CHICAGO – Watch the narrative on the Draft begin to change, one general manager predicted.
Watch some front offices, in other words, suddenly talk up the Draft that for months has been universally regarded as weak, in an attempt to push more of a positive vibe for picks heading toward June 27. Part will be making the most of a bad situation, part simply focusing on the positives that do exist rather than continuing to lament the lack of star power, lack of depth and the lack of healthy top prospects. Or as one veteran executive put it rhetorically:
“Would you want a top pick this year?”
All of which makes the pre-Draft camp that opens here today and moves to the gym Thursday and Friday particularly intriguing, because of the greater chance than normal for dramatic shifts in stock. The swooning of past years, at least over a single prospect – like Anthony Davis last year — being as close to a sure thing in an otherwise-understated draft does not exist. A good showing at workouts at a private facility, along with individual interviews with teams, though, could mean a significant bump.
As always, many players projected for the lottery (and in some cases, with a chance for the top 12 or 14) will skip the basketball portion of this NBA job fair rather than risk hurting their stock. Most of those prospects will show for the interviews and the physicals, leave and choose spots for individual workouts after the lottery order is set May 21.
The twist this time is that three players in the top 10 in the latest NBA.com rankings won’t be able to take complete physicals either because of injuries that will also keep them out of tryouts leading to the Draft and Summer League after that: Kentucky power forward Nerlens Noel (No. 2), UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett (3) and Maryland center Alex Len (9).
Sixty-three players are on the latest (so-called) participant list for the largest annual gathering of team representatives, from top executives to scouts to coaches and medical staffs, and prospects, to be followed in the coming weeks by large workouts hosted by the Nets and Timberwolves. The primary event for international prospects, the adidas Eurocamp, will be June 8-10 in Treviso, Italy.
OAKLAND – They stood in the locker room on a victorious Sunday and talked about what it meant for this series and the entire playoffs — and also about what it really meant.
A 2-2 tie against San Antonio is an accomplishment to be sure, overcoming body parts that seem ready to come unhinged and a lack of experience at this level of the playoffs, but this has just become about something bigger than the Western Conference semifinals for Golden State. Doing more than surviving, in particular grinding out an overtime win Sunday as bad health and a gasping offense and foul trouble threatened to doom them, and a comeback win at that – that’s about years.
Some Warriors’ veterans delivered the message in the aftermath of the 97-87 victory at Oracle Arena, and they were right. That was the kind of win, and now the kind of series, that could end up being a big-picture moment for something much larger than Game 5 on Wednesday in San Antonio.
For all the experience in the locker room – Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson with a smaller role on the court, even Stephen Curry in his fourth season – youth is everywhere. Klay Thompson is in his second campaign, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green in their first, and another rookie ordinarily out of the rotation, Kent Bazemore, was used late in regulation and the second overtime of Game 1.
The Warriors believe that, in some way, overcoming adversity to grind out a tie against the Spurs counts for something beyond 2012-13. It has all become so unlikely that there must be some carryover effect that will become a benefit in future seasons. The wins may be more than wins.
Sunday, Curry went from game-time decision to laboring through the first half to playing 39 minutes and contributing 22 points, six rebounds and four assists, his second such miracle recovery of the playoffs. Lee, likely headed for surgery on a torn hip muscle that was supposed to have ended his season after Game 1 of the first round, went eight minutes and said he felt noticeably stronger than two days before. Bogut is less than 100 percent.
“You saw the way he was moving there early in the first quarter,” Lee said of Curry. “The biggest thing is him being on the floor. It’s the same thing I’m trying to accomplish. Him being on the floor is an inspiration to the team. It keeps the defense honest in a lot of situations. This isn’t going to be the last year this team is going to be together. Other guys are seeing that Steph goes out when he’s hurting and plays, seeing that I go out and try to give our team what I can. Guys notice that. It’s not only building for right now and helping us win now, but it’s building for the future as well.”
