I do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Garnett plans to return to the Nets’ lineup next week … Last night, Celtics star guard Rajon Rondo made his debut as a TV analyst for the team’s games … ICYMI, the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins put on an early April Fool’s Day gag … Raptors reserve big man Patrick Patterson has his review of “300: Rise of an Empire”Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation sports agency may end up representing ex-Kansas star Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 Draft … The Lakers might just keep Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall around next seasonOur own David Aldridge and ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande with some must-read views on Kobe Bryant‘s recent comments about Trayvon MartinLou Williams put on a performance reminiscent of his Philadelphia days against the 76ers last night … Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t play against the Jazz last night so he could rest his knees

ICYMI(s) of the Night:One thing we love around here is good passing … and a good dunk … and, while we’re thinking about it, a great call from someone on the broadcast team, too. Thankfully, we’ve got all of that on one sequence here from the Bulls

And, impressive as that Taj Gibson play was, LeBron James (of course) had a play last night that kind of one-ups whatever anyone else did …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson finishes off the Bulls’ passing clinic with a power jam


VIDEO: LeBron James makes the amazing happen with this and-one layup vs. Toronto

Analytics Art: Longest winning streaks

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

If San Antonio beats Indiana tonight (7 p.m., NBA TV), the Spurs will notch their 18th straight win, breaking the franchise record and joining an elite group of classic NBA teams.

Only 12 teams in the history of the league have ever pulled off  an 18-game win streak.

winning-streaks-575-wide

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly. Thanks to Tracy Weissenberg for the tip.

 

Pacers, Spurs arrive at East-West showdown in very different spots

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Spurs-Pacers game

INDIANAPOLIS – Contender vs. (wince) pretender.

A marvelous 17-game winning streak vs. all sorts of horrible losing shrieks.

A mastermind boss and a core of proven veterans quick to remind themselves they don’t have all the answers vs. a coaching staff and players who desperately are searching for pretty much any anwers they can find.

This is not, in short, what anyone expected for Monday’s late-season meeting of the San Antonio Spurs and the Indiana Pacers (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Oh, the Spurs have held up their end of things, more than that really, in what technically is a rematch of the Pacers’ 111-100 victory in December. But the Indiana team that dominated that night and left AT&T Center with an 18-2 record is nowhere to be found today. Even the comfort zone of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers are 33-4 this season, offers little, as rattled as they are.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is said to be aching for a loss, eager to wrap up the nicety of the streak and lock in on what’s barreling toward everyone in a few weeks. Frank Vogel, his counterpart, is aching from the losses — five in their past seven games, an 8-9 March so far and five consecutive road defeats (the Pacers haven’t beaten a legit playoff team here in about eight weeks).

After their latest failures at Washington and at Cleveland, Indiana’s reputation nationally is teetering on the brink of mockery, its feel-good result against Miami Wednesday ripped off like a mere Band-Aid over the hemorrhaging. But in losing to the Cavaliers, after scoring only 154 points over the weekend and missing 100 of 157 shots against the Wizards and the Cavs, there’s no teetering in the Pacers’ locker room. They are flat. Pancaked. At rock bottom. That’s how Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star portrayed it:

“Yeah, I would say,” [David] West answered. “For us to be playing like this just as a group, just to be so out of sync and out of sorts – we just got to find an answer. Something happened and all of us are sort of searching for what that is and why we’re playing the way we’re playing and why we’re looking the way we look when we’re out there on the floor.”

Indiana, now 52-22, has played on the offensive end as if it’s an agonizing ordeal to simply put the ball through the hoop. For the fourth consecutive road game, the team could not eclipse the 37-percent shooting clip.

“We had trouble catching passes and trouble knocking down open shots,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys are out of rhythm right now.”

In the best of times, Indiana’s offense is workmanlike; lately it has been goldbricking with an emphasis on the bricks. All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert in particular have sputtered, shooting 35.4 percent and 40.0 percent respectively the past 10 games. George’s breakthrough season looks broken, sagging under defensive attention, the workload of being his team’s top offensive threat and perimeter defender and fits of trying to do too much.

Hibbert’s regressing offense is locked in a mutually confounding struggle with his teammates’ inability to deliver the ball where and when he needs it, and he’s a 7-foot-2 rim defender who is averaging 6.9 rebounds.

The Pacers lack any lights-out shooters, so even backup point guard C.J. Watson‘s nine-game absence has stressed their offensive system. And the chemistry questions about shedding Danny Granger and adding Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum won’t cease until Indiana’s players offer tangible proof that things are OK again.

Beyond a game to be won Monday – with no assurance it would have lasting effect anyway – the Pacers have an opportunity to take some notes from an opponent they want to emulate. Who doesn’t, right? The Spurs get called “the gold standard” just about every where they travel, except maybe to south Florida.

“This is a well-oiled machine,” said Denver coach Brian Shaw, whose team faced the Spurs twice in 72 hours last week. “It doesn’t matter who the personnel is. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. If you don’t have a shot, swing it over to your next open teammate and make the appropriate basketball play. They do that probably better than any team in the league, and that’s why they have success playing any style, whether it’s up and down or a grind-it-out halfcourt game.”

Sure, the Pacers don’t have three future Hall of Famers – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker – anchoring their attack but they do have veterans in key roles and more continuity than most NBA teams. They have a defense that, at least until recently, was comparable to San Antonio’s during its run of 17 consecutive playoff appearances.

