Posts Tagged ‘Steve Clifford’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden organizes players-only camp | Kaminsky working to improve his defense | Sefolosha: Hawks have ‘different dynamic’ now

No. 1: Harden organizes Rockets’ players-only camp — Star players on NBA teams are tasked with a variety of responsibilities, with overall leadership of the team being perhaps their most important job to succeed at. As such, many standout players — from the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James — are organizing players-only workouts and mini-camps before NBA training camps open in late September. According to Marc Berman of Fox26Houston.com, James Harden is doing likewise for the Houston Rockets:

For the second consecutive year Houston Rockets guard James Harden has organized a players-only minicamp scheduled for next week.

Last September Harden had the Rockets players together for a minicamp in Los Angeles.

“James is doing everything,” said Corey Brewer, Rockets guard/forward. “He is showing he wants to be a leader.

“He’s the franchise player. He signed the extension. So it’s his team, and he’s doing all the right things to do what we need to do to have a chance to win championships.”

Harden’s plan is to hold the minicamp in Miami. However, the potential of bad weather hitting South Florida may cause the Rockets players to work in a different city.

Eric Gordon said the Rockets players had a “good group” for players-only workouts around the same time as the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

“It was just everybody getting together,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t a real structured thing.

“It was just guys working out together.”

Brewer is looking forward to getting together with his teammates.

“I’ve got to go down there with the fellas,” Brewer said. “It’s a good thing. We got to get together. Get to know each other, team camaraderie. You need that, especially now days the way the NBA is. A lot of good players, but you got to be a team.

“We want to send a message that we’re ready to go. We’re going to work our butts off. All the guys have been working hard this summer. Last year was a year that we didn’t like. Everybody has a bitter taste in their mouth. So we can’t wait to get started.”

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Morning shootaround — May 21





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”

***

No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.

***

No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.

***

No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.

***

No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.

Morning shootaround — May 14




NEWS OF THE MORNING
What it takes for Heat | Vogel to Orlando? | Spurs face questions | Mavs eye Howard | Grizzlies talk to Ewing
No. 1: Heat come through when heat was on — Unconventional? Necessary? Desperate? Use your own adjectives. But trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat had no more room to back up and, as our own Lang Whitaker points out, they did what they needed to do to survive and force Game 7 on Sunday:

While starting a rookie at center was largely prompted from attrition, it was a couple of veterans who did the heavy lifting for the Heat, helping them even the series with a 103-91 win. When the Heat were looking at a possible end of their season in Game 7 of their first round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Goran Dragic took control, scoring 25 points. Facing elimination again Friday, Dragic shredded Toronto for a career playoff-high 30 points, and chipped in seven rebounds.

“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic joked. “I wanted to stay here.”

Dragic got significant help from Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points, giving him 110 points in his last four games. While Justise Winslow looked Lilliputian lined up against Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, he finished with 12 points and three rebounds, and more than held his own in the paint.

Miami’s rotation shuffles were mostly due to injuries — Miami center Hassan Whiteside went out during Game 3 with a knee sprain, which made the series “go sideways,” according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat’s smaller group was also a way to give Toronto a fresh look after five games against the same team.

“It’s just unconventional,” said Wade of the smaller lineup. “And sometimes unconventional works… at this time of the series you need something a little different.”

***

No. 2: Magic talk with Vogel — Suddenly confronted with an unexpected coaching vacancy when Scott Skiles quit after one season, the Magic are planning to reach out to former Pacers boss Frank Vogel about taking over the job. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel caught up to Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan, who might as well have been talking about Vogel when describing the traits he’s seeking in a new coach:

On Thursday and again on Friday, Hennigan said the Magic would seek to hire someone who places a high value on the defensive end of the court.

“Sort of the fulcrum of what we’re looking for,” Hennigan said Friday, “is someone who puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor, someone who puts an emphasis on player development and also someone who puts an emphasis on building lasting connections with the players on our roster.”

***

No. 3: Spurs decisions beyond Duncan — The first question to be asked in the seconds after the Spurs were eliminated by the Thunder was whether Tim Duncan had just walked off an NBA court for the final time after a 19-year career. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, the organization that was shockingly upset after a franchise best 67-15 season has plenty of questions that go well beyond their Hall of Fame big man:

Barring trades, the Spurs will bring back at least seven players from a 67-win team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the 35-year-old David West hold player options that, if exercised, would add their names to the list. Those decisions don’t have to be made until July.

