Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Blogtable: Warriors or Clippers more capable of winning without star guard?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> The Warriors or the Clippers? Who is better equipped to win in these playoffs without their All-Star point guard? And how far can they go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Warriors. This question might have been posed before the full extent of Blake Griffin’s injury was known, but there’s no denying the double-whammy delivered to Doc Rivers’ crew. It sounds like a rehab race as far as which point guard gets back sooner – and whether Stephen Curry‘s or Chris Paul‘s team still will be alive by then – but Golden State’s superior depth makes them the favorite against either L.A. or Portland, in my opinion. If Curry isn’t back by, say, Game 3 of the conference finals, though, I think San Antonio will represent the West in The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As odd as it may sound when we’re talking about the soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry out of the Warriors lineup, I’d say Golden State can handle the loss better. For one, the Warriors roster is much, much deeper. For another, Chris Paul is the one that makes everything go in the Clippers offense. He runs the pick-and-rolls. He sets up virtually all of DeAndre Jordan’s buckets. He drives the team and also is a tough defender. Add in the fact that Blake Griffin is done for the playoffs and the Clippers are clearly more vulnerable. They are now in danger of being knocked out by Portland. However, without Curry, the Warriors can’t get past either the Spurs or Thunder in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. And it’s not even a question. The Clips will be without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, very possibly, if not likely, for the rest of the playoffs. Golden State still has two All-Stars, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, plus others, and could also have Curry back before the end of the second round.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comStephen Curry is about a week from winning another MVP, and his worth to Golden State is obvious, but the Warriors are deep enough to travel far in the playoffs. That’s because they can at least attempt to replace what Curry does well: pass and shoot. Klay Thompson is a proven 20-point scorer and Draymond Green is excellent at finding open teammates. Besides, Shaun Livingston might be the best backup point guard in the playoffs. Could they win it all? I wouldn’t dismiss that. Without Chris Paul‘s deft direction, though, the Clippers are a one-on-one troupe. And without Paul and Blake Griffin, they’re in for a quick exit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Warriors by a mile, even if Blake Griffin was healthy. Golden State has the better defense and more of a plug-and-play system where the ball will continue to move no matter who is on the floor. Both teams rely heavily on their point guards to generate offense and both offenses have been much worse when the point guard has stepped off the floor. But the Warriors’ ensemble cast beyond their star is much stronger than that of the Clippers, who look sunk against Portland without their two best players. The champs can beat the Blazers without Curry, but will obviously need him to get past the Spurs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors, by a long shot. The supporting cast in Oakland is much deeper and stronger. As critical as Stephen Curry is to what the Warriors have and continue to do, his value to his team isn’t the same as Paul’s is to the Clippers. The Warriors share the leadership load on and off the floor. Paul is the tone-setter for the Clippers in every facet. And without him, there is no way they play beyond the conference semifinals. The Warriors can get to the conference finals without Curry.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on the Clippers’ injuries and the Blazers’ youth, we can pencil the Warriors into the conference finals – which in turn relieves them of any immediate pressure to hurry Curry back into the rotation. If the next two to three weeks enable Curry’s knee and ankle to heal, then I’m thinking the Warriors’ chances of returning to the NBA Finals aren’t going to be affected. It will be as if Curry’s injuries never happened. My sympathy is with Chris Paul. This is one of the NBA’s great leaders, and another year goes by without him reaching a conference final. I can’t imagine someone like him retiring without at least one NBA Finals appearance. And yet Paul is turning 31 next week, and the years are beginning to slip away.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIs this a trick question? The Clippers are almost fully dependent on Chris Paul to get his own buckets (like those midrange jumpers he’s so great at knocking down) or to create for everyone elseDeAndre Jordan on alley-oops, J.J. Redick coming around picks. The Clips can get buckets without CP3, like if they just turn Jamal Crawford loose, but it’s nothing like the Warriors without Stephen Curry. The Warriors have two other players (Draymond Green, Klay Thompson) who can do all parts of the game — score, facilitate, play defense — and do it at as high of a level as anyone in the league.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Blogtable: Who should be Lakers’ next coach?