Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: Most memorable career moment from 2016 HOF class?

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOGet to know the 2016 Hall of Fame class

> Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson headline the new Hall of Fame class. Which player had the most memorable moment, what was it and why does it still resonate with you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaq and the moment is personal, because I was in Orlando on April 20, 1994 when the big man dropped 53 points on Minnesota. Wait, make that threw down 53 points. I know Shaq eventually would top that – he got 61 for the Lakers on his 28th birthday – and he had lots of other unforgettable plays. But I’ll never forget the cannon sound effect the Magic used back then for dunks and how, with Shaq destroying Christian Laettner, Mike Brown and Stanley Jackson inside, it sounded like they were playing the “1812 Overture” without the band. O’Neal made 22 of 31 shots, grabbed 18 rebounds and even hit nine of his 13 free throws that night. It was as if he was playing against Jabbawockeez, not Timberwolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOne moment for these three? Really? It’s just not possible. That single tear that Shaq shed in the moment after he won his first championship with the Lakers? The smile of acceptance when the combative, criticized Iverson raised his first All-Star Game MVP trophy in Washington, D.C. in 2001? But I will say the one that made me chuckle loudest was a Dec. 2006 game with the Rockets at Clippers. A dominant Yao Ming scored 32 points and after making one especially nifty fourth quarter turnaround jumper over Chris Kaman that sealed the win, he turned and shouted at the Clippers bench: “You can’t (bleep)ing stop me!” It was a positively raw moment that bridged the cultures of China and the United States. Pure playground, pure basketball, pure Yao.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s Shaq taking the lob from Kobe Bryant, slamming it through the net with his right hand and running back downcourt with his eyes bugging out in marvel at what had just happened. That exclamation moment had just happened, for one thing, in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, but it was the entire fourth quarter at Staples Center really. It changed history. The Lakers went from 15 points down with about 10 minutes to play, well on their way to being eliminated, to a six-point lead with 41.3 seconds remaining after the Kobe-Shaq connection. It was the final step to the pair winning the title together as part of a fourth quarter that was a huge step in what became a threepeat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Yao Ming couldn’t get anywhere in the playoffs and also dealt with too many injuries. This is really a two-man contest between Shaq and Iverson, and does any pure “moment” from Shaq compare to Iverson’s step-back and step-over shot against Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals? That gets replayed almost as much as Iverson’s rant about practice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are more basketball fans in China than there are people in the United States. I got a little taste of that when I was sitting near the top of the arena on the first night of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The atmosphere was electric for China-USA and the building exploded when Yao opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer. He was recovering from foot surgery and out of shape, but he had an obligation to be out there for the biggest game in his country’s history. Shaq and Iverson had incredible careers, and basketball was popular in China before Yao came along. But that moment, for me at least, just illustrated how much of an impact he’s had on a global scale.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Shaq won four championships, the first three when he was the world’s dominant player, and it is not any single moment that resonates so much as his run with the Lakers when all of the NBA was loading up to overcome a single player. The 2003-04 champion Pistons collected four 7-footers around center Ben Wallace; they were inspired by Shaq to gamble the No. 2 pick in 2003 on Darko Milicic. It speaks to O’Neal’s majesty that his “moment” carried on for three years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is a particularly memorable class for me, because I began my career as a writer as Shaq and Iverson were entering the NBA. I got to spend a good bit of time with each of them during their careers, and as a fan I enjoyed watching both of them play, a couple of polar opposites of the NBA. But while Shaq seemed like a Hall of Famer from the moment he was drafted, Iverson’s professional path was never guaranteed, so his ascension to the HOF seems like a geniune accomplishment. As for a single moment, I have to go with Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan. That was a true changing of the guard.