The Spurs own a team option on rookie guard Jonathon Simmons, which they are likely to exercise.

Depending on how those answers shake out, the Spurs could create salary-cap space to pursue another maximum-dollar free agent. They have already been linked to OKC star Kevin Durant and Memphis point guard Mike Conley.

West, who famously gave back $12.6 million in Indiana last summer to accept a veteran minimum deal with the Spurs, says he has no regrets about that decision.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said West, who remained non-committal about his future. “I needed this for where I am in my career and where I am as a person. It kept me sane. It kept me in basketball.”

Once the free-agency horn sounds July 1, Boban Marjanovic will become the most interesting internal decision for the Spurs’ front office.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs retain the right to match any offer he receives, and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he can earn next season to $5.6 million.

Competing teams could choose to structure an offer sheet for Marjanovic with a salary spike in the third year. The Spurs would then have to decide whether to swallow that so-called “poison pill” and match.

***

No. 4: Howard could top Mavericks wish list — The Mavericks have not exactly had a great deal of luck in the past landing big name free agents. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that have slipped away. But now the Mavs might be turning their attention back toward Howard this summer, according to Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

At the top of the Mavericks’ wish list this year is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Howard, it would seem, has absolutely everything the Mavericks need from a center.

Plus, Howard constantly draws a double team, which would allow Dirk Nowitzki to hang out on the perimeter and basically enjoy target practice during the twilight of his career.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Atlanta’s Al Horford are the other centers the Mavericks will probably pursue if they can’t land Howard, who is good friends with Mavs forward Chandler Parsons.

The negatives with Howard are many: He wants a long-term contract with an annual salary of around $30 million, he’s a career 56.8 percent shooter from the free-throw line, and, according to his critics, he doesn’t take the game seriously.

***

No. 5: Ewing interviewed by Grizzlies — With general manager Chris Wallace having already been spotted dining out with ex-coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have also spoken with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing about their bench opening, says CBS Sports and Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Ewing, a 53-year-old Hall of Famer, reportedly interviewed for the Memphis job Thursday. He previously talked to the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching job that Dave Joerger filled two days after he was fired by the Grizzlies.

Ewing is a retired player who paid his dues as an assistant yet hasn’t been seriously considered for a head position.

“All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity,” Ewing once told USA Today after being elevated to associate head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats under Steve Clifford.

Ewing started coaching as an assistant for the Washington Wizards in 2002. He spent three years on the Houston Rockets bench. The New York Knicks legend also worked under Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic.

“I know he is an excellent coach, and he has more than paid his dues,” Clifford told USA Today. “If you’re around him every day, you see it. I lean on him for a lot of things, the tough times … He helps me in every imaginable way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th spot on playoff scoring list … Hassan Whiteside says he will not play in Game 7 vs. Toronto … Jerry Sloan talks openly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease … Kevin Durant says beating the Spurs was “not our championship.”… Rockets fans want Kenny Smith as the next coach in Houston … The Spurs will pursue free agent point guard Mike Conley … The Celtics and Danny Ainge ready for this most important draft … LeBron James would have voted for Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: NBPA wants to meet with Heat officials | Warriors’ bench steps up in Game 2 | Lowry hits gym after Game 1 loss | Rockets’ legend blasts Harden | Lin wants to stay with Hornets

No. 1: Report: NBPA wants to talk with Heat officials about Bosh — When the first round of the playoffs began, there was some talk about whether or not the Miami Heat would get All-Star big man Chris Bosh back in the lineup. Bosh hasn’t played since Feb. 9 after a blood clot seemed to end his season, but recent social media postings by both he and his wife, Adrienne, led fans and others to speculate that Bosh is ready to play. The Heat contend that Bosh is not ready to play while Bosh’s camp seems to think otherwise. That has led to Bosh asking the National Basketball Players Association to intervene in the situation:

The NBA players association has requested a meeting with the Miami Heat to try and resolve the situation with All-Star forward Chris Bosh, a source told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

The NBPA issued a statement Tuesday that said, “Our top priority is Chris’ health and well-being. We have spoken with Chris and his agent, and have reached out to the Miami Heat. We are hopeful that all parties involved can meet as soon as possible to resolve the situation.”

Bosh, who joined the Heat for their playoff game Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors, asked for union help within the week, according to Windhorst.

