Posts Tagged ‘Terrence Ross’

Top 10 stat lines of 2013-14

By Jon Hartzell, for NBA.com

lbj-melo-kd-cp3-split

Look near the benches after an NBA game, and you’ll see the floor littered with stat sheets. These white pieces of paper usually show pretty unremarkable lines and instead are used to assess the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2013-14 regular season:

10. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors


VIDEO: Terrence Ross drops 51 points in a loss to the Clippers

January 25, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA) and nine rebounds

No one expected Terrence Ross to score 51 points. No one expected him to score 40. Or 30. Going in to this game against the Clippers, the second-year guard’s career high was 26 points. He shattered this mark, connecting on 10 of 17 3-pointers, which is the second-most 3-pointers made in a 50-point game in NBA history (Stephen Curry - 11, 2013). Unfortunately for the sold-out Toronto crowd, the Raptors lost to the Clippers 126-118 despite the career night from Ross.

9. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets


VIDEO: Denver’s Timofey Mozgov nabs a 20-20 game against the Warriors

April 10, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors – 23 points (10-for-15 FG), 29 rebounds and three assists

Speaking of the unexpected … how about Timofey Mozgov? Prior to this game, Mozgov collected more than 15 rebounds just twice during his four-year career and scored more than 20 points only five times. He did both on this Thursday night to became just the third player to collect 23-plus points and rebounds and shoot 60 percent or better since 1985-86, joining distinguished big men Dikembe Mutombo and Charles Oakley. Mozgov’s career-night led the short-handed Nuggets to a 100-99 victory at Oracle Arena.

8. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant erupts for 51 points against the Raptors

March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists

Kevin Durant‘s fourth-career 50-point game came during a double-overtime thriller in Toronto. Durant rallied the Thunder (who lost Russell Westbrook to injury during the third quarter) and hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in double-OT. This stat line marked his 34th straight game with 25 or more points and placed him in company with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only players to collect 50-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and seven-plus assists in a game since 1985-86 (Jordan, of course, did it twice). Durant scored 38 of those 51 points in the second half of OKC’s 119-118 win.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: A red-hot Kevin Love drops in 45 points against the Clippers

December 22, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 45 points (15-for-23 FG, 13-for-15 FT), 19 rebounds and six assists

High-point, high-rebound games are nothing new for Kevin Love. The rebound machine has notched a game with 30 or more points and 15 or more rebounds 27 times in his career. This game is unique, though. His 45 points are the second-most he’s ever scored and he did it while shooting 65.2 percent. When you add in the 19 rebounds and six assists, this stat line becomes remarkable. Love is just the fourth player in the past 40 seasons to record 45-plus points, 19-plus rebounds and six-plus assists in a game and the first since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996.  However, the Timberwolves lost 120-116 in L.A.

6. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: Corey Brewer has 51 points as the Wolves hold off the Rockets

April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets – 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FGA) and six steals

Kevin Love wasn’t the only player in Minnesota putting up monster stat lines. Corey Brewer joined the party near the end of the season with an exceptional all-around game that saw him collect 51 points and six steals. Brewer certainly benefited from the lackluster defense of James Harden to score his 51 points. But no player in the NBA is bad enough on defense to allow 50-plus points simply because of their deficiencies. Scoring outbursts like that require impressive offensive displays, no matter the defender, and Brewer provided one. He joins Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to gather 50-plus points and six-plus steals in a game since steals became an official statistic in 1973-74. The Timberwolves defeated the Rockets 112-110.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant crosses the 30-point plateau for the 10th straight game

January 25, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 32 points (12-for-17 FG, 7-for-7 FT), 14 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals

The lone triple-double on this list was a special one for Durant. He was the first player since 1985-86 to collect 30-plus points, 14-plus rebounds, 10-plus assists and two-plus steals while shooting 70 percent or better. He did it against the hapless Sixers, yes. But this game marked Durant’s return from a shoulder injury and extended his streak of 30 or more points to 10 games. He continued this run for six more days before it was snapped against Brooklyn at 12 games. This streak is the fourth longest run of 30 or more points in NBA history and the longest since Tracy McGrady powered through 14 games in 2003. (Wilt Chamberlain‘s 65-game streak appears to be safe.) The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91.