Blogtable: Predicting the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race

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: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOBlazers take down Kings in Sacramento

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the Western Conference? And which team is most at risk of missing the playoffs and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 5: Grizzlies
No. 6: Blazers
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Mavericks

I think the Jazz-Mavericks slotting will hinge on their game in Salt Lake City Monday. And I don’t think any of the four is in danger of missing the playoffs, because if there’s any justice in this silly association, the Houston Rockets need to suffer the same fate in the West that the disappointing Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards experience in the East. They’ve been playing with fool’s gold, kidding themselves that they had the makings of a title contender built around their version of a bearded Carmelo Anthony and the Big Tease.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

If the broken Grizzlies had built themselves one game less of a cushion, I might have said they were headed for one of the great swan drives since Greg Louganis retired. But a big win at home Tuesday night over the Bulls means they’ll only lose a spot and slip to sixth, moving the Blazers up into fifth, where they could even have a longshot upset chance in first round against the Clippers. I believe Houston at Dallas Wednesday night is the elimination game in the West. If the Rockets win, they hold tiebreaker over Utah and take seventh. If Mavs win, they’ll barely hang at No. 8. The loser is the odd man out of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Jazz

Memphis is heading in a bad direction, with enough reason for concern the last couple weeks or so that the Grizz might be fortunate to only drop one spot from the current standings. Obviously Dallas and Utah are both at risk of dropping out of the top eight. The Mavs are probably at a greater risk because the closing schedule is Rockets, Grizzlies, at Clippers at Jazz, Spurs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Rockets

The Mavericks have own four straight but that was a soft stretch. Their remaining games are all difficult and they close out in San Antonio, where the Spurs haven’t lost, although admittedly Dallas will likely see the B team.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Jazz
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Rockets

Another “who the heck knows” question. So much depends on Wednesday’s Houston-Dallas game, and you never know what version of the Rockets you’re going to get. I’ll guess that Portland wins out and finishes 45-37, while the other four teams in the mix finish tied at 42-40. That would leave Memphis as the odd team out, with a 4-7 record against the rest of the group. Of course, they would just need to win one of their last four games to avoid that fate (if I somehow correctly guessed the results of the other 17 games involving these teams).

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

“The Revenant” turned out to be a bad omen for the tormented Memphis Grizzlies: As ravaged as they’ve been by injuries, they’re unlikely to win any of their remaining five games against winning teams. And so everybody gets to move up. The unreliable Rockets (along with the Blazers) have a favorable schedule, which can enable them to jump two spots. Am I showing too much faith in them? Maybe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Grizzlies

I hate to say this, but I don’t think the Rockets are gonna make it. When they’re on, they can be a lot of fun, but when they aren’t clicking, they are a disaster. And I know Memphis is the five seed now, but they’ve lost six straight, have more players injured than healthy, and have a killer schedule down the stretch, including two games against the Warriors, plus games at the Clippers and Mavericks. If I’m Golden State and have the wins record locked up, would you rest guys the final game against Memphis if it guarantees facing them in the first round?

Offseason starts early as Brooklyn shuts down Lopez, Young


Brook Lopez’s and Thaddeus Young‘s work for the Brooklyn Nets apparently is done for 2015-16, which means the two veteran frontcourt players won’t suit up for a game that counts for nearly seven months. And here you thought summer vacation was great back in your grade school and high school days.

We’re all familiar by now with the tendency for playoff-bound NBA teams at this point in their schedules to rest stars or veterans or both in anticipation of a “second season” that could add as much as two months and 28 games to their workloads. This is the flip side, starters and other heavy-minutes guys on bad or mediocre teams getting shut down with games remaining.

Sometimes it’s done to limit their exposure to injuries in games that barely matter. Sometimes their teams want to give minutes to younger, less-developed, unknown-quantity types further down the roster. Sometimes, it seems, it’s even a gesture to spare them from the ignominy of playing hard while going nowhere.

In the Nets’ case, we’re being asked to believe it’s all of the above. Interim Brooklyn coach Tony Brown said before Sunday’s matinee against New Orleans that his team would slog through its final six games without its top two scorers and rebounders.

“We’re going to shut those guys down,” Brown told reporters. “Obviously get them to recover from the long, grueling season, get that process started early.”

Provide your own wisecrack about lottery-bound teams not having seasons that are particularly long or grueling, compared to the 100 games or so that the NBA’s elite play each year.

Lopez averaged 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists to Young’s 15.1 points and 9.0 rebounds. Combined, they accounted for 35 percent of the Nets’ total points so far this season, 38 percent of their rebounds and 27 percent of Brooklyn’s minutes played. Each had appeared in 73 of 76 games, with the Nets going 0-3 when each was out.