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> The Lakers have employed five head coaches in the last six seasons, and are looking to fill that position again. Who is the right man for the job this time? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Luke Walton seems like the right choice to me. He was remarkably calm and capable handling Golden State over the first half of the season. Granted, he was working within the league’s second-most respected organizational structure, with championship talent and a clear, achievable mission to repeat. Still, the slightest hiccup, whether injury or off-court mishap, could have been blamed on Walton. He’s at a point in his coaching arc — early — that synchs up with the Lakers’ roster and rebuild. If Walton doesn’t choose to leave the Warriors, though, someone like Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie would be a strong candidate, based on his NBA experience and his coaching apprenticeship.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLuke Walton. He’s young, smart, has roots that run through the Lakers, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr and would be able to grow even more on the job while bringing along a new young core. The Lakers fan base would also be get fully behind a new era on the court and on the bench. The bad news: He’s not going there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ettore Messina. Smart, hard worker, respected by basketball people around the world even if he isn’t recognizable to most fans in the U.S., has Laker ties, well-liked within the organization, now has a wealth of experience on NBA benches — he checks all the boxes. It’s easy to see the appeal of Luke Walton, who would be a popular choice. Walton could also be a very good choice. But someone is going to be glad they gave Messina his first NBA job. It should be the Lakers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I like the idea of hiring Jay Wright of Villanova because he’s got a lot of Brad Stevens in him: Calm, smart and ambitious and he can grow into the job while the team develops. Besides, the Lakers are loaded with young players, which makes them idea for a college coach. But if they feel NBA experience is paramount, then Jeff Van Gundy over Luke Walton. My only issue with Van Gundy is he hasn’t been on the bench in almost a decade.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Scott Brooks, who did a great job of developing young talent in Oklahoma City, would have been my initial pick. With Brooks heading to Washington, I would still make player development my most important factor. Therefore, I would look at Heat assistant David Fizdale, Blazers assistant Nate Tibbets, or someone of that ilk. Don’t take shortcuts. If you have D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and maybe another top-three pick this year, making them better should be your top priority. If you can get those guys playing together and playing something other than bottom-five defense, you can take a step forward, both in the standings and in your team’s development, without making a big splash in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All of the usual suspects will be mentioned. But if the Lakers are serious about grooming their youngsters for bigger and better things, they need a known player-development minded coach like David Fizdale, who is currently Erik Spoelstra’s top assistant in Miami. Fizdale has helped mold young talent, while also working with superstar talents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others. His understanding of the culture that is needed to facilitate the maturation process for elite young talent is proven. He’s got championship experience and he’s a Los Angeles native who understands what comes with coaching one of the marquee teams in all of professional sports.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe identity of the right man depends entirely on the Lakers. Are Jeanie and Jimmy Buss unified? If Jimmy leaves after next season – as Jeanie has insisted he will, if the Lakers fail to reach the second round of the 2017 playoffs — then who will be running basketball operations? Do the Lakers realize they are going to need several years of focused development in order to return to contention? Or are they going to turn into the Knicks and sabotage themselves by pursuing quick fixes and continuing their current trend of changing their approach every couple of years? If the Lakers cannot answer these questions appropriately, then they are not going to be worthy of a high-level candidate like Jeff Van Gundy, Ettore Messina or Luke Walton. I don’t know how to answer the question, because the Lakers don’t appear to know who they are and what they stand for anymore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Pat Riley ain’t walking through that door. And neither are Magic, Kareem and Kobe. Point being, the Lakers need a lot of help, and no matter who the coach is, their roster needs more renovating than an HGTV show. So I guess I’d look to what Boston did, and hire a young coach who’s willing to be patient with the process and lose games for a few years while you teach your system and develop your guys. So I’d put in a call to a Kevin Ollie or, and here’s a crazy idea, if you want a caretaker for a few years to stay competitive while you develop younger guys, I bet Larry Brown would take your call.