Then again, you rarely (if ever) heard the Spurs staking out their conference’s No. 1 seed as the be-all and end-all for postseason success. In their five trips to The Finals, the Spurs have been the West’s top seed twice.

And with the exception of the first one (1999), the Spurs have ranked no lower than eighth in team offensive rating in their other Finals seasons. Defense wins in the playoffs, but only for teams that score the least fewer points.

At this point, both the Spurs’ and the Pacers’ priorities have something in common: they want to shake off an overemphasis on the present and focus on the near future. They’re just trying to get there from 180 degrees of separation.

“We don’t care what the streak is,” Duncan said of the 17 in a row. “We’re not playing each game trying to continue the streak. We’re just trying to play the best that we can and have a good rhythm going into the playoffs. Whatever that may be, whatever that turns into — if we win a bunch or we lose — we just want to feel good going into the playoffs.”

One team can leave the gym after Monday’s game feeling fine even with a loss (well, one coach anyway). The other team is reeling so, losing to someone with pedigree might go down easier.

The Spurs, as they do night in and night out, essentially will be facing the Spurs, probing and measuring against their own lofty standards. The Pacers will be facing the Pacers, too, overdue to like what they see in the mirror.

Morning Shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers, Heat a true playoff atmosphere | Players noticing Jackson-front office discord? | Gasol (vertigo) will miss L.A.’s road trip | Popovich pinpoints Mills’ emergence

No. 1: Pacers, Heat provide a tasty playoff preview — If you somehow managed to miss last night’s Heat-Pacers showdown from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana, do yourself a favor and catch the game on League Pass this morning. It’s OK, we’ll wait till you’re done … so, now that that’s out of the way, you had to leave that game feeling like most of us did — when can the playoffs start already? Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene last night in Indy and has more from the classic, modern-day rivalry we all saw last night:

Surely, Washington and Detroit would understand. Same with Cleveland and Milwaukee and the other teams on the Indiana Pacers’ and Miami Heat’s schedules over the short term.If the NHL could shut down for a few weeks to accommodate the Winter Olympics, the NBA and its member teams no doubt would oblige by staging the Eastern Conference finals now, wouldn’t they?

This one – Pacers 84, Heat 83 – was that special. And raggedy. And nasty. And hot.

There were grimaces and grumbles in the visitors’ dressing room afterward, smiles and a couple of exhales over on the home team’s side, and for a night – portending, soon enough, a fortnight – all was right with the NBA world.

Not all right in the sense that Miami lost and, with it, an opportunity to squeeze the Pacers a little harder in that chase for the East’s No. 1 seed. But all right in the way storm clouds over both teams got shoved aside by the sun burst of playoff-worthy basketball from all involved.

Emotions ran hot, as evidenced by the dueling technical fouls on Lance Stephenson and Dwyane Wade for barking close in the third quarter. Later, both were gone, done in by their respective fatal flaws: Stephenson’s immaturity and Wade’s assorted ailments.

Physically, this was May, not March. James, one of the league’s brawniest players, was in the thick of it. On one play, he got dragged down by Indiana big man Ian Mahinmi. It was reviewed as a flagrant foul but recast as a shooting foul. Next, he was whacked hard by Luis Scola, his recently broken nose taking impact. It too was reviewed as a flagrant but recast as a common foul.

How perfect was this stuff? There had been no handshakes before the game, no chit-chat or fraternity hugs. There certainly won’t be any next time, not now, not after the bodies spent sprawling and the blood spilled Wednesday.

But best of all, as West saw it, Indiana matched Miami in rugged play and giving as good as they got. With the game in their gym, they felt they had a solid chance to stay even on the whistles.

“They’re a tough team and psychologically, against most teams, they have the edge,” West said. “They have the best player in the game. Wade and Bosh are Hall of Fame guys. They’ve got that pedigree, their entire organization. You understand what you’re gonna get.”

Better than that, fans of both teams and the league in general understand what they’re gonna get when these two teams meet again. And, soon enough, again and again and again.


VIDEO: Hibbert, George power Indy’s big win over Miami

***

No. 2: Players noticing Warriors’ discord? — As we mentioned in this space yesterday, the Warriors were on the verge of reassigning assistant coach Brian Scalabrine at the behest of coach Mark Jackson. That move went through yesterday as Scalabrine was sent down to Golden State’s NBA D-League affiliate, but a bigger issue may be bubbling to the forefront. One point brought up in the Scalabrine demotion was the notion that Jackson clashed with his former assistant, current Kings coach Michael Malone, last season. Both Malone and Jackson denied that talk, but as Marcus Thompson of the Mercury News points out, players are noticing the rifts between Jackson and the front office:

Stephen Curry’s comments may not have been surprising. But I get the feeling they were calculated.

“I love coach and everything he’s about,” Curry told reporters after practice on Wednesday.

This new drama related to Mark Jackson demoting Brian Scalabrine is the latest example of a trend some players have noticed – management may not be so high on Jackson. Curry is clearly one of them, perhaps the most important. And his unabashed support of Jackson is undoubtedly a message.