At 21-55, Brooklyn’s final spot in the Eastern Conference standings is locked at No. 14, but with games remaining against Washington, Charlotte, Indiana and Toronto, a less-competitive Nets team could impact some playoff positioning. Here’s some context on the move via TheBrooklynGame.com:

It was a decision that came from the team’s upper management, not Brown, with the long-term health of the players and the organization in mind. Brown had not spoken with Young or Lopez about the decision.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t had that conversation with Brook and Thad, I would throw that back at (general manager) Sean (Marks),” Brown added. “I’m sure he’s had some contact with their representation. But I think they do understand. Like I said, I haven’t talked to them. We’re just trying to be proactive. It’s a chance to get some other guys on the floor that normally probably wouldn’t play as much.”

The 21-55 Nets have no incentive to tank their record: they currently hold the fourth-worst record in the league, and will turn over their first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics no matter where it lands.

Without the normal incentive to win (a playoff chase) or lose (a draft pick), Nets management is in a period of evaluation. Only six players — Young, Lopez, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Sean Kilpatrick — have guaranteed contracts for next year, while an additional three have player options for next season.

“The guys who will get an opportunity to play, play your minutes hard, play aggressive, play with high intensity,” Brown said. “We pretty much know the style we like, with the pace and ball movement. We want to continue to do that, and whoever the guys are that get on the floor, we want to see them work in that environment. It won’t change much, but obviously the faces will, but our approach is still the same.”

Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs (yawn) set more marks | Running with Bulls proves hazardous | Pacers need to snap out of it | Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns

No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:

The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.

The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.

None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.

“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”

With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.

Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.

“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”

Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.

It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.

Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.

Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.

If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:

(more…)

Pistons win ‘biggest game’ so far, while Bulls sink further in East

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls were all about clinching playoff spots Saturday night.

For Miami. For Charlotte. Just not for themselves with their 94-90 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of seizing the two-fer opportunity against the Pistons (who were playing the tail end of a back-to-back) and at least keeping pace with the Pacers (who rallied to win in Philadelphia), the Bulls dug their hole at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket a little deeper. At 38-38, they remain in ninth place, two games behind Indiana and 2.5 behind Detroit.

Chicago has six games left and holds the tiebreaker against the Pacers but lost it, along with the game, against the Pistons. In the four-game series against Chicago, including five overtime periods, Detroit outscored the Bulls 440-439 in 217 minutes but wound up 3-1.

Stan Van Gundy had billed this one, coming in, as the biggest game of the season for his club. So when they closed it out, the Pistons coach didn’t back away from its significance.

“Up to this point,” he said, qualifying it just a bit. “Hopefully there are even bigger ones to come. But for four of our starters – and they all agreed – that’s the most meaningful win of their NBA careers. All of our starters except Reggie [Jackson]. But we’ve got bigger things to do. So we’re not there yet.”

Detroit closed out the playoff-style game by holding Chicago to 7-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, while its 11-of-16 work from the foul line was better than their 9-for-18 through three quarters. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Jackson were a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 2:17, with Van Gundy sitting center Andre Drummond for the final 5:22 after he bricked nine of his 10 free throws.

“He was 1-for-10 – he made the decision easy tonight,” Van Gundy said. “In a close game like that, we can’t be playing or hoping for one point at most when they’re playing for two or three. You can’t do that. You’re putting too much pressure on your defense.”

Chicago has been putting too much pressure on its entire game after flopping in that gauntlet last week against the Knicks, the Knicks again and the Magic. Taking even two of those would have them in seventh right now, a game up with the tiebreaker over ninth-place Indiana. Now?

“We are well aware of our situation,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “The math is probably against us at this point.”

With Derrick Rose (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion) out, and with the four starters besides Jimmy Butler shooting zero free throws in a combined 112 minutes, the offensive load fell to Butler. He posted the first triple-double of his career – 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists – but he shot 10-of-25, dominated Chicago’s stagnant offense down the stretch and was exhausted before the final horn.

“He put up good numbers. He shot a lot of shots, too,” said Morris, who stayed physical with the Bulls’ scorer until Van Gundy switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto Butler late. “Hopefully that’s what happens. He’s a good player, an All-Star. I love Jimmy, one of my closest guys in the NBA. Great player. He’s just one of those guys, we go back and forth.”

There’s no back or forth for the Bulls now, just falling down and looking up at the Pistons, the Pacers and six other East rivals in the standings.