4. LeBron James, Miami Heat


VIDEO: LeBron James torches the Bobcats (and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) for 61 points

March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA), seven rebounds, four assists

LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, arguably played the best game of his career on an early-March night in Miami against Charlotte. And he wore a mask. James collected 61 points against a defensively strong Bobcats (now Hornets) squad to set a career and Heat-franchise scoring record. He set career highs for points in a quarter (25) and FGs in a game (22) and tied his career-high for 3-pointers (8).  His field goal percentage (66.7) was the highest in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal scored 60 points on 68.6 percent shooting in 2000. Think Miami will miss this guy? The Heat defeated the Bobcats 124-107.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony nets 62 points in a romp of the Bobcats

January 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA) and 13 rebounds

This is what happens when Carmelo Anthony is efficient. The talented scorer set a career-high, New York Knicks-high and Madison Square Garden-high with 62 points on an incredible 65.7 percent overall and 100 percent from the free-throw line. Anthony had 56 points after three quarters and added 13 rebounds just for kicks to join Jordan, Shaq, David Robinson and Karl Malone as the only players to collect 60-plus points and 13-plus rebounds since 1985-86. He also scored the most points without a turnover since turnovers were first recorded in 1977-78. Oh, and New York won 125-96.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans


VIDEO: Anthony Davis puts up a 40-point, 21-rebound performance against the Celtics

March 16, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics – 40 points (14-for-22 FG, 12-for-12 FT), 21 rebounds and three blocks

Look at that stat line and remember, Anthony Davis is just 21. Granted, this game went into overtime, so Davis played a full 48 minutes. But Davis became the youngest player since O’Neal to record a 40-point, 20-rebound game and the fourth-youngest in history to accomplish the feat. Add in his 12-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line and three blocks and you have a stat line that has rarely been seen in NBA history. For good measure, the Pelicans won 121-120.

1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers


VIDEO: Chris Paul dominates the Warriors with an epic performance

October 31, 2013 vs. Golden State Warriors – 42 points (12-for-20 FG, 16-for-17 FT), 15 assists and six steals

Apparently, no one told Chris Paul to save his best for last. The All-Star point guard erupted for this historic stat line on Halloween, during the Clippers’ second game of the season. He’s the first player to record at least 40 points, 15 assists and 5 steals in a game since steals were first recorded in 1973-74 and joins James and Iverson as the only players to collect 40 points and 15 assists in the past 20 seasons. This remarkable night for a remarkable player should go down as the best stat line of the 2013-14 season. (And, the Clippers won, 126-115.)

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

casey

Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Big year and a bigger decision for Lowry


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is one of the more coveted free agent point guards on the market

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Kyle Lowry faces the decision of his career: Cash in with the Raptors and maybe one day walk away a Canadian folk hero (you saw those crazed playoff crowds, right?), have faith in the leaky, but legendary Lakers or settle for a mere pittance to play with the King.

But wait, there’s more …

To start free agency at the stroke of midnight Tuesday, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale were in Philadelphia seated in front of Lowry. The two men who shipped Lowry north of the border in the first place were now telling him how perfect he is for the team he actually aided in assembling.

Plotting a path to form a super team in Houston, Morey was hoarding drafts picks and the first-rounder he got from Toronto for Lowry two summers ago was supposed to be another carrot to finally lure Orlando into a deal for Dwight Howard. A month later Howard was traded to the Lakers, and the draft pick wound up in Oklahoma City as part of the package for James Harden. Howard, conveniently, followed as a free-agent acquisition last summer.