Not only that, but the Warriors won while shooting 38 percent. The Warriors. The team that has ditched its reputation. If finishing fourth in the league in field-goal defense wasn’t enough, winning playoff games in the trenches is a convincing point.
“That’s something we’ve been preaching the whole season, and it’s come at the right time,” Bogut said. “When we can shoot below 40 percent, that’s probably unheard of in Warriors’ basketball history and win a game. That’s a very important step for us.”
OAKLAND, Calif. – The crowd let go for good, in appreciation and probably in exhausted release, with about 40 seconds remaining. It was after Draymond Green corralled the defensive rebound of Tim Duncan‘s miss and the final Spurs threat had been denied. They cheered loudly through the final possessions as the clock drained to zero and fans inside Roar-acle Arena realized this actually would happen.
The Warriors really would use limping Stephen Curry … and hobbling David Lee … and have starting bigs Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry pick up three fouls in the first quarter … and need a loudspeaker to reach Andris Biedrins at the end of the bench to use him in the second quarter of the biggest game in at least six seasons … and come back to beat the Spurs 97-87 in overtime Sunday. All while shooting 38 percent.
Pick a description that fits.
Unlikely? For sure, but maybe too understated. That makes it seems like the Warriors had to overcome an obstacle. This was the day when everything went wrong — health, fouls, offense — until it went so right and they had a 2-2 tie in the best-of-seven series that shifts to San Antonio on Wednesday.
Improbable? That works. Golden State grinded enough and the Spurs also shot poorly enough, at 35.5 percent, that the Warriors were able to stay close. But to say it was clear they had that passing gear in them, not a chance. And yet, they went eight down with 4:49 remaining in the fourth to overtime to outscoring the Spurs 13-3 in overtime as San Antonio went 1-for-10 from the field.
Impossible? Too strong. Because this has become the season, as evidenced again Sunday, when nothing is impossible for the Warriors.
“I don’t know a good adjective to use,” Lee said after thinking for a moment. “But it’s definitely satisfying. That’s a good way to put it.”
Satisfying at the very least. The Warriors couldn’t hit a shot in the first half and had 37 points at the break, but didn’t give in to frustration. They knew they were playing hard and with a sharp focus, unlike the lacking effort two days earlier in the Game 3 loss, and that it was just a matter of getting the same good looks to fall. Eleven players had already been used in the patch job by coach Mark Jackson, including Biedrins, who delivered a hold-the-fort three minutes at center in his first appearance since April 12.
The end result was much more than a victory, as if that wasn’t enough at a time like this. The Warriors didn’t get swamped under by adversity, so they grew some more late in what had already been a season of maturation. Curry went from game-time decision (because of the sprained left ankle) to generating all of three shots in the first half to finishing with 22 points while making 5-for-10 from behind the arc and 7-for-15 overall. So, he had survived. Jarrett Jack went from taking local heat for his decision making as the backup point guard to contributing 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and 24 overall. He had endured, too.
“It’s because of who we are,” Jackson said. “This is what these guys have been. This is how hard they’ve worked. This is how they’re committed. It’s a special season for this basketball team and this group of guys, this entire organization and its fan base. We’ve done things that show us when we do ‘em how good we can be. I’m not surprised by anything. One thing I know, this team will not lay down, this team will not quit. It looked dark. It looked awfully dark. But we found a way to get stops and make plays.
“I’ve been talking about this group all year long. I’m just so glad that a national TV audience had an opportunity to see exactly what’s been taking place in this area. Like I said, this is the greatest group of guys I’ve been around. … I [have] a young basketball team that’s got incredible heart. I’m so, so proud of those guys, from the first guy to the last guy. You look at a guy like Biedrins. Called upon, gave us great minutes. I mean, we got an incredible group. People beat up Jarrett Jack. ‘Why is he pounding the ball? Bench him.’ I’m going to go with this group until I’m not here. This is a great group and I’m committed to them, they’re committed to me. Just a big-time win. This is a heck of a series.”