Blogtable: The best backup point guard in the NBA is …?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODennis Schroder stars in Hawks’ win vs. Lakers

> Who is the best backup point guard in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Isn’t The Professor always the answer? All right; if I have to pick someone besides 71-year-old Andre Miller, I’ll go with Shaun Livingston — who I don’t believe has missed a single shot this season. Maybe it just seems that way.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I were going by sheer numbers, I’d tip toward Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. On a per-36-minute basis, the Hawks’ feisty backup to Jeff Teague is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists. But one of the traits I value most in a backup PG is stability, which is why I choose Sacramento’s Darren Collison. He has the experience and temperament to master that role, leading the Kings’ reserves without unduly seeking out his own stats or disrupting the pecking order. At 16.5 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, his numbers are strong enough — including a career-best 48.0 field-goal percentage and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: G’day, Mate. I’m riding with Patty Mills. As coach Gregg Popovich micro-manages the minutes of his Big Three, Mills is playing more than 20 minutes per game behind Tony Parker. Mills keeps the pace up, penetrates and has a knack for hitting big 3s. He was instrumental in the 2014 championship run and even more important two years later in a graying lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Shaun Livingston. He makes shots (though without great range) and smart plays, is dependable and has the size that not only can create mismatches but is also a nice contrast to Stephen Curry. Dennis Schröder is in the conversation as well. And Darren Collison, since he has returned to a backup role after starting last season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI love the spunk that Jeremy Lin is giving the Hornets, but my pick is Dennis Schröder of the Hawks, who has raised every facet of his game (11.5 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes per). Tough and fearless, Schroder has often played better this season than Jeff Teague, who slumped badly early on. I just wish the German would go all-out with his hair as he does on the court. Go full blond. Be daring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I love the way Cory Joseph is being used in Toronto in relief of Kyle Lowry, as well as when he and Lowry work together. Coach Dwane Casey found something in that point guard rotation. But the best game changer at the position off the bench this season has been Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can play at any speed and shreds defenses when he’s attacking the basket and finishing over much bigger players. Something has to give eventually with he and Jeff Teague both wanting the keys to the car in Atlanta. But for now, Schroder will have to settle for being the best back-up point guard in the NBA.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaun Livingston because of his efficiency, experience and game-changing length. But the real proof is in the results: The Warriors have been as close to perfect as any team we’ve seen in two decades, and if Livingston wasn’t providing the highest level of leadership off the bench then we would definitely notice.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA couple of names came to mind, guys who are currently backups but, given the chance, should or could be able to lead NBA teams: Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Michael Carter-Williams. But to me the best back-up in the NBA is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He ain’t perfect — Schröder can be inconsistent, his jumper needs improving, and he sometimes struggles with understanding when to attack and when to pull back. But when he’s on, Schröder keeps an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the bench during crunch time. And there aren’t a lot of back-ups who can say that.

Blogtable: How will Blake Griffin’s return impact Clippers?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODoes Blake Griffin’s return make the Clippers a contender?