As Morey, McHale and Lowry dined, or whatever it is that goes on in these after-midnight meetings, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was working his own plan (reportedly a contract starting around $12 million) to keep the spark plug point guard behind Toronto’s resurgence, a spark plug Ujiri was prepared to trade to New York at the deadline if not for the reluctance of the  Knicks’ former regime to throw in a future first-round draft pick.

Meanwhile, back in South Florida, Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley was maneuvering for his own meeting with free agency’s top point-guard target. The Riley pitch, if he gets to make it, will get straight to the point: Come to Sacrifice City and compete for these shiny rings with LeBron James.

Amazing what a career year will do for a guy’s fortunes. Lowry, not long ago down on his luck, last season averaged career highs in scoring (17.9 ppg), assists (7.4), minutes (36.2) and 3-point percentage (38.0), while tying his career-high in rebounds (4.7).

Many believed Lowry, 28, should have made his first All-Star team of his eight-year career. After the All-Star break he reinforced that notion by averaging 20.4 ppg, 7.1 apg and 5.1 rpg, while maintaining his bulldog approach to defense. The Raptors finished the season 20-10 and won a franchise-best 48 games, finishing above .500 for the first time since 2006-07.

So perhaps a contract starting at $12 million isn’t too high for this big-market franchise desperate to maintain its playmaker and elusive momentum.

Yet becoming just as desperate are the Miami Heat.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are free agents, too. They’re waiting to finalize new contracts while Riley works to re-tool the roster. Big men, wing depth and a point guard are needed. On Tuesday, Heat target Marcin Gortat reached an agreement to return to the Washington Wizards at a price (five years, $60 million) far too rich for the Heat. Another report stated small forward Luol Deng will not sacrifice pay to play for Miami. A later report had Washington nearing a deal to bring back yet another Heat target, small forward Trevor Ariza.

The aggressive, 6-foot Lowry fits the Heat needs to a T. Only they won’t be able to match the Raptors’ reported offer and fill other needs. Earlier Tuesday, Jodie Meeks agreed to a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons for three years and $19 million, a hefty pay raise for a middling player, and one that would make it seem highly unlikely that Lowry could feel good about taking a deal that wouldn’t pay him much more.

The wild card here, as it always is with the Heat, is a lower pay grade is the price to play with LeBron. We’ve seen it with players nearing the end of their careers, but not necessarily from one in his prime.

Lowry has seven postseason games to his name since 2009 back with Houston when he reached the second round. All seven came this past season with Toronto. The Raptors, boasting an emerging star in DeMar DeRozan and rising talents in Terrence RossJonas Valanciunas and restricted free agent Patrick Pattersonlost a heartbreaker to Brooklyn in the first round.

For a franchise that has experienced two winning seasons in the last dozen, and has had its troubles keeping and recruiting star-level players, Lowry would be welcomed back as hero.

But then there’s always LeBron … or the Rockets … or the Lakers …

The decision of Lowry’s career will be coming soon.

Nets get past Raptors by thinnest of margins in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets hang on against Raptors in Game 7

TORONTO – Basketball can be a game of inches too.

The difference in the first round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors was the length of Paul Pierce‘s fingers, which reached up and blocked Kyle Lowry‘s shot as time expired in Game 7, sending Brooklyn to the conference semifinals with a nail-biting 104-103 victory.

Lowry had somehow squeezed between Deron Williams, Alan Anderson and Kevin Garnett, losing the ball on one side of the triple-team and recovering it on the other. With all the defense’s attention on him, he had somehow willed his way to the basket one final time.

“That young man,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, “did everything he could to get to the basket.”

But …

“Sometimes, it’s about being at the right place,” Pierce said afterward, “at the right time.”

The cumulative score in 11 total games (regular season and playoffs) between these two teams was 1,070-1,070. It really doesn’t get any closer than that. Eight of the 11 games were within three points in the final three minutes. And the team that got its first Game 7 win since the Nets came to the NBA in 1976 was the team that barely hung on.