It still is, at 2-2 rather than 3-1 with the Spurs heading home and the Warriors afraid to wonder what else can go wrong because then they would find out. It is a heck of series because only almost everything went bad for Golden State on Sunday. It is because Game 4 actually did happen.
OAKLAND – Another game, another Stephen Curry ankle injury, another uneasy day of waiting for the latest pivotal medical bulletin.
This has become about hours for the Warriors. Not the time that remains in the season – they still have at least Game 4 at Oracle Arena on Sunday and Game 5 back in San Antonio on Tuesday. But the difference between Curry playing, or at least playing with enough movement for a genuine impact, and Golden State taking the court without its best player could come down to the schedule turn of the playoffs.
“It could,” coach Mark Jackson said Saturday, as the Warriors waited. “But nothing we could do about it now. The clock is ticking. One way or another, we’ll be ready for Game 4.”
A Game 4 that will begin at 12:30. A matinee when the extra hours of the usual night tip off, whether 7:30 p.m. on most occasions or 6 on Sundays, could have helped. All with the knowledge that a loss Sunday will put them behind 3-1 to the tested Spurs.
X-rays on the left ankle, after Curry rolled it with about five minutes left in San Antonio’s Game 3, were negative. He is scheduled for constant treatment, did not practice Saturday and will be re-evaluated Sunday.
The good news for the Warriors is that they have been through this and worse before. Curry sprained the same left ankle – not the one that ruined his 2011-12 and eventually required surgery – in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Nuggets, missed a practice and was a game-time decision after that. And then he played 38 minutes and had 29 points, 11 assists against three turnovers, and six rebounds and made four of seven three-pointers. Jackson insisted afterward the talk of Curry possibly sitting out was not a drama play.
“Once again, we’re back to trusting the process, treatment around the clock and seeing how he is tomorrow,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, we’ve become veterans at this. But he’s a gamer and no matter what, we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Curry was not available during the media session Saturday while getting treatment, but he told a pool reporter that the early start is a “little bit” of a concern. “It’s just a shorter turnaround, literally 36 hours from last night. That’s the main concern compared to having three days like I did last time. Just gotta expedite the treatment and stay as consistent as possible.
“If I can give the team anything, I will play. I feel like if I can get to a point where I’m not hobbling and I can cut how I want to. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent, as long as I can be confident that it won’t do any further damage. I have a feeling I’ll be at that point tomorrow, no problem.”
Asked if he thinks he will play, Curry said: “I think so. You never really know how it’s going to feel the next day. You just keep up with the treatment. Same ‘ol story. I have the same answers. I hope it feels good enough to go tomorrow. But until I wake up and see, you just hope for the best right now.”
Tony Parker skipped Spurs practice at about the same time in San Francisco because of a bruised left calf that he said, according to the San Antonio Express News, had swelled to the size of a baseball. The star of Game 3 on Friday with 32 points, including 25 in the first half, said he will play Sunday.
Tony Parker – the name is slightly familiar – made his presence known in the Western Conference semifinals Friday night after two games of talk of Stephen Curry as the new force at the point and Klay Thompson as the perfect backcourt running mate.
Parker has been to the playoffs once or twice before and insisted the Curry-Thompson chatter, practically a glow that followed the Warriors from San Antonio back to Oracle Arena, did not inspire him. The other talk, that he listened to.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told Parker to be more aggressive with his shot, and that seemed like a pretty good time for Parker to start caring about a reaction to the first two games and a 1-1 series. Popovich spoke, Parker responded, the Spurs won Game 3, and the Warriors had a new problem on their hand. One of the best point guards in the world is dialed in again.
Parker went from 43 shots and 41.9 percent the first two outings to 25 points in the first half alone while making 11 of his 14 attempts and, finally, to a game-high 32 points in all while going 13-for-23 from the field to lead the Spurs to a 102-92 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Sunday afternoon at Oracle. More importantly, he went from the Parker the Spurs played to the Parker the Spurs need to offset the play of Curry and Thompson.