Once again, Warriors management has decided not to publicly support Jackson. That trend isn’t lost on a few players who staunchly supports their coach. A few players expressed the dismay at the lack of favor Jackson has despite the success he’s enjoyed the last two seasons. They see that Jackson simply had the final of his year picked up and was not given his extension. They took note when co-owner Joe Lacob told Tim Kawakami he was disappointed and had some concerns about Jackson. And while Jackson has been constantly under attack, they’ve noticed no one has come out to Jackson’s defense.

Now that the Bay is abuzz about this Scalabrine news, and questioning Jackson, management has chosen to stay quiet.

Multiple players have told me they get the sense Jackson could end up leaving – whether it is by Jackson’s choice or management’s. Whether these divisive undercurrents are problematic remains to be seen. It may even help, if they play harder for him if they feel their coach is under appreciated. Or, what if the message from management starts to filter into the pysche of the players? Will they invest as much in a coach they might see is on his way out or that management doesn’t want around?


VIDEO: Steph Curry and Mark Jackson talk after Wednesday’s practice

***

No. 3: Lakers’ Gasol (vertigo) to miss two more gamesPau Gasol hasn’t suited up for the L.A. Lakers since he played 19 minutes in a 103-94 victory over the Orlando Magic on March 23. Since then, Gasol has been dealing with issues related to his bout with vertigo and will not be traveling with the team on their two-game road trip to Milwaukee and Minnesota, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Pau Gasol, still suffering from symptoms related to his bout of vertigo over the weekend, did not travel with the Los Angeles Lakers when they left for their two-game trip through Milwaukee and Minnesota on Wednesday, according to the team.

Gasol visited ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. John Rehm and it was determined to keep Gasol back in Los Angeles for rest and recovery. The 13-year veteran is not expected to meet the team by taking a commercial flight later in the week.

Gasol is officially being listed as day to day, although he has not been cleared for basketball activities after leaving Sunday’s 103-94 win over the Orlando Magic because of dizziness and nausea and spending the night in the hospital after receiving three liters of fluids through an IV.

Gasol is expected to visit Dr. Rehm on a daily basis to monitor his progress.

Chris Kaman, who started at center and put up 13 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 127-96 rout of the New York Knicks on Tuesday, is expected to continue to fill in for Gasol with the first unit.

***

No. 4: Popovich pinpoints Mills’ emergence – When San Antonio’s All-Star point guard Tony Parker was deemed out indefinitely in mid-February due to his myriad of injuries, some might have been concerned about the Spurs’ ability to win without him. But as has been the San Antonio way for years now, another player plugged into Parker’s spot and kept things humming along. That player? Backup guard Patty Mills, who played in 58 games last season, averaging 11.3 mpg, 5.1 ppg and 1.1 apg. This season, he’s emerged as Parker’s No. 1 backup and is averaging 9.8 ppg and 1.8 apg in 18.4 mpg. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News points out that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich credits Mills’ efforts to trim down for his rise in production:

Leave it to Gregg Popovich to sum up the reason for Patty Mills’ breakout season in crystal-clear terms. Or more specifically, why Mills struggled to secure a consistent role during his first four NBA seasons:

“He was a little fat ass. He had too much junk in the trunk. His decision making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape. He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions. He did all those things better and he earned it. He’s been real important to us, obviously.”

The difference in Mills’ physique was immediately noticeable at training camp. Mills has put his new-found abs and endurance to good use, averaging 9.8 points in a career-high 18.5 minutes. Coming on 40.8-percent accuracy, Mills has more than doubled his previous career high for 3-pointers to 111. For the stat geeks, his 18.4 Player Efficiency Rating — 15.0 is average — is also a career-high, while his plus 3.2 Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus ranks 21st in the entire NBA.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rajon Rondo will serve as a guest TV analyst for the Celtics on March 31 … Wolves president Flip Saunders might be coach shopping at the NCAA TournamentThaddeus Young, aka “Grandfather” on the Sixers, has embraced his role as leader of the young, struggling squad … New Knicks boss Phil Jackson is apparently a fan of combo guard Iman ShumpertMike Brown got his 300th win as Cavaliers coach last night …

ICYMI of the Night: Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters had himself quite a game last night against the Raptors and nailed this pretty little layup, too …


VIDEO: Dion Waiters sinks the crafty reverse layup against Toronto

Pop’s lesson to Thibs: Coach healthy stars


VIDEO: San Antonio wins its seventh straight game by toppling Chicago

CHICAGO – Gregg Popovich walked onto the court at United Center Tuesday night with a minute to go before the horn that sets everything – anthem, intros, tip-off – in motion. The San Antonio Spurs’ coach headed toward the far end and was met just past mid-court by Tom Thibodeau, his Chicago Bulls counterpart. The two men shared a quick, manly embrace, a few words and a couple of quick smiles before retreating to their respective benches.

There, Popovich huddled up with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, each one ready to go. Thibodeau glanced down the way at Derrick Rose, on the bench in a suit again.

The Spurs and Bulls coaches share a lot: gruff exteriors, no-nonsense expectations for their teams and highly watchable end-of-quarter interviews during network games. But they don’t share championship rings – Popovich leads 4-0 – and they don’t share good fortune in the availability of their best players.

“I was stunned the other day, I didn’t realize – I think it was the Miami game – someone said he had coached more games without Derrick than he had with him,” Popovich said before the Spurs’ breezier-than-the-score 104-96 victory Tuesday. “That just threw me back in my chair. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t imagine coaching more games without Tony and Tim and Manu.”