The Nets’ offense had been rolling through the Raptors over the last 2 1/2 games. They led by 11 early in the fourth quarter and by nine with less that four minutes to go. But they couldn’t stop the Raptors’ offense, which scored 30 points in the final period.

“We were right there,” Casey said.

Lowry was attacking. DeMar DeRozan was making something out of nothing. Patrick Patterson was rolling to the basket. The Nets committed a couple of dumb fouls and just couldn’t get a stop … until they absolutely had to.

“We might have bent a little bit,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said, “but we didn’t break.”

It took every last inch for the veteran team with the big names and the largest payroll in NBA history to get past the young guns who had never been here before. The Nets knew how hard it was and how good the Raptors are. Toronto’s division title was no fluke.

“This was a very difficult series,” Garnett said. “It tested everybody’s will here. If anything, I think we grew up a bit during this series.”

That says a lot about the Raptors, who face some questions this summer. The contracts of their coach (Casey) and best player (Lowry) expire at the end of June. But if those two guys are back, Toronto will be back in the playoffs, with an incredible crowd on their side again.

“This is one of the best environments in basketball,” Pierce said of the Air Canada Centre, “as far as the road crowd, the noise, the enthusiasm. This is as tough as it’s going to get. And to come in here in this type of building, the way they play and the way the crowd is, it’s so gratifying.”

The Raptors had the crowd, but the Nets had the matchups. And that’s more important in a playoff series. The Raptors just had no answer for Joe Johnson, who scored 26 points in the deciding game, half of them in the fourth quarter, repeatedly going one-on-one with whomever the Raptors threw at him.

In the fourth, that list included point guards (Greivis Vasquez) and big men (Patterson). Brooklyn’s final field goal of the series was a ridiculously tough runner by Johnson (against Terrence Ross) that gave them a seven-point lead with just over two minutes to go. Johnson played more than 45 minutes (a season-high for a regulation game) on Sunday, and the Nets needed all of it.

“For us to post him every time down, get him the ball where he’s the focal point, for him to make plays,” Kidd said, “he’s as good as they come down the stretch.”

The Nets played through Johnson all series, something that will be more difficult to do against the Miami Heat, who are bigger on the wings, in the conference semifinals, which begin Tuesday in Miami.

After grinding through a series that went down to the final play of Game 7, Brooklyn has just 48 hours to prepare for the defending champs. The Nets went 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season, but know that doesn’t matter now.

“We know we can beat them,” Johnson said. “But it’s going to be a lot different from the regular season.”

The Nets can take something on these last seven games, where it took every basket and every stop to separate them from the Raptors by the thinnest of margins. But it’s already time to move on.

The champs are waiting.

Is it time for Casey to change his lineup?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Amir – The Heart and Soul of Toronto

BROOKLYN – Before Game 3 of his team’s first round series with the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was asked about having to abandon something that’s worked all season because you’re getting beat in a playoff series.

“That’s called adjustments,” Casey said. “You got to make adjustments and maybe throw out some things. We’ve already thrown out a couple of sets that we had in mind for the playoffs because it just didn’t work. There’s some defensive schemes that we looked at that didn’t work out. So we had to change. You have to, more or less, gamble a little bit and roll the dice and change some things, because you don’t have a season to work things out or a chance to look at the big picture.”

In the big picture, the Raptors need Terrence Ross, their second-year starting small forward with 50-point-game potential. In this series, they need something else.

Ross has shot 3-for-16 (2-for-11 from 3-point range) in the series, but his ineffectiveness has gone beyond that, because he hasn’t helped defensively either. For the most part, he’s been guarding Shaun Livingston, who hasn’t done too much damage. But as long as he’s out there, there’s a chance he’ll get switched onto Joe Johnson or Deron Williams, which is bad news. The Raptors’ defense has allowed a brutal 117 points per 100 possessions in Ross’ 63 minutes on the floor in the series.