> Blake Griffin’s return to the Clippers’ lineup will be _____.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Mandatory for any hopes the Clippers have in the playoffs. It’s a rite of spring to bash Blake’s postseason production — and coming off his recent shenanigans, he won’t get the benefit of the doubt from anyone, nor should he. But dude averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the 2015 playoffs. Let me say that again: 25.5 points, 12.7 boards, 6.1 assists. Per game. And he shot 51 percent. Yeah, he’ll help.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Intensely chronicled. No one likes it when their office, store or factory runs too smoothly without them around — everyone wants to be missed and feel wanted, at some level — but the Clippers’ 29-14 mark without Griffin this season (compared to 17-13 when he has played) has convinced some they’re better off without him. I disagree, while acknowledging that he’ll probably need to tread lightly in his return so as to not upset the current pecking order. He can’t play chastened but he needs to be appropriately humble about the position he put L.A. in with his foolishness. Then it’s on coach Doc Rivers to bring it all together Ubuntu-style. All the while, writers both locally and nation wide will have their hands clamped to Griffin’s and his teammates’ wrists, constantly monitoring their pulses. It’s a tricky situation at an inopportune time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Overwrought and overanalyzed. As soon as Griffin hits the floor, the chat and rumors about him getting traded over the summer will grow louder with every missed shot and Clippers loss. The silly talk that the Clips are actually better without him will be resurrected. Just plain dumb. For the Clippers to be contenders, Griffin has to be a big, big part.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Filled with drama. It’s the Clippers so that’s a given, right? But especially in this case. Griffin was out this long after a leg injury because during that absence he also punched an assistant equipment manager. The Clips had their best stretch of the season when he was out. The playoffs are coming soon and he needs to get back in a good place with his rhythm and conditioning pretty quick. There are layers of intrigue as he returns.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Scrutinized. He let his teammates down with that silly decision to clobber a club employee and perhaps cost Los Angeles a chance to move to the No. 3 spot and avoid the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. I also wonder if the time off will create rust, which won’t go over well in the playoffs which demand intensity. Griffin will likely feel guilty enough to elevate his game and make up for lost time, but he needs to play at MVP level to help Chris Paul and the Clippers finally reach the elusive conference finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Interesting, to say the least. So many roles have changed since Christmas, the last time we saw Griffin in game action with his Clippers teammates. Someone will have to sacrifice a bit of what they’ve been doing if Griffin is going to resume his role as one of the Clippers’ top two players. I said it before the season, before Griffin’s torn quad and long before he lumped up his buddy/equipment staffer at that restaurant in Toronto. The Clippers did better than expected in Griffin’s absence, thanks in large part to the heavy lifting done by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Having Blake back in the lineup and ready to go for the playoffs should provide a huge boost for a team that will need it throughout its playoff run.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Stunning. One of two outcomes is sure to follow: Either the Clippers will struggle to reintegrate him, or else this resilient team that persevered without Griffin will be inspired by the return of a Top-10 star playing on fresh legs with a lot to prove. I’m guessing on the latter.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog *Insert fire emoji*. Absence seems to make the heart grow dumber, if not fonder. I think with Griffin out and the Clippers winning, at least initially, it was easy to forget that Griffin was one of the NBA’s best players last season, who finished top ten in MVP voting and third-team All-NBA. While he’s done a valiant job carrying the load in Griffin’s absence, Chris Paul is seemingly wearing down, as evidenced by his backing out from USA Basketball consideration, and could use some scoring help. The Clips are adding an elite talent at exactly the right time.

Blogtable: Another early playoff exit for Toronto?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the Raptors as the playoffs near

> Toronto’s push for the top seed in the East seems to have run out of steam. Should Raptors fans be worried about another early exit this postseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Define “early.” If you mean before the conference finals, heck yes, they should be worried. The Raptors are respected, to be sure, but I don’t think any of the potential Top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) would be terrified by not having home court against Toronto in a semifinal series. The Raptors are a combined 9-3 against that quartet going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks (7:30 ET, NBA TV), but they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, and we know where that got them. But: at least Paul Pierce is safely in the Western Conference now, and can’t torment Toronto for a third straight postseason. And: the Raptors have two lockdown units, featuring Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph  with either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as the fifth wheel. They rank third (with Lowry) and fourth (with DeRozan) in the league in defensive rating among five-man rotations that have logged 200 or more minutes this season. But can that group get a big bucket against a top-shelf defense that takes either Lowry or DeRozan away?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried is too strong a word, in addition to being a complete waste of time that accomplishes nothing. The bottom on the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a minefield of first-round terror, so while there is pressure on Toronto not to exit early again (as it did against Brooklyn and Washington the past two postseasons), there also ought to be confidence and optimism. The Raptors’ baby steps have gotten them to this point, where they can take a significant stride by winning a playoff series for only the second time in the franchise’s two decades. Nothing, however, is guaranteed — even against Indiana or Detroit — and until the Raptors do it, they’ll be doubted. So rather than worry, Toronto fans should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There’s every reason to think the Raptors have what it takes to get out of the first round this year. But until it actually happens, there’s every reason to worry. Nobody has more to prove in the first round this season than Toronto and the core of the lineup going forward.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No more than any other fan group with high hopes should be worried about an early exit. If the Raptors win three in a row or four out of five, we’ll be back to “Should the Cavaliers be worried about the Raptors?” Toronto has a lot of reason to remain encouraged. Let’s see how the Raptors are doing in another five or seven games, see who they’re playing in the first round, and maybe then start to sweat. But not now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the first round, the Raptors are likely to see either Detroit or Indiana, two teams with severe performance mood swings. So, Toronto is likely safe this year. I’d be more worried about the semifinals. Both the Hawks and Heat are hotter teams at the moment and the Raptors would have their hands full against either, even with home court advantage. If the Raptors don’t put up a fight this spring, it’ll be a failure if only because of the quick exits the last two years. Would coach Dwane Casey survive another such disaster?