Yeah, well, he hasn’t had to. No coach in NBA history has had a trio of players for as many games (662) as Popovich has had Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

Three teammates in Boston (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish), in Detroit (Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson) and in Los Angeles (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper) actually  have logged more games together – 729, 711 and 663, respectively – but they did so for multiple coaches.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all are shoo-in or likely Hall of Famers, and, in regular-season games in which all three participate, they are 489-173, a .739 winning percentage. Compare that to Popovich’s 463-266, .635 mark when he has to get by with two, one or none of this Big Three. (And frankly, of the relatively few times none of the three has played – just 14 times since they’ve all been teammates – Popovich usually played a role by resting them. They’ve gone 4-10, per NBA.com statsmeister John Schuhmann.)

Just with Duncan alone – the best of the bunch – the numbers are telling. The Spurs’ two-time MVP and two-time Coach of the Year have been lashed together for nearly 17 seasons, with Duncan playing in 1,238 of the 1,391 games Popovich has coached. That’s 89 percent.

Wait, there’s more: Duncan has played in 885 of Popovich’s 952 career victories. That’s 93 percent. Their record together: 885-353, good for a .715 winning percentage. Popovich’s record without Duncan: 67-86, .437. Of course, that includes the 1996-97 season in which Popovich took over for Bob Hill, steered the David Robinson-sidelined Spurs to a 17-47 mark the rest of the way and put them in position to get lottery-lucky for … Duncan. Brilliant!

In the 17 years since Duncan arrived as a ready-made franchise anchor from Wake Forest, he has missed just 89 games. Popovich’s and the Spurs’ record without him: 50-39, .561.

Compare that now to Thibodeau, who took over in Chicago in time for the 2010-11 season. He and Rose clicked immediately and remarkably, producing a 62-19 record for the Bulls and the NBA MVP award for the 22-year-old Rose, its youngest winner ever.

But Rose suffered through a variety of ailments in 2011-12, followed by the torn ACL injury to his left knee that wiped out 2012-13. Followed 10 games into this season by a torn meniscus in his right knee and another season down the tubes.

Bottom line: Thibodeau has had Rose in only 130 of his 294 games as coach. That’s only 44.2 percent. The Bulls’ franchise guy has played in 99 of Thibodeau’s 192 victories. That’s 51.6 percent.

Rose’s and Thibodeau’s record together: 99-31, .762. Thibodeau’s record without him: 93-71, .567.

Thibodeau isn’t one to make excuses, but he did acknowledge some of the benefits of having your best player(s) available. Heck, he, Popovich and the other smart guys in the league understand that’s No. 1 on the list of keys to coaching success.

“There’s no question,” Thibodeau said. “It’s funny – Pop is always tweaking things – but the core of what they do has been the same for a long, long time. You can see, when you have the same players over and over, the different options that they get to. And how they play off plays. A lot of it is a split-second decision where you know what the other guy is doing and you know what he’s good at.”

Popovich said a lot of nice things about Thibodeau, too, in terms of being consistent, even “persistent,” in his approach and setting standards. But the Bulls roster has swirled around its coach in ways San Antonio’s has not, from Rose to Luol Deng to parts such as Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson, C.J. Watson and others.

Center Joakim Noah, on board through Thibodeau’s tenure but an evolving player in that time, said after Tuesday’s beating that the Spurs’ experience, stability and continuity remain huge advantages.

“They play for each other,” Noah said. “The way they cut, the way they screen, the way the ball moves. Thibs is right, the way they play the game, you can learn a lot from them.”

And you can win a lot with them.

Morning Shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe: ‘Revenge is sweet and quick’ | Clips unsure when Redick will return | Brown won’t focus on Sixers’ slump | Chandler mulling N.Y. future | Popovich talks offense

No. 1: Kobe has a message for Lakers’ doubters — Point guard Steve Nash, who hasn’t played since Feb. 11, may or may not return to the Lakers’ lineup next season. Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant has appeared in just six games this season and hasn’t played since Dec. 17. Power forward Pau Gasol has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. That’s all lead to the Los Angeles Lakers bringing up the rear in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. But, the uber-confident Bryant has a message for the Laker doubters out there, according to ESPN.com and Lakersnation.com:

Kobe Bryant plans to use the Los Angeles Lakers’ dismal 2013-14 as motivation for next season.

And he’s hoping his teammates will do the same.

Bryant, speaking this weekend during an appearance to promote his new Nike Kobe 9 Elite shoe at Westfield Culver City mall, told Power 106 radio in Los Angeles that he’s looking forward to getting revenge on all those doubters next season.

“This year, we all know it’s been a real tough year for us, right?” Bryant told Power 106, according to Lakersnation.com. “So what I’d like everybody to do is to really just sit back and just absorb this year. Take it all in. Sit back and watch and listen and hear all the hate that’s being thrown at us and remember every person that’s kicking you when you’re down, because next year it ain’t gonna be this way.

“Appreciate it now. Let it sit in now, because revenge is sweet and it’s quick.”

Bryant told Power 106 that proving those who had a lack of faith in the Lakers and his recovery wrong is what fuels the five-time NBA champion now.

“You’ve got to appreciate that and enjoy that and use that as fuel as motivation to basically just shut everybody the hell up,” Bryant told the radio station, according to Lakersnation.com. “It’s that challenge, that challenge that drives us all, I think, and definitely keeps me going.”