“I think sometimes he gets a little bit obsessed about driving it, getting to the rim,” Popovich said. “When he does that, he turns down jumpers and he forgets to play with teammates. But when he’s like tonight, like he’s played most of the season, he’ll stop, shoot the open jumper, he’ll get his share of assists, and that’s what we need him to be. He’s a scoring point guard, but he has to do it with a jump shot as well as a drive. He did that tonight.”
It was a potential turning-point night on several fronts for the backcourts. Cory Joseph delivered solid minutes at backup point guard that proved important with Parker staying fresh while logging 35 minutes, and especially important because Popovich thought Parker got tired two days before in San Antonio. Curry sprained his left ankle again, with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and stayed in, but was clearly limited as the “Curry Ankle Watch” begins anew, with no immediate prognosis after the game and an update expected at practice Saturday.
Parker, though, was the most significant development of all.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, watch film of the first two games,” he said. “They always try to push me left. That’s the shot they were giving me. In warmups, that was almost the only shot I practiced, going left. Make sure I knocked down that shot. Once I make that shot, it opens up everything. I was just determined to make sure I take good shots and be aggressive the whole game.”
Thompson said Parker was doing the same thing as before, “just taking shots at a higher rate.” Which was partly true. More shots, yes, but also a different attitude going in, instructed by Popovich more than inspired by some perceived slight against the Curry-Thompson limelight.
OAKLAND – This goes back about 3 ½ months, to when coach Mark Jackson said of his Warriors, “This is a team I believe God has his hands all over.”
And that was before, you know, everything: Stephen Curry going from braces on both ankles and a game-time decision in the first round to a playoff star, the Warriors going from losing All-Star David Lee to winning five of the next seven, Andrew Bogut going from an ankle injury so maddening that he began to consider the possibility of retirement to resuming his starting role, the entire roster going from little postseason experience to beating the favored Nuggets and now in a 1-1 Western Conference semifinals against the favored Spurs heading into Game 3 tonight inside rocking Oracle Arena.
Jackson, naturally, does not alter his statement from late January that the Warriors have higher powers at their back. He is not one in general to back away from bold comments, he believes deeply as a man of faith and a pastor at a Southern California church, and now it is mid May and his team continues to do the improbable. Backing off is the last thing that would happen.
“I’m a man of faith,” Jackson said. “I believe in God. Some folks may say God doesn’t care about basketball. My Bible tells me He cares about everything that has to do with me. This team is tied together. I’ve said it before. Spiritually, this team is absolutely tied together. There’s a call on these guys’ lives. I said from Day 1 in my press conference, if I won games and didn’t change lives I’d be a failure. If I won a championship and guys left here the same I’d be a failure. It’s more important to me to leave here leaving these guys better husbands, better fathers, better teammates, better players, better men. That’s what it’s all about, and we’ve done that. With that, the victories will come.”
He said he believed right away that the belief includes knowing the Warriors would become winners “when I had no business believing it,” which is, which is some long-range vision. He couldn’t have seen this coming. The Warriors did not look anything like the current model when owner Joe Lacob made Jackson the surprising and gutsy hire in June 2011 as a coach without any previous experience on the bench, in the NBA or college, as an assistant or in the No. 1 chair. Seven of the top nine players – everyone except Curry and Lee – weren’t on the roster at the time. Bob Myers hadn’t yet made the quick ascension from front-office newcomer, with any team, to general manager.
“We all make mistakes,” Jackson said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to be led by God and there were jobs I would not have taken if they were offered to me. I believed in my heart that this was the job for me and this was the group of men, the group owners, the group of management people and this was the time. Some people don’t think that’s cool. Some people don’t believe that. I have nothing against them. I’m going to walk this walk and my Bible tells me the steps of a good man are ordered by God. So I believe that my steps are ordered. I’m just following orders.”
We all make mistakes.
Jackson does not hide from his most public of setbacks, an affair of nearly one year that became public when the woman and one of her acquaintances blackmailed Jackson to keep the relationship quiet. The coach and the team contacted the FBI, Jackson cooperated with the investigation, and the matter became open conversation.