The defense has been better with Landry Fields on the floor, but Fields is basically a zero offensively at this point in his career. And John Salmons hasn’t been able to make an impact either.

The Raptors are down 2-1, but they’ve had chances in each of their two losses. The Nets have outscored them 291-285 in the series.

“We just got to get more productivity out of one more position,” Casey said after Game 3. “[We're] searching a little bit in those three positions to give us a defensive stopper or add some offense out of that one spot.”

So where does Casey go in Game 4 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, TNT)? He said Friday that he likes the added “physicality” that Fields and Salmons bring to the table, but his best option may be to sacrifice the defense and play neither.

In the regular season and in this series, the Raptors have been at their best with Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson on the floor. But neither has cracked the 30-minute mark in any of the three games.

That’s tough to do when you don’t enter the game until late in the first quarter. Casey has been quicker to bring in his subs in the third quarter, but he’s still not optimizing his roster.

The Raptors haven’t gotten off to terrible starts. Their starting lineup was a minus-1 in the first quarter of Game 1, a plus-1 in the first quarter of Game 2, and a plus-0 in the first quarter of Game 3. But it’s been outscored (by 16 total points) in each of the three third quarters and is a minus-17 in 39 total minutes.

Vasquez, meanwhile, is a plus-31 and Patterson is a plus-13. The Raptors might be making a defensive sacrifice by playing a three-guard lineup of Vasquez, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but it can’t be worse than it has with Ross on the floor, and it would be the best move for their offense. They’ve scored 115.5 points per 100 possessions in 32 minutes with the three guards on the floor together.

A change (or two) to the starting lineup would give the Raptors their best chance at a strong start on Sunday and, more importantly, get Vasquez and/or Patterson on the floor longer. There’s no reason they shouldn’t each get at least 30 minutes of playing time in Game 4.

“We’re still going to look at that,” Casey said of a lineup change at practice on Saturday. “It’s not panic time, but we do have to look at that position and get more productivity out of that spot.”

Time is running out. A loss on Sunday would put the Raptors down 3-1 against a veteran club that knows it has matchup advantages. At this point, Casey can’t worry about the big picture.

Morning Shootaround — April 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers dismiss pressure | Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ | West and George Save Pacers | Terrence Ross must step up | Vinsanity outshines ‘Monta Madness’

No. 1: Blazers dismiss pressure — The Portland Trail Blazers were minutes away from a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets before D-League call-up Troy Daniels hit a miraculous 3-pointer in overtime. The shot kept the series alive and, according to James Harden, transferred pressure to the Blazers. Not surprisingly, the Blazers disagree. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian with more:

“The pressure wasn’t on us — it’s never on us,” Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum said. “They have huge expectations. They talk about championships. We just talk about the next game.”

That comes Sunday, when the Blazers host Game 4 at 6:30 p.m., and there’s a feeling around the Blazers that the end result will be different if they merely play they way they did in Game 3, only with a tweak here and there.

The Rockets entered Friday night in desperation mode and coach Kevin McHale altered his starting lineup in hopes of resuscitating his flatlining team, replacing Terrence Jones with mammoth center Omer Asik. He made the move, primarily, to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been unstoppable in the first two games of the series.

Aldridge acknowledged the Rockets “caught” him “off guard” with their new schemes, but he pledged to be prepared for Game 4. Similarly, coach Terry Stotts downplayed Houston’s defense.

“We scored 110 in regulation, so we scored enough points,” he said. “We didn’t lose the game at the offensive end, that’s for sure.”

Stotts was more concerned about other areas, most notably the Rockets’ 22 offensive rebounds and the fact that they attempted 15 more shots than the Blazers. The prodigious rebounding no doubt led to many of those 15 extra shots and directly facilitated Houston’s 25 second-chance points. If even five of those rebounds had bounced the Blazers’ way, today’s narrative likely would be on the probability of a Blazers’ sweep rather than which team carries the most pressure.