***

No. 2: No timetable yet for Redicks’s return to Clips — Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick has not played for the last 11 games as a bulging disk in his back has reared its ugly head. While L.A. has tried to offset Redick’s absence with the recent signing of Danny Granger as another player to use on the wings, the team is growing increasingly concerned about when Redick will actually play again. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more:

It is still uncertain when starting shooting guard J.J. Redick will return to the court for the Clippers.

Redick is sidelined by a bulging disk in his lower back. He has missed the last 11 games, including Tuesday’s game at Phoenix. When the Clippers disclosed the nature of the injury on Feb. 18, Redick had already missed four games with what the team had been calling a hip injury.

There still is no timetable for his return, and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was asked Tuesday night if he feared that Redick could be out for the rest of the season.

“I don’t know,” Rivers said before the game against the Suns. “I haven’t had that fear yet. I don’t want that fear, maybe would be a better way of putting it. But I don’t know. I just keep getting updates.

“I’m sure there is some thought of that. He’s been out for so long. But we’re just hoping for the best.”

On Monday in Los Angeles, Redick did some shooting before the rest of the team practiced.

But there are only 20 regular-season games left, and the Clippers are unsure how Redick will respond to treatment.

“He’s doing a lot better,” Rivers said. “He’s shooting a little bit. I don’t know what that means, but at least he’s moving around shooting. But there’s been no update. I don’t think he’s improved to the point we thought he would, so far. We had anticipated him being back almost [by now].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about L.A.’s victory in Phoenix

***

No. 3: Sixers’ Brown won’t harp on Philly’s skid to playersWith last night’s 125-92 defeat on the road to the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, the Philadelphia 76ers have a 15-game losing streak. While Philly is clearly in a rebuilding mode and has struggled to find any kind of stable footing all season long, coach Brett Brown has preached that 2013-14 is about learning the game and developing good habits, not so much wins and losses. That continues to be his point of emphasis as the Sixers’ losing streak goes on and on, writes Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

Coach Brett Brown’s personality is one that makes him approach things head-on. There is little wiggle room in what he says. It comes from the heart, it is the truth and it is without filter.

So bringing up the current losing streak, which reached 15 games with last night’s 125-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, is expected by the first-year coach of the 76ers. He talks openly and honestly about it. And he charges at it just as he would a 15-game winning streak. He just doesn’t bring it up to his team.

“I don’t even think I’ve mentioned it, this streak,” Brown said. “We talk candidly about having to make sure we share the ball, don’t play in a crowd, get back in transition. Everybody talks about us not winning for the rest of the year, or whatever they say. And that’s all true. We have to focus on sharing the ball, playing together and not playing in a crowd because we drive the paint all the time and we don’t have great perimeter shooters right now, and we better get back in transition.

“The beat-down thing doesn’t really rear its head because it’s [losing] 12 games or 14 games or the month of February. We don’t quantify it like that. I really try to sell it and I think these guys have bought in. Keep getting better, keep getting better. Winning is not our report card this year. I hope that that is good enough. I hope they believe the truth. That is how we’re approaching that and that is all we’ve got as this season plays out.”

“I really like being on the court with the players,” Brown said. “I like coaching the guys and trying to find ways to inspire them or help them get better. We’ve said from Day 1 [that] I feel the one thing that will help me connect all the dots is if they genuinely know that we care about their development. [Even though] somebody is going to trade them or somebody isn’t going to play them as much as they hoped, that they know they have a coaching staff that comes to the gym and really pays attention and cares.

“We want them to play well. Oftentimes I feel so naked where you’re playing in the NBA and teams are getting better, yet not only are we young and have been losing, we’re getting new faces in. We want to practice and we want to do those types of things where we can continue to develop. That’s what keeps me motivated.”


VIDEO:Sixers coach Brett Brown talks after Philly’s loss in OKC

***

No. 4: Chandler unsure of role with Knicks — Just two seasons ago, Tyson Chandler was on his way to winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award for the playoff-bound New York Knicks and a season ago, he was the defensive anchor for an Atlantic Division-winning Knicks team, too. Even as New York has fallen into the pits of the Eastern Conference this season, Chandler has remained a stalwart defender — perhaps the only one on the Knicks that can claim that. But as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports, Chandler is tiring of all of New York’s losing and whether or not he wants to be a part of the team long term:

Knicks center Tyson Chandler is so disillusioned, he isn’t sure he wants to be part of the team’s long-term future.

With the Knicks in chaos, owner James Dolan is going to look to rebuild or reload at season’s end. Whether Chandler, who is starting to show signs of age, is part of the blueprints is unclear. And Chandler may not want to stick around either.

“That’s something I have to visit during the offseason,” Chandler said. “We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make.”

“For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong],” Chandler said. “I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it.”


VIDEO: Tyson Chandler talks after the Knicks’ loss in Detroit

***

No. 5: Popovich talks secrets to offensive success — A cursory glance at the stats reveals that San Antonio is second in the league in field goal percentage (48.8 pct), first in 3-point percentage (39.1 pct), ninth in points (104.4 ppg), seventh in offensive rating (107.4) and second in both effective field goal percentage (53.7) and true shooting percentage (57.2). In short, the Spurs — despite injuries this season to standouts Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — remain a solid offensive group. In a brief Q&A with Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, coach Gregg Popovich shares a couple of insights into his offense’s success:

Q. Can you explain the concept of “good-to-great?”

Popovich: “There are a lot of good shots, but if you can turn that into a great shot, percentages go through the roof. Contested shots are really bad shots. People’s percentage goes down almost by 20, almost without exception. All those things in an offense are things a coach is always trying to develop. It takes time to get everybody to the point where they all buy in and understand how it’s good for the group to do things.