Hide from it? Jackson said he brought the incident up to players himself. He turned it into basketball and the Warriors.
“That I’m not going to allow one moment to identify who I am,” he said. “We may lose a game, we may lose a quarter, we may lose a season. But at the end of the day, I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to stop the call on my life and I’m not going to quit doing God’s work. Ultimately it’s get back up on the horse and pick up where you left off and don’t make the mistake again.”
Which, in an outcome that has not been lost on the coach, is exactly what the Warriors have done. This team that he believes God has his hands all over.
OAKLAND – Warriors center Andrew Bogut was so frustrated around midseason over the lack of progress from a maddening ankle injury that he began to contemplate having to retire, he told NBA.com on Thursday. That seems long ago now that his successful recovery continued to play a major role in the improbable playoff heights for Golden State.
Bogut said he “was getting close” to having to give it serious consideration, but that he was not at the point of having to make a decision. The plan, he said, was to try and finish this season on an encouraging note, work during the summer to return to peak condition and aim for a healthy 2013-14. If that went bad, all options would have been on the table.
“I didn’t get to that point,” he said before the Warriors practiced in advance of Game 3 of the second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Oracle Arena, “But it was definitely [something] I started to think about. I never got to a point where I thought, ‘This is it. I’m done.’ But I thought, ‘If this goes on for a year or two, there’s definitely a chance that I think about that.’
“I was really bad. The physical part of it is one thing, but the mental part of it’s the other. It was a tough time in my career. You always just start questioning yourself, and whenever you do that as an athlete, I think it’s probably not a great thing. When is this going to subside? When am I going to feel better? Am I going to be back to the same level I was playing at before the injury? How long is it going to take? Why is it taking so long? [I am] medically cleared to play, but am I being soft? Am I not going hard enough? Am I going too hard? Too many questions in your mind. I was frustrated.”
Asked if he ever thought his career could seriously be in jeopardy, Bogut told NBA.com, “I never got to that point, but I was starting to get there. [I] come back at the start of the season and it doesn’t respond well, [so] I had to take three months off. It just becomes monotonous doing the same rehab every day and not seeing results. I’m doing the same thing every day. People don’t know, practice is at 11 [a.m.] and I am in here at 8:30 doing my rehab for 2 ½ hours and strength and conditioning and conditioning and getting my shots up, getting my rhythm and seeing no results — I was real frustrated.
“The goal was to try and get to the summer and then work on my body and see how it is next season. But, obviously, now I’m starting to feel much better. My body’s starting to respond a little bit better. It’s a positive sign. My goal was in the playoffs to no matter have a good playoff campaign and kind of forget about the season. It’s kind of worked so far.”
Yeah. Kind of.
Bogut, after 24.6 minutes in 32 games during the regular season, is at 29 minutes in the first eight postseason games — the six in the first-round victory over the Denver Nuggets and the first two of the Western Conference semifinals now tied 1-1 against the Spurs. Even though clearly less than 100 percent – Bogut and coach Mark Jackson won’t estimate how close Bogut is to full strength – he is the defensive presence Golden State long desired, a facilitator for the offense being led by perimeter players and a vocal leader. The playoffs have been his response to anyone who questioned the trade for Monta Ellis in March 2012.
“I think he likes the fact of winning and finally feeling good, physically,” Jackson said. “I think at the end of the day, no matter who you’re talking to, with the question marks were around the trade and all that, he has to have a chip showing folks it made sense. It’s well-deserved for him and great to see because if we had to do it all over again, it was unanimous.”
Jackson was asked about the trade Thursday, in the context that moving Ellis created a clear path for Klay Thompson to blossom at shooting guard along with adding Bogut.
“It helped change the culture,” Jackson said. “Obviously, it was easier to pull the trigger because we knew what we had in Klay and it was time for him to be a starting two-guard. And he does everything right.”
How did the deal change the culture?
Jackson paused four seconds.
“It helped change the culture,” he finally said.
He meant addition by subtracting Ellis. Jackson said it without saying it.