“That’s probably our biggest concern right now,” Stotts said of Houston’s 58 offensive rebounds this series.

There are no more secrets between these teams. They’ve played seven times this season and three games have gone to overtime — including twice in the postseason. This best-of-seven grudge match has been wickedly competitive, wonderfully entertaining and wildly unpredictable. The line separating the teams is razor-thin, and likely will continue to be.

So, what about Harden’s declaration the Blazers are now facing the pressure?

It took a playoff-high 37 points — on 35 field goal attempts — from James Harden, an unlikely three from an unlikely player and a new starting lineup for a team that opened the season with championship aspirations to beat a team most didn’t expect to be in the playoffs.

Pressure? That idea elicited a few laughs Saturday from the Blazers after they went through a light workout at the practice facility in Tualatin.

“We were predicted to lose this series — I don’t think the pressure’s on us,” Wesley Matthews said, chuckling. “Actually, we weren’t even supposed to be here. We’re up 2-1, we’ve still got two games at home. We’re not taking that for granted by any means, just like we didn’t take anything for granted all season. We’re going to come out with a better urgency than we did last night, more of a toughness, more of a mental edge than we did last night.”

Added Batum: “We still control the series. We know who we are. We’re still the underdogs … people don’t expect something from us. So we’re going to go out there tomorrow, try to win this game, try to go up 3-1 before we go back to Houston.”

***

No. 2: Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ — From his days with the 50-plus-win Minnesota Timberwolves to the big-three Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett knows how a great crowd can sound. And he doesn’t sense this necessary noise and engagement level from the Brooklyn crowd after Game 3. Mike Mazzeo from ESPN New York with Garnett’s quotes:

The Barclays Center crowd was pretty good on Friday night.

But Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who played in front of some absolutely raucous playoff crowds for several years at Boston’s TD Bank Garden, expected more.

“They could do better,” Garnett said Saturday. “I was expecting Brooklyn to be real hostile, New York-style. I know what it’s like to come here as the opposition, so our crowd could do better, but they were there when we needed them, and we fed off of them.”

Added Pierce: “Well, we know gradually they got into it. Hopefully the next game, it will get a lot better from the start. We want to come out from the jump, from the beginning, and have them in the game. It shouldn’t take a big play from us. We want them behind us. It was a great crowd tonight.”

The Nets beat the Toronto Raptors in Game 3, 102-98. They got off to a slow start, and some of the crowd arrived late due to the 7 p.m. tipoff.

“I mean, I thought the crowd was pretty good,” Joe Johnson said. “We just gotta go out and make them be excited, we gotta make plays on the court. That’s it.”

The Nets finally got going late in the second quarter, when Pierce’s crossover dribble and slam dunk highlighted a 10-0 run. In the final minute, Garnett dove for a loose ball.

When he got up, Garnett was screaming and popping his white home jersey.

“I don’t really know [what I was doing]. I blacked out at that point,” Garnett said. “I have a kid at the game, setting an example, being a role model, all that goes out the door. I’m playing with heart at that point, I’m playing with passion, I’m feeding off the crowd; my friends, my family there; my teammates; J [coach Jason Kidd]. I’m just going. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going.”

Garnett was eager to see what the atmosphere was going to be like. He figured the fans didn’t appreciate it when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said, “F— Brooklyn!” prior to Game 1 of the series.

“I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn,” Garnett said earlier in the week. “So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

The crowd will have a chance to get better on Sunday night in Game 4. Brooklyn leads the series 2-1.

***


VIDEO: Pacers vs. Hawks: Game 4

No. 3: West and George save Pacers — Things were about to get dire if the Indiana Pacers lost yesterday to fall down 3-1 to the Atlanta Hawks in the series. But they rallied in the final minutes, through the play of David West and Paul George, to take a victory from Atlanta and reclaim home-court advantage. It was a critical victory which would not have been possible without West and George, writes Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:

Music played in the postgame locker room. Voices of joy rang out. There was elation, there was relief, and now the Indiana Pacers, 91-88 Game 4 winners over the Atlanta Hawks, have another chance to make things right in this series.