“You want to penetrate not just for you, but for a teammate. Penetrating because I want to make things happen. It could be for me. It could be for a teammate. It could be for the pass after the pass I make. As people start to realize that, then you get a flow and people start playing basketball rather than just running the play that’s called or making up their minds ahead of time.”

Q. How do you get players to take ownership of the offense? Is it a confidence thing?

Popovich: “That’s a good question. A lot depends on the competitiveness and the character of the player. Often times, I’ll appeal to that. Like, I can’t make every decision for you. I don’t have 14 timeouts. You guys got to get together and talk. You guys might see a mismatch that I don’t see. You guys need to communicate constantly — talk, talk, talk to each other about what’s going on on the court.

“I think that communication thing really helps them. It engenders a feeling that they can actually be in charge. I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people …

“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away. Because it’s true. There’s nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls—, and act like I’m a coach or something, but it’s on them.

“If they’re holding the ball, they’re holding the ball. I certainly didn’t tell them to hold the ball. Just like, if they make five in a row, I didn’t do that. If they get a great rebound, I didn’t do that. It’s a players’ game and they’ve got to perform. The better you can get that across, the more they take over and the more smoothly it runs.

“Then you interject here or there. You call a play during the game at some point or make a substitution, that kind of thing that helps the team win. But they basically have to take charge or you never get to the top of the mountain.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins took to Twitter to say he wasn’t impressed with LeBron James‘ 61-point game … Good feature from the Indianapolis Star that takes a look back at Jermaine O’Neal‘s glory days with the Indiana Pacers … Suns rookie Alex Len got his first start of the season last night … Pelicans coach Monty Williams shuffled the lineup as New Orleans topped the L.A. Lakers

ICYMI of the Night: Pacers guard George Hill hits an amazing over-the-head, no-look, and-one shot against the Warriors last night that you’ve just got to see …


VIDEO: George Hill sinks an amazing over-the-head layup against the Warriors

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bucks buyout Butler | Reports: Clips in lead for Granger | Report: Grizz add Udrih | Celtics resolve Rondo dispute | Pelicans’ Davis injured vs. Mavs

No. 1: Report: Bucks buyout Butler; Thunder favorites to sign him — As of yesterday, there were rumblings that the Bucks would soon be buying out the contract of veteran small forward Caron Butler as Milwaukee continues its rebuilding process. Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler has received his buyout and will soon be able to potentially sign with a playoff-bound team in a few days:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat have emerged as frontrunners to sign forward Caron Butler, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After securing a contract buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday morning, Butler is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent.

San Antonio and Chicago are in pursuit and plan to make pitches for Butler too, league sources said.

The fact that Oklahoma City stopped pursuing Danny Granger has led many in the NBA to believe the Thunder are confident in their recruitment of Butler.

The acquisition of Butler could be a tremendous boost to the Thunder and Heat’s pursuit of an NBA championship. Despite initial reports that Butler was destined to sign with Miami, Oklahoma City has a strong chance to land Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Heat are competing to lure Butler back to where his career started as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, but the ability to fill the gap as a complementary scorer to Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has made the Thunder an attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

UPDATE, 1:19 p.m. ET: Granger is reportedly having phone conversations with several of the teams pursuing him, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.

No. 2: Reports: Clippers favorites to add Granger — The portion of Danny Granger‘s career with the Philadelphia 76ers lasted all of roughly six days before he and the team came to an agreement on a buyout deal of his contract yesterday. As our David Aldridge reported first, several teams — including the Heat, Mavs, Clippers, Rockets and Bulls — are interested in adding the former All-Star, but it appears the Los Angeles Clippers may have pulled ahead of the pack. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on L.A.’s interest:

The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the frontrunners to sign forward Danny Granger, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Once Granger clears waivers in the next 48 hours, the Clippers’ ability to offer him significant playing time and championship contention under coach Doc Rivers makes them the most attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Still, the San Antonio Spurs remain a viable possibility for Granger, league sources said. The Spurs are selling Granger on a modern-day variation of the Robert Horry role in San Antonio, league sources said. Granger is expected to speak with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in the near future, sources said.

Beyond the Clippers and Spurs, the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have shown an inclination to pursue Granger and are expected to have conversations with him, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne report that Clippers officials met with Granger’s representatives during last night’s Clippers-Rockets game in L.A.:

The Clippers are widely regarded as the team best positioned to provide Granger the playing time and the championship contention he craves.

And they’ve stepped up their pursuit of the former All-Star, sources told ESPN.com, at least partly due to growing concern within the organization about the status of guard J.J. Redick, who has missed the past nine games and is out indefinitely with a back injury.

To potentially further increase L.A.’s need for another front-line player at the wing positions, Jamal Crawford left Wednesday’s win over the Rockets with a calf injury. Crawford has been starting in place of Redick and has played a huge part — alongside star forward Blake Griffin – in keeping the Clippers among the West’s top four teams while star guard Chris Paul was out with a separated shoulder.