Who’s your favorite playoff underdog, the Warriors or Bulls?
Steve Aschburner: The Bulls. Being based in Chicago, I’ve seen this team more than any other — and most of the time, it is overcoming some injury, mishap, illness or absence. It’s no longer just a Tom Thibodeau phenomenon, their coach stubbornly and without excuse driving them through adversity. It’s the whole team manning up without Derrick Rose, without Kirk Hinrich, without whomever, and new guys without much track record for grit (Marco Belinelli) or selflessness (Nate Robinson) pulling on the same rope as if they’d been in that locker room for years. From Game 7 in Brooklyn to their Game 1 on Miami’s court, the underdog Bulls already have experienced a level of exhilaration and accomplishment that talented, three-star championship teams never know.
Fran Blinebury: You love these “Which of your children do you like best?” questions. Let’s face it. While we can admire and respect the work ethic, the attitude and the intensity of the Bulls, what little kid ever grew up in the backyard or on a schoolyard fantasizing about grinding out possessions and getting bloody fighting for rebounds? In the game of our dreams, it’s all about being Steph Curry hitting ridiculous, unbelievable shots from anywhere on the court, Jarrett Jack being utterly fearless, Klay Thompson getting it done at both ends and everything being played at warp speed. I’d be happy to watch the Warriors play into June, July, August or September.
Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: No question it’s the Bulls. Hey, I love the Warriors just like everybody else, but they’re essentially a young, healthy team (Brandon Rush was lost at the start of the season) on the come and led by an emerging superstar. They’re a great feel-good story, but the Bulls have proven time and again to be the ultimate warriors. How in the world is this banged-up and depleted club, one that keeps absorbing blows — a spinal tap gone wrong for Luol Deng, I mean, WTH? — in the second round and up 1-nil on the champs. Because nobody outworks the Bulls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’llgo Golden State, even with the running start of Bulls 1-0 and Warriors 0-1. Chicago is pretty special at dealing with, or even ignoring, adversity, but is still bigger underdogs than Golden State. The Warriors are closer to the Spurs in talent level, have the hottest hand of the postseason (Stephen Curry) and are doing fine at ignoring as well. The Warriors had more of a chance from the start. One game doesn’t change that, for either option.
John Schuhmann: Well, the Bulls are the true underdog, aren’t they? They’re facing the defending champs, the world’s best player, and a team that had lost just two of its previous 43 games before Monday. They’re a M.A.S.H. unit of injuries and illnesses. They’re carried offensively by a guy who’s barely taller than Sekou. Their best (active) player has a ponytail, wears le coq sportif shoes, and shoots a jumper like he’s playing paper football. And they have the most disheveled-looking coach in the league! This is no contest.
Sekou Smith: This is a tough one. It’s like asking who do you like better, Miss America or Miss Universe. You’re right no matter who or what you choose. I love the Warriors’ style and the fact that Steph Curry can turn a game upside down in minutes with his scoring and shooting. But my pick is the Bulls. Any team capable of doing the things they’ve done, under these circumstances, has earned my attention and the favorite status. Tom Thibodeau has turned the bottom third of his roster into a wicked playoff machine over the the past five days. They’re doing it with defense, fueled by the relentless Joakim Noah and the surprising Jimmy Butler. But they’ve also got the best fourth quarter scorer in the playoffs (Nate Robinson) driving the bus late in games. How can you not love what the Black-and-Blue Bulls are doing?
Lang Whitaker: The Warriors are obviously fun to watch, but it’s hard to root against the Bulls. They’ve got more guys missing than they have healthy, or at least it feels that way. Also, the Bulls have a cast of characters who we’ve seen try and fail with other franchises, from Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli, so it feels as though there’s some great quest for redemption. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coach, Tom Thibodeau, looks like he’s being played by the King of Queens, Kevin James.
What do you make of Miami’s Game 1 trip? What’s ahead in this series?