Last week, Bosh and his wife appeared to break weeks of silence about his status with the Heat with social media posts that reaffirmed his desire to return to the court. But the Heat restated their position that there are no plans for Bosh to play.

Bosh’s wife, Adrienne, who is active on social media and in the Miami community, started a #BringBoshBack hashtag on Twitter and retweeted several tweets from media members about how the Heat missed Bosh during their first-round series with the Charlotte Hornets. Later, Bosh sent out a video on Snapchat of himself shooting in an empty AmericanAirlines Arena with the message, “Still got it.”

The coordinated effort followed two losses to the Hornets to even that series 2-2. Bosh was in Charlotte with the team but has avoided interviews for months.

Following the posts, the Heat repeated their position since February as team spokesman Tim Donovan told ESPN, “There is no update. He is still out indefinitely.”

The team has never officially given a reason for Bosh’s absence and coach Erik Spoelstra and president Pat Riley have not echoed Bosh’s position that he will play again this season.

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Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

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.

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Hornets expecting big boost at home


VIDEO: The Hornets need to bounce back in dramatic fashion in Game 3 against the Heat

CHARLOTTE — It happened in Boston Friday night. So why not here today?

The Charlotte Hornets need to find a way to reverse their fortunes against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of this first round playoff series, and they hope to use a little home-court magic to do so.

The Boston Celtics rebounded from a franchise-low seven-point first quarter in their Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Hawks by scoring 37 points in their Game 3 win at home Friday night, behind a monstrous effort from All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.

The Hornets need a similar boost from their star point guard, Kemba Walker, who promises that the environment and energy provided by the home fans will factor into his team’s performance.

“I know it’s going to be live, exciting and electrifying and our fans will be great,” Walker said, “We definitely would love to feed off the energy of our crowd.”

The Hornets finished the regular season with a 30-11 record at Time Warner Cable Arena, the third best home record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland and Toronto.

“We’re expecting a big boost,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Our fans have been great all year and our guys love playing here. Right from the get-go, we’ve played really well at home and I think we’ll play a lot better [today].”

The Hornets need to shore up their defense after giving up an average of 119 points on 58 percent shooting, 53 percent from beyond the 3-point line, in Games 1 and 2. They’ll also have to work without second-leading scorer Nic Batum, who is out indefinitely with a left foot sprain suffered in Game 2.

“We’re just trying to get a win,” Walker said. “That’s it. But we want to be locked in and to do the things we need to do to get a win, and that’s to be better defensively overall.”

The Heat have pounded the Hornets with their size advantage in the first two games, so Clifford has to decide whether he wants to go big with Batum’s replacement and insert rookie 7-footer Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup. Or he can go with a smaller and potentially more explosive lineup and go with sixth man Jeremy Lin alongside Walker in the first five.

Clifford said the Heat’s size, at every position, has been the key difference in the series so far. But the versatility a smaller lineup provides cannot be overlooked. So he’ll continue to analyze his options right up until the final moments and reveal his decision right before the game.

Whatever he decides, the Hornets will have the added boost of their home crowd fueling whatever starting lineup they trot out onto the floor for what breaks down as their most important game (home or otherwise) of the season.

Hornets looking to match Heat’s “purpose of play” in Game 2


VIDEO: Hornets-Heat Game 2 Preview

MIAMI — The Charlotte Hornets had a lot to think about after getting thumped, 123-91, in Game 1 of their first round series with the Miami Heat on Sunday. And, with Game 2 on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), they’ve had two full days off to think about it.

Most of the thinking and adjusting has been about the defensive end of the floor.

“Our offense isn’t the problem at all,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said at shootaround Wednesday morning. “We’re a top-10 defensive team and we got rocked. We weren’t just bad … rocked. They were great and we were terrible. They’re very tough to guard, but from a coverage standpoint, that was as bad as we were all year, and they took full advantage of everything. They’re going to get that ball in the paint, and if you can’t stop them, you’re not going to beat them.”

The Hornets’ pick-and-roll coverage has to be better. And they have to figure out how to handle it when the Heat send a guard to the baseline to throw their normal weak-side rotations out of whack.

“They play guys down along the baseline,” Clifford said Tuesday, “which is pretty conventional in our league. But they do it with perimeter guys, post guys, which is not done a lot. They do it randomly. So it’s not always at the start of a possession where you can be organized whereas it becomes a read. It totally changes your pick and roll coverages.”

(more…)

Blogtable: Who is the first-quarter Coach of the Year?