No penalty from NBA for Drummond’s elbow? LeBron James not surprised

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The reaction to this one from many in the NBA’s 29 other precincts might be along the lines of puh-leeeze: LeBron James suggested Sunday that he doesn’t get his share of whistles when on the receiving end of physical play.

The bruised and bloodied bodies of fallen opponents strewn behind him might argue to the contrary.

But then, when the NBA has an opportunity to review video of some of the hits the Cleveland star takes – like a high elbow from Detroit center Andre Drummond in Game 3 Friday of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference series – and issues no retroactive flagrant or technical fouls or fines, maybe James has a case.

James wasn’t complaining at the Cavaliers’ shootaround session Sunday in advance of their closeout opportunity in Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But he wasn’t hiding his belief, either, that all physical contact isn’t adjudicated fairly.

Asked about the Drummond blow and the absence of any rebuke, James told reporters: “Initially I was surprised. But then I thought who he did it to and I wasn’t surprised.”

Given the size, speed and power of James’ game, at a muscular 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, the sense among NBA observers long has been that he dishes out punishment without even trying, just from incidental contact that can hurt. The flip side is that, given his strength, he absorbs a lot of contact without getting knocked off course or sent to the floor, resulting in fewer whistles that way as well.

“He’s the Shaq of guards and forwards,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s so strong and so physical when he goes to the basket guys are bouncing off of him. Those are still fouls. But he doesn’t get that call because he’s so big and so strong and so physical.”

Lue, since taking over at midseason as the Cavs head coach, assiduously avoids criticizing the referees or NBA HQ over calls made or not made. It’s a button many coaches push at playoff time, dating back at least to Phil Jackson‘s tweaks while with the Bulls and the Lakers and probably all the way back to Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Their goal: Plant a seed for the next game. But it can get expensive – witness Stan Van Gundy‘s $25,000 fine after Game 1 for bemoaning what he felt was the refs’ disinterest in calling offensive fouls on James – and it doesn’t suit Lue’s personality.

“It’s their job to clean it up,” said Lue, who proudly notes that he never got a technical foul in 11 years as an NBA point guard. “It’s not my job to complain about the situation at hand.”

James rarely is shy in complaining in the moment about calls he feels should have gone his way. His lightning-rod game and expressive gripes, added to every NBA player’s default position regarding fouls, generates a lot of hoots and hollers from fans in arenas who think James actually gets preferential treatment from the refs.

Some teammates, such as Cavs center Tristan Thompson, are in the middle of the physical play that ramps up in the playoffs and see it differently.

“He gets beat up the most. He gets beat up the most in the league,” Thompson said. “He takes a lot of hits night in and night out, especially in this series, and he keeps pushing and he stays mature.”

James takes the hits but clearly he doesn’t take them lightly. He had a no-nonsense look Sunday morning, suggesting a resolve to limit the Pistons’ shots at him by limiting their playoff run to the minimum of four games.

“I just like to gather my composure, my guys’ composure, going against the opponents’ fans,” James said this close-out opportunity on the road. “I thrive adversity and hostile environments.”

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

In LeBron’s career, shorter playoff series not necessarily better


VIDEO: Cavs ready for Game 3 in Detroit

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – No team has done it and none likely will break through this postseason, as far as cruising through the NBA playoffs without a loss. Five teams currently are unbeaten but 2-0 is a long way from 16-0 and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers know it.

Even for the old school, perfection was elusive. Hall of Famer and man of few words Moses Malone missed by just one on his famous 1983 prediction of “Fo’, fo’, ‘fo” and that was back in the days of three rounds rather than four.