Steve Aschburner: Rust. A dearth of games with urgency not just in recent days but recent weeks. And an adrenaline-charged Chicago squad. Those things conspired against the defending champs in Game 1. I expect that Miami will snap back to form — most talented, most dangerous team in the NBA — and advance in no more than six games. I just hope it’s earned on the floor, not with a parade to the foul line. Also, the Heat’s stars need to be careful, because whining about no-calls and even winning too gleefully might cast them as bullies again against the plucky-underdog Bulls, just when we all thought the “hate Miami” theme had run its course.
Fran Blinebury:The Bulls, the layoff, the fact that despite the absurd standard to which the Heat are held, really nobody wins them all. Come in off the ledge. Miami in six, maybe even five.
Jeff Caplan: I attribute it to a remarkable effort by the Bulls’ players and coaching staff. Miami had a long layoff and didn’t bring the proper focus and determination to get the job done against one heck of a stubborn opponent that is going to bring physical play and hard effort as long as it’s on the floor. I certainly expect the Heat to bounce back, understanding that Chicago — and I’d give the Bulls more of a chance if it seemed at all that Luol Deng will be healthy but it does not — is going to mentally and physically exhaust them for the full 48. In a seven-game series, the more talented team is going to come through and I fully expect the Heat to advance in six games.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Well, stuffhappens. The Bulls played like a team on a mission — as Tom Thibodeau clubs do — and the Heat played like a team that has had opponents aiming for them every night since November. It was wrong to think they would go undefeated in the playoffs. It is not wrong to think they will regain control of the series and win.
John Schuhmann: It was pretty obvious that the Heat were out of rhythm after an eight-day layoff. That put them in a grinder of a game with the Bulls, a situation that no one wants to be in. They still had a chance to win, but Dwyane Wade forgot that he’s one of the worst 3-point shooters in NBA history. I expect them to win the series in five or six games and it wouldn’t surprise me if they win the next two by 15-plus.
Sekou Smith: The cause for the Heat’s Game 1 performance was a nasty mix of the Chicago Bulls, the long layoff after the first round sweep of Milwaukee and a classic case of fat cat syndrome. Heat star Chris Bosh was the only guy willing to say it out loud. But the Heat couldn’t get the car out of cruise control against the Bulls. All the trainingcamp style practices in the world cannot prepare you for a physical and feisty opponent like the Bulls coming at you from opening tip to final buzzer. The Heat thought they had things under control late but miscalculated. I expect them to be fully prepared for what comes next in Game 2 and the remainder of this series, which I predicted to go six games with the Heat advancing.
Lang Whitaker: The thing about the Heat losing Game One wasn’t that they weren’t prepared — they got the shots they were looking for, including a bunch of those corner threes that Chicago defends so preciously. They just didn’t make a lot of those shots. Also, defensively the Heat can (and will) make some adjustments, such as using LeBron in a way that he’s not just standing around on the help-side and instead will be actively defending the ball.
Did P.J. Carlesimo have to go? Does Vinny Del Negro have to go?
Steve Aschburner: Let’s see, all Brooklyn did under P.J. Carlesimo was win at a clip (.648) greater than any Nets coach in history. Then, in the span of two weeks, he got lousy at his job? Right. That crew in the locker room has issues, from self-absorption to softness to an odd array of talents (not even the Teamsters need brawn badly enough to have Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries, aging Gerald Wallace and a 42-year-old Jerry Stackhouse on one roster). Blame the owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is impatient and star-driven, essentially the opposite of team-building. Del Negro? Well, the franchise has had two seasons of .600 or better winning in its 41 years. So of course the coach who oversaw it must go. In this case, it might be a win-win. Point guard Chris Paul gets control not just on the floor but off it and Del Negro gets that boost on his resume that accrues to all who exit the Clippers.
Fran Blinebury: I thought P.J. did a solid job after taking over for Avery Johnson and thought he earned a chance to come back next season with his own coaching staff and a full training camp. It’s pretty clear Nets ownership wants a name they can put up on the marquee. On the other hand, despite 56 wins and the first division title in franchise history, the Clippers have clearly gone as far as they can go with Del Negro. Yes, Chris Paul is their best player and team leader, but he can’t be the only voice. The Clips need a coach who can put his stamp on the team, teach Blake Griffin to play defense and stop simply relying on the whole Lob City facade.