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: Are Cavs a lock in loaded East? | What makes Curry a great shooter? | Quarter-point Coach of the Year?



VIDEOLuke Walton explains early season success of Warriors

> Who’s your early, first-quarter-of-the-season pick for Coach of the Year? Why?

David Aldridge, NBA.com: I love what Scott Skiles has done so far in Orlando with a very young team. They’re not only playing very good defense, they’ve been good on offense. And bringing Victor Oladipo off the bench required expending a lot of capital — but so far, it’s working.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Gotta be Golden State’s Luke Walton. What he’s done is as remarkable as NASCAR’s Kyle Busch flipping the keys of his No. 18 car to a parking valet, only to have the kid veer onto the asphalt of the Talladega Superspeedway and lap the field in the Winn-Dixie 300. Besides, Walton officially has a 0-0 record, which would add a great, bizarre, historical asterisk — if, that is, first-quarter hardware actually existed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Luke Walton.  I assume you’ve seen the standings.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHow can it not be Luke Walton? I get that he was handed a championship roster with a proven system in place, and that the Warriors have yet to see a tough part of the schedule, but the guy has handled an unusual situation as well as anyone could have expected. He has maneuvered around injuries to Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and has faced the pressure of replacing the successful and well-liked Steve Kerr without flinching. Two other names: Steve Clifford and Rick Carlisle. There’s a reason the Hornets and Mavericks, respectively, didn’t fall apart even when their plans did.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn any year, if your team began the season on a 23-game win streak, then you’d be pretty much a slam dunk to win the award. Therefore, with all due respect to Steve Kerr, shouldn’t this be Luke Walton’s to lose? The only catch is if Kerr’s health improves and he returns to the bench before long. Can we have co-winners of the award, with the two finalists from the same team?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Coach of the Quarter is certainly Luke Walton. Now, if Steve Kerr returns in January or February and damages Walton’s full-season candidacy, two coaches who have put themselves in good position with what we’ve seen so far are Steve Clifford and Frank Vogel. Expectations for both the Hornets and Pacers were relatively low, and they’re two of just five teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency through Tuesday. Both guys have done a fantastic job of reinventing their team’s offense while staying strong on defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Since Luke Walton doesn’t officially own any of these wins the Warriors have piled up, he’ll have to be excused from this competition. There are a host of coaches in the Eastern Conference who have done fine jobs in the early going, but I’m going with Rick Carlisle in Dallas. Once again he’s shown an ability to take whatever group he has and squeeze the best out of them. The Mavericks whiffed on DeAndre Jordan and grabbed Zaza Pachulia as a replacement to hold down the center position and Zaza has been nothing short of fantastic for Carlisle and the Mavericks. Carlisle always seems to find a way. Guiding the the Mavericks into the top four in the Western Conference standings behind the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder at this point in the season is a reflection of the masterful job he’s done.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com How can there be any choice other than Luke Walton? It’s as simple as could be: He could not have done any better.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Come on, Luke Walton! 23-0! To quote a recent birthday boy and former NBA owner (Mr. Shawn Carter to you), What more can I say?

Hornets, Clifford agree on extension


VIDEO: Kemba Walker leads the Hornets to an overtime victory on Monday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Don’t look now, but the Charlotte Hornets have some stability on the bench.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets are giving coach Steve Clifford a contract extension. The Hornets confirmed the news later this morning.

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

The first coach that Michael Jordan hired after buying into the (then) Bobcats was Sam Vincent, who lasted one season in Charlotte. Larry Brown was next, but was gone before his third season was up. Paul Silas took over for Brown, but was gone after his first full season.

Remember Mike Dunlap? One season.

But Clifford, along with Jordan’s belief in him, has brought an end to all that instability. Hired in 2013, Clifford took the Bobcats from 30th (where they ranked each of the previous two seasons) to sixth in defensive efficiency. The Hornets were still a top-10 defensive team last season, even though the Lance Stephenson addition was a disaster.

And this season, Clifford has transformed the Hornets’ offense, taking them from 28th in offensive efficiency to fourth, through Tuesday. Charlotte’s increase in points scored per 100 possessions is more than twice that of any other team.

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If you can build a top-10 defense around Al Jefferson in the middle, you’re a pretty good coach. And if you can build a top-10 offense around Kemba Walker at the point, you’re a pretty good coach too.

Clifford, a long-time assistant before he was hired be Jordan, has earned a few more years in Charlotte.