The Clippers, at the behest of coach Doc Rivers, have already made multiple in-season signings, including Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic, to try to spruce up his perimeter rotation.

Rivers quickly confirmed his team’s interest in Granger before Wednesday’s victory, saying “Of course!” when asked if L.A. would like to sign him, but then added: “That’ll be up to Danny.”

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Granger, after playing in Indiana for the first nine seasons of career, is determined to hear out all of his suitors before making a commitment, with the other two teams in Texas – Houston and Dallas – also trying to wedge their way into contention alongside the Clippers and Spurs by registering bids of their own.

But sources also indicate that Granger is likely to verbally commit to a team before he formally clears waivers Friday at 5 p.m. ET and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Sources say teams interested in Granger have been consistently told in recent days that the free agent-to-be — if he were to surrender his Bird rights by securing his release from the Sixers — would be looking for a new team that could offer not only a shot at a championship but also guaranteed playing time.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Danny Granger (fast-forward to the 7:40 mark)

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz pick up ex-Knicks guard Udrih — The Memphis Grizzlies suffered an injury scare to starting point guard Mike Conley before the All-Star break. Thankfully, rookie Nick Calathes stepped in admirably and kept the team afloat in Conley’s absence. Conley is now back and starting again, but Memphis made a move to further shore up their point guard corps, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com, but adding recently waived Knicks point guard Beno Udrih:

The Memphis Grizzlies have claimed veteran point guard Beno Udrih off waivers, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Grizzlies put in a successful waiver claim to acquire Udrih, who was released Monday by the New York Knicks.

The Grizzlies, sources said, turned their attention to acquiring Udrih for their backcourt after attempts to strike a deal with Jimmer Fredette – who is about to secure his release from the Sacramento Kings via buyout — proved unsuccessful.

Sources say veteran forward Metta World Peace, who was also waived Monday after he and Udrih negotiated buyouts with New York, cleared waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET and is now an unrestricted free agent.

***

No. 4: Celtics pass on talking with Rondo about absence — The last few days or so in Boston, the drama (if you even want to call it that) with the Celtics has been about point guard Rajon Rondo‘s unexcused absence from Boston’s game in Sacramento last week. The first response to the issue by Celtics president Danny Ainge was to say a discussion with Rondo would definitely take place. Then, yesterday, Ainge said a discussion with Rondo would take at some place in the future. Now, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg, Boston has handled the matter internally and it is a dead issue:

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about the player’s decision to not accompany the team to Sacramento last week, but said the team is handling the matter internally and Stevens stressed his goal is to simply move forward.

With the Celtics playing the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, Rondo was not scheduled to play against the Kings as he eases his way back from ACL surgery. But rather than fly with the team, he remained in Los Angeles where the Boston Herald reported that he celebrated his 28th birthday with family and friends.

Rondo, who Stevens said informed of his decision to stay behind before the team departed, rejoined the Celtics in Utah and played in Monday’s game against the Jazz.

“We’ve sat down and talked. We did that Monday,” said Stevens. “In my mind, I’m moving forward. Then when [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] gets back in town, they can meet and go from there.”

Stevens was asked if he thought Rondo should have accompanied the team to Sacramento.

“I think the biggest thing right now is for me to move forward and for us to move forward from that,” said Stevens. “Obviously, it’s something that is a great question to ask, something that I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about. But at the end of the day, I’ve passed that point.”

For his part, Rondo downplayed the incident after Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, suggesting it was being overblown in the media.

“I haven’t really read much about it. I heard a lot of comments,” said Rondo. “Nobody knows the story, so [the media can] keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”

So what is the story?

“It’s my business,” said Rondo. “It’s my choice.”

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No. 5: Banged-up Pelicans see All-Star Davis get injured — New Orleans’ season has hardly gone how it thought it would after an offseason roster upgrade and a nickname change. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Pelicans with Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans all missing significant chunks of the season with injuries. Things got worse for New Orleans last night in Dallas as All-Star big man Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder and left the game. Our Jeff Caplan has more on the Pels’ injury woes:

New Orleans’ dreadful injury situation worsened Wednesday night with All-Star forward Anthony Davis spraining his left shoulder in the second quarter at Dallas, the first leg of a five-game road trip.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn’t ”know much right now” regarding the severity of Davis’ injury, but it was bad enough to keep him out of the remainder of New Orleans’ fifth consecutive loss, 108-89, to the red-hot Mavericks. When Davis left with 4:13 to go, Dallas led by one, 37-36, and had just made a run to dig out of a 28-20 hole.

Davis played just 12 minutes, 37 seconds and exited with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one sweet bounce pass to a streaking Eric Gordon for a layup. Davis hurt himself when he jumped straight up and extended his arms attempting to rebound his own miss against Mavs center Sam Dalembert. Even on replay it’s difficult to discern exactly how the injury occurred, but Davis quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm, squeezing it as if trying to pinch away the pain.

He attempted to stay in the game, but less than a minute later checked out and headed to the locker room. He returned to the bench during the third quarter with his left arm appearing to be immobilized underneath his warmup jersey. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Davis’ name now moves next to point guard Jrue Holiday, sixth man Ryan Anderson and center Jason Smith on the injured list. Those are four of the Pelicans’ top six scorers. The latter three could all be done for the year. New Orleans can only hope that’s not the case for their 20-year-old face of the franchise who is having a marvelous sophomore season averaging 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and leading the league as the lone player topping 3.0 bpg (3.02). Still, at 23-34 and 10 games out of the final playoff spot, the Pelicans won’t rush their star back until he’s ready.