The appeal is obvious, beyond bragging rights. Fewer games at this point on the NBA calendar is better than more, given wear and tear on the players’ bodies and their minds. Keeping series short cuts down on the adjustments an opponent can make and, even bigger, on exposures to injury. There also are psychological benefits to advancing quickly and earning extra days off while upcoming opponents still are fighting to survive.

LeBron James qualifies as the league’s active expert on long playoff runs, given his five straight Finals appearances and six overall. So, in advance of Game 3 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference first round (7 ET, ESPN), James talked Friday morning at The Palace of Auburn Hills about his experiences not just winning the four games that matter most in these best-of-seven series but avoiding seven games. Or six or ideally even five.

“It’s been a balance of both,” James said before the Cavaliers’ shootaround. “I’ve had points of my career where we’ve swept a lot and it’s hurt us the next series, ’cause we got out of rhythm. I’ve had times where we were banged up as a team and we needed to rest, and it benefited us.”

James and his teams are on a roll, with 15 consecutive victories in the first round, including sweeps of Boston (2015), Charlotte (2014) and Milwaukee (2013). As far as his personal playoff history, his scattergram shows eight four-game series (a 7-1 record), nine five-game series (8-1), 11 six-game series (7-4) and five seven-gamers (3-2).

In the years James’ Cleveland and Miami teams have reached The Finals, they’ve played in a total of six sweeps, winning five. But the two runs that ended with championships, in 2012 and 2013, curiously had none. They logged 23 games both teams en route to the Larry O’Brien trophy, the most James ever has played in a postseason.

So shorter hasn’t necessarily been better.

“It all depends on that particular season,” James said. “You can’t really base it on another season. It depends on how you’re feeling and how that other team is playing in that particular season.”

James was asked for the third or fourth time this week about Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson‘s brash claims that he has “gotten in” the Cleveland star’s head. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talked with the 19-year-old Johnson about verbally poking at a dangerous opponent. But James saved his most pointed responses for Game 2 and, presumably, for Game 3, because he didn’t get drawn into a war of words Friday morning.

“I don’t think it’s about that,” James said. “There’s always going to be conversation outside of the four lines, and how much you indulge in it can take away from what the main thing is.

“Guys have been always kind of trash-talking me since I was a kid. My coaches always told me, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to score and whatever you can do to help your team stay focused.”

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive team picks?

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


BLOGTABLE: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOKawhi Leonard receives his Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award

> Kawhi Leonard is the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Who should join him on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Pretty sure that’s who I voted for.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Since I voted for this honor among the NBA’s slate of annual awards, I’m just retyping my ballot here. Leonard, Green and Jordan, in order, were my first, second and third selections for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, too. Leonard is the best on-ball defender in the NBA, Green’s versatility and want-to is unsurpassed and Jordan alters whole game plans. (Just for the record, here’s my second team: Jae Crowder, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

There are several deserving candidates at center, among Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan and others. It’s easy to imagine votes firing out on every direction for center when the actual balloting is released. Bradley may have been the third-best defender this season regardless of position.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

They’re easily the gold standard right now. Leonard is young enough to pull a Jamal Crawford and be a multiple winner of a performance award.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The forward spots are easy. It’s tempting to put Green at center and replace Gobert with Paul George (watch this guy fight through screens in the Toronto series), Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala, but Green played about 2/3 of his minutes at the four. Gobert missed 21 games, but was the league’s best rim protector. It’s hard to keep Avery Bradley off the list, but Paul and Rubio are two point guards that make a big impact with their ball pressure and ability to stay in front of their man.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

And Hassan Whiteside would be the sixth man on this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The theme of this all-defensive team is its phenomenal versatility. All of these players can guard multiple situations. Bradley has taken over for Allen as the NBA’s top backcourt defender.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Well, first of all, my Defensive Player of the Year ballot had Kawhi, Green and Jordan in that order. Because while I appreciate Draymond’s versatility, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player as aggressive and ravenous as Leonard is when playing on-ball defense. That was my front line. In the back court, I went with Paul, who plays at such a consistently high level play after play, game after game, and I went with Allen, because I didn’t want him getting mad at me on Twitter like last year.