Vinny Del Negro (by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: I like P.J., he’s the genuine article, but this roster needs a stern hand to come in and throw down the hammer. Because of the payroll and the restrictive nature of the new CBA for teams like Brooklyn that are over the luxury tax, this club is going to look very similar next season so a new approach is needed to maximize players like Joe Johnson and a low-scoring forward duo of Reggie Evans and GeraldWallace, who after the entire season weirdly stated that he had no idea what his role is. As for Vinny Del Negro, what does Chris Paul want? I mean that’s really all that matters at this point. But man, I really want VDN to succeed. He’s been ridiculed and ripped since he entered the league as a no-experience head coach with Chicago. The bottom line in L.A. is that the roster was not as good as many thought. Did VDN not squeeze enough out of these guys or did players like DeAndre Jordan not fulfill his contract and potential? The bottom line is if the organization believes VDN’s strategies, adjustments, etc., did not serve the team well and/or the players don’t respect him, then it’s time to move on.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Carlesimo did not have to go — the Nets’ problems were in place before he got a chance — but it is no surprise that he did. Del Negro is more in the has-to-go category. Bad finish to the regular season after a good start. Bad finish to the playoffs after a good start. Players openly questioning the lack of strategy.
John Schuhmann: Though I was pretty critical of his extended use of a forward combination that was clearly hurting his team offensively, I don’t necessarily think that Carlesimo had to go, because we don’t know what kinds of changes he would have made with a full summer and training camp. He was handed the reins in late December, righted the ship and got his two best players playing well again, which was very important. And come playoff time, his bench options were pretty limited, because guys like Keith Bogans and Jerry Stackhouse couldn’t hit a shot. Still, I think he could have been more creative with his offense and given a floor-spacer like Mirza Teletovic more playing time to figure things out. The Clippers should probably make a move too. Like the Nets, they need someone who can be a little more creative offensively and hold his players accountable on the defensive end. That team has top-five talent, but seemed to be treading water over the last two months of the season.
Sekou Smith: Carlesimo had to go. The Nets haven’t exactly hid the fact that they’re interested in some superstar type to come in and run the show in Brooklyn. And that’s not a knock on Carlesimo, mind you, it’s just the facts as we all know them. Truth be told, it wouldn’t have mattered who coached this team. The moment that Game 7 debacle at ended Saturday night at Barclays Center, it was obvious that the Nets’ next move would be to relieve their head coach of his duties and begin the hunt for suitable replacement. The Del Negro question is best suited for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Because we all know that they are the guys who hold Del Negro’s fate in their hands. If the Clippers’ two biggest stars demand that Vinny D remains in place, then it will be hard for the Clippers to make that move without a blockbuster hire to replace him (and we’re talking about a Phil Jackson-type blockbuster). As long as the monstrous shadow of the Zen Master hovers over both the Clippers and Lakers, no coach in either franchise is free from the drama. It’s nothing personal against Vinny. It’s just time to go if the Clippers plan on going bold in their pitch to keep Paul.
Lang Whitaker: As much as I like PJ Carlesimo, I understand why the Nets let him go. This is a franchise very concerned with perception, and Carlesimo was too much of a ham-and-egger to ever fit in perfectly. The first-round knockout surely didn’t help matters, although as the Bulls continue to rampage through the postseason, I wonder if eventually a postseason loss to this Bulls team will be viewed in a less harsh light? The Clips obviously need to settle the Del Negro question as soon as possible, with Chris Paul approaching free agency. The Clippers’ flameout in the Playoffs got progressively worse as they went along, and Del Negro’s inability to settle on a rotation became more and more glaring. The Clippers have improved greatly, but if they’re going to contend for a title, they need to do it now. As such, it’s time for a coach who can get them over that final hurdle. And that coach is not Vinny Del Negro.