“That’s life,” Williams said shaking his head earlier in the day as he discussed his team’s crippling injury plight that has robbed it of a playoff chase. Four months ago, that was the goal.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffers shoulder injury vs. Mavericks

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili had his foot rip completely through his shoe mid-game last night … Portland’s bench came through with a big effort in last night’s win over the Nets … Might the Cavs have some interest in signing Jimmer Fredette once he gets waived by the Kings? … Diante Garrett — not the Suns’ Goran Dragic or Jazz rookie Trey Burke — was the standout point guard in last night’s Suns-Jazz game … The Magic are reportedly looking for their own NBA D-League team to run

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two words for you — Gerald Green. Now, do your part and hit the play buttons below …


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts down a nasty open-court flush


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts up a monster reverse dunk on the Jazz

SportVU: Uncontested Jumpers vs. OKC

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In our Q and A at All-Star weekend, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that when his team is on defense, he’s “concerned about making sure that every shot is contested.”

Contesting every shot is impossible, but Brooks’ team certainly can do a better job. According to SportVU, no team has contested a lower percentage of its opponents’ jump shots than the Thunder . They’ve contested just 24 percent of opponent jumpers, a mark well below the league average of 31 percent.

Perc. of opponent jump shots contested
Rank Team Cont%
1. San Antonio 38.2%
2. L.A. Clippers 36.9%
3. Indiana 35.6%
4. Denver 34.7%
5. Memphis 34.4%
6. Atlanta 34.3%
7. Portland 34.2%
8. Charlotte 34.1%
9. Chicago 33.8%
10. L.A. Lakers 33.7%
11. Golden State 33.1%
12. Orlando 32.2%
13. Toronto 31.8%
14. Boston 31.3%
15. Miami 30.8%
16. Phoenix 30.7%
17. Detroit 30.2%
18. Dallas 29.8%
19. Minnesota 29.6%
20. Washington 29.3%
21. Brooklyn 29.3%
22. Sacramento 28.6%
23. Milwaukee 28.2%
24. New Orleans 27.9%
25. Houston 27.9%
26. Utah 27.1%
27. Cleveland 26.4%
28. Philadelphia 24.9%
29. New York 24.5%
30. Oklahoma City 23.8%
League avg. 30.9%

SportVU defines a jump shot as any shot out outside of 10 feet. It’s contested if a defender is within four feet of the shooter.

There’s a much stronger correlation between defensive efficiency and opponent effective field-goal percentage (EFG%) than between defensive efficiency and any of the other “four factors” (rebounding, forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the free-throw line).

Here’s the thing, though. The Thunder rank fourth in opponent EFG% and fourth in defensive efficiency. They’ve been a great defensive team — even though they haven’t contested jump shots very well. There is a correlation between the percentage of jumpers a team contests and its opponents’ EFG% (and in turn, their defensive efficiency). The Thunder are an outlier.

They have defended the rim well. They rank fifth in opponent field-goal percentage in the restricted area, with Serge Ibaka ranking among the top individual rim protectors. That’s obviously important.

But, by itself, it doesn’t account for how high the Thunder rank in opponent EFG%. Not only do they not contest jumpers very well, but they don’t really force bad shots. About 61 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, the seventh highest rate in the league.

So how have they been so good defensively? They do rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage and are slightly above average at forcing turnovers. But you have to wonder if there’s a little luck involved. Take the following numbers into account…

  • Thunder opponents have shot 38.7 percent on uncontested jumpers, the sixth lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 30.5 percent on contested jumpers, the second lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 72.2 percent from the free-throw line, the second lowest rate in the league. (What goes around comes around; they ranked 28th in free-throw defense last season.)
  • Only one other defense (the Lakers) ranks in the top 10 in each of those three categories. Five other teams rank in the top 10 in two of the three.

Now, the definition of what’s contested (see above) allows for some leeway. It could mean that the defender is six inches from the shooter with his hand in his face, and it could mean that he’s 48 inches away with his hands down. Maybe the Thunder contest to a different degree than other teams. But they don’t contest a lot.

Eliminating the possible “luck” factor, the Thunder are still a good defensive team. If OKC opponents had shot the league average on contested jumpers, uncontested jumpers and free throws, the Thunder would have allowed 86 more points this season (about 1.5 more per 100 possessions) and would rank seventh in defensive efficiency (in part because there’s a dropoff after the top seven).

But they have had trouble slowing down Golden State, one of the league’s best jump-shooting teams, the team that has been the most efficient against the Thunder this season, and a possible first-round playoff opponent. In his three games against the Thunder, only 21 of Stephen Curry‘s 66 field goal attempts have been contested (just three of 22 on Nov. 14).

Some other good jump-shooting teams — Atlanta, Miami and Portland — also have had decent success against the Thunder. Others — Dallas and Phoenix — have not.

In this first full season of player tracking, there are still some things to figure out. And maybe things will be different defensively for the Thunder with a healthy Russell Westbrook. But if Brooks’ goal is to contest every shot, his team has some work to do.

FYI (because some readers have asked): While you can find contested and uncontested shots in the Player Tracking tab of our NBA.com/stats boxscores, we don’t yet have them on the season level. That’s in the works.