Blogtable: How long should the Warriors rest Stephen Curry?

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


BLOGTABLE: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOShould the Warriors rest Curry the rest of the series?

> With a 2-0 series lead over the Rockets, should the Warriors continue to rest a hobbled Stephen Curry? And if so, for how long?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes. Until they lose a game. Simple. No reason to chance Curry figuratively stepping on a banana peel with a sprained ankle/foot/whatever it is and turning an aggravating injury into something chronic or worse. (By the way, Inside the NBA was cold. And, funny. Better hope the Dubs finish up their business, though.)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The Warriors should rest Curry until they lose a game or until the Western Conference semifinals begin, whichever comes first. Both of these options assume that he actually will be capable of playing before one or the other kicks in. A little extra rest for the reigning-slash-presumptive MVP that doesn’t jeopardize Golden State’s quest to repeat as champs can’t possibly be a bad thing. Of course, if Curry remains hobbled, the Warriors should rest him until he’s not. We saw what happened last spring when Kyrie Irving kept trying to play through mid-level injury that became playoff-ending.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes. With an eye on the long run to the NBA Finals, I’d sit him out of Game 3, giving Curry at least a full week of rest and rehab. Then only bring him back for Game 4 if he’s 100 percent. It’s about the big picture.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rest him. Sit him in Game 3 even if the medical staff and Curry all say he is good to go. The closer he gets to 100 percent, the better the Warriors’ chances of a repeat. As strange as it is to say it in the playoffs, get Curry the R&R he, and others on the team, missed late in the regular season as the chase for 73 wins remained a goal. But rest him only Game 3. If Golden State wins Thursday — and, again, if the ankle is doing well — play the MVP as the Warriors go for the sweep. The idea is to get him healthy, not get him out of rhythm. If Curry does not play in 2, 3 or 4 and the series ends then, that could be a very long layoff between getting on the court, depending when the second round would begin.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Rest, for as long as necessary. It really isn’t a debate, in my mind, and hopefully not in Steve Kerr‘s mind, either. The dysfunctional Rockets are giving Kerr the luxury of being as careful with Curry as possible. And even if the Warriors were playing the Spurs or Thunder, I’d still be cautious with Curry, given his history, given what he means to the franchise, now and for years to come.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of us can know just how Curry feels, but we do know that ankle injuries aren’t always 100 percent healed when you start feeling better. And until they are 100 percent healed, it takes just the slightest tweak (which can happen with a simple change of direction) for there to be a re-sprain. This was Curry’s issue earlier in his career and the issue with Deron Williams for a couple of years in Brooklyn. So I would keep him out for this entire series, unless the Rockets somehow win a game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Steph should sit for as long as needed, into the next round if need be. The Rockets are no threat, not even with the series shifting to Houston for Games 3 and 4. Steph’s importance to the Warriors now and for the foreseeable future is galactic. There is no reason, none at all, to put him in any sort of danger for the sake of beating up on the Rockets. Steve Kerr knows this and that’s why I’m sure he’ll be as cautious as necessary in his handling of this situation.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Keep it simple. When Curry can play, play him. If there are any doubts, then rest him. A reasonable ambition is to protect Curry’s health for the next three rounds while finishing off the Rockets within five games. Right now there appears to be little cause for anxiety.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: What’s the rush? I’d sit Curry either until I lost a game or he was 100 percent healthy, whichever happens first. And considering that the Warriors are playing the Rockets, Curry might get to be 100 percent before they lose a game. Still, with Curry you want to play the long game here, especially with his history of ankle injuries. Of course, knock on wood, he’s been pretty healthy for a while, and there’s no need to rush him back and get him on the floor and risk any longer-term injuries. The Warriors are playing for June, not today. Or at least they should be.