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Raptors fans should be worried right up until the moment their team finishes that fourth win in their first-round series this season. And I would say the same for any fan base that has endured back-to-back first round exits with their team as the higher seed. I like the Raptors’ chances much better this season. But like most, I need to see them advance before pondering what’s to come for this bunch. And for the record: I have no problem with a fan base worrying themselves into a state of panic until their team breaks through.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThey’re going to worry, because Indiana is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and Detroit is loaded with firepower. But the Raptors are fully deserving of their No. 2 seed: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey have invested three years in building something together, and they’re not going to fall short this time. Their commitment to one another transcends the matchups. They’ve earned the right to reach the semifinals — and maybe the conference finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ve always believed in setting reasonable goals. The Raptors haven’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2002. Yes, they’ve been terrific this season, but I don’t know that anyone should be expecting a trip to the NBA Finals so quickly. To me, advancing to the Eastern Conference semis is a reasonable (and do-able) goal for the Raptors. And if they go further? That’s the cherry on top. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Raptors fans have anything to worry about, at least when it comes to escaping round one.

Sacramento’s Cousins to seek treatment on feet while keeping eyes on Rio


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins with 29 points, 11 boards vs. Suns

DeMarcus Cousins sat out the final six games on the Sacramento Kings’ schedule at this time last season and could be on the verge of a shutdown again.

With playoffs obviously not on the horizon for Cousins or his team, some folks might want to see Cousins gut out what he can over the Kings’ final 10 games and put off some recurring foot and ankle problems until the offseason. But Sacramento’s two-time All-Star center has a deadline for good health that drops before training camp this fall, one that’s worth heeding if he can hit it: Team USA’s play in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

That opportunity for Cousins – he was a member of the 2014 World Cup team, recovering from a strained knee suffered during an early workout with that squad – is important both to the Kings’ big man and his reputation. He got some of his best reviews as a pro for his sacrifice and work with the other NBA stars on Team USA, stepping out of the indulged, allegedly immature franchise guy he’s known as from his work with Sacramento.

So if the 6-foot-11, 270-pound native of Mobile, Ala., and produce of the University of Kentucky were to call it quits on this NBA season for legitimate health reasons, it might be best for him and the Kings in the long run. Sacramento is headed nowhere but home soon enough, with Cousins already missing 11 of its 72 games, mostly from an early Achilles strain and turned ankles.

The Team USA roster won’t be announced until after the NBA playoffs but Cousins is one of 31 finalists from which chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski will select the 12-man squad. His hope would be to seek a unique treatment on his feet in particular, yet recover in time to participate in the Olympics. James Ham, the Kings insider for CSNBayArea.com, was on hand when Cousins addressed his health and summer ambitions Friday:

Cousins is in noticeable pain following games. He walks gingerly on his oversized feet, and it’s not without reason. At 6-11, 270-plus-pounds, Cousins’ lower legs take a beating this season. From an early season Achilles strain to multiple rolled ankles, Cousins has played in 61 games this season with 10 games remaining.

“I’ve been playing with tendinitis in my feet all season,” Cousins told a small gathering of reporters. “That’s why you see me walking up and down funny. Hopefully this procedure goes well and I can start preparing for Team USA.”

Cousins said he is planning to undergo Platelet Rich Therapy (PRP) on his feet and possibly shock-wave treatment as well following the offseason, with the hopes that it will relieve some of his pain.

According to Emory Healthcare, “Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy utilizes platelets from the athlete’s own blood to rebuild a damaged tendon or cartilage. It has been successful in not only relieving the pain, but also in jump-starting the healing process.”

The procedure is not considered surgery and takes less than an hour to perform. The recovery for this type of treatment is roughly 4-6 weeks and Cousins should be ready in plenty of time to compete for a roster spot for the Olympic Games in Rio, which begin on August 5.

Cousins won gold as part of Team USA at the 2014 World Cup and is looking forward to a shot at taking home Olympic gold as well. The 25-year-old center plans to rehab and train in Las Vegas in preparation for training camp.

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

***

 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

***

No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

***

No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

***

Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…


Advertisement