One minute, they were facing a 3-games-to-1 deficit that only eight NBA playoff teams have overcome. Daunting? There’s a 3.7 percent chance of winning a series from that position.

The next minute, they were making heroic plays, the kinds of plays that keep a season on the brink alive for another couple of days — or weeks or months.

When it had to happen, it was the Pacers’ leaders, their best players, who made it happen.

David West and Paul George.

With a lot of help from George Hill, who once again played great defense and scored seven huge points down the stretch.

For a few short minutes, those were the old Pacers, the First Half of the Season Pacers, grinding down an opponent underfoot. This was about shot-making and defense and rebounding and will, the kind of will we haven’t seen often enough in the latter stretches of the season.

West was plagued by early foul troubles in the first two games, but took complete ownership of this game. It was as if he made up his mind, “Enough of this nonsense. Our season’s on the line. Now follow or get out of the way.”

“(West has) the best will I’ve ever been around as a coach,” Frank Vogel said. “He has that whatever-it’s-called inside to find a way to win. Whether it’s making a 3 or a big bucket in the post or making a play with his hands defensively, he finds a way to win a game.”

It wasn’t just West’s 3-pointer. Perhaps more important, it was his late defense against the Hawks’ best player Saturday, Paul Millsap.

“We felt like they were a little too comfortable the two games they won, swinging the ball, coming off screens,” West said. “This game, I thought we were the aggressors. It’s all about making them uncomfortable. Kyle Korver is one of the greatest shooters ever, we’ve got to make him uncomfortable, make all their guys uncomfortable. If they’re walking into shots, if we don’t pressure them, they’ll make those shots.”

West, who has been around the block a time or two, understands that these kinds of opportunities don’t come along often. The postseason is not a divine right. It’s rare to earn the No. 1 seed and have home-court advantage.

“It was all or nothing, and we understood that,” he said. “We were in desperation mode.”

The other guy, George, left it all on the court, playing almost 44 minutes and filling up the stat sheet: 24 points on efficient 10-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. He also helped hold Jeff Teague to a 5-of-15 shooting day.

After talking to the media at the podium, he returned to the locker room and slumped in his chair, too beat to contemplate a shower.

There was no way Vogel was going to take George off the floor in the second half. No way. There will be plenty of time to rest in the off-season, an off-season that would have come early had the Pacers lost this game.

“He missed a couple of 3s in the second half and I thought about (resting him) but against this team, with the speed they have out there, you have to play him, at least for the defensive end,” Vogel said. “He’s guarding an elite point guard all night and doing all of the intangible things on the defensive end.”

***

No. 4: Terrence Ross must step up — One of the best features of the Toronto Raptors this season has been their swingman pairing of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Unfortunately, Ross hasn’t come to play so far in the playoffs and it’s making some consider whether he should stay in the starting lineup. Eric Koreen of The National Post reports:

Ross is a flat line. When he was introduced to the Toronto media after the Raptors drafted him in 2012, it was one of the things he said: Do not expect him to try to get the fans involved with a gesture or primal scream.

Heading into the post-season, it seemed as if Ross might benefit from that. The kid never gets nervous, so extra attention from the officials, louder crowds, a one-on-one matchup against seven-time all-star Joe Johnson would barely register with him. If anybody was going to push a little too hard and take himself out of his game, it was bound to be DeRozan.

It has not worked out that way. DeRozan has pressed at times, and is shooting just 36 percent from the floor in his team’s series against the Brooklyn Nets. DeRozan is adapting, though, and he is playing through the learning process. In contrast, Ross is lost, just another tourist in New York City. He has just 10 total points in 63 minutes of action through three games, and things have actually been worse on the other end. He has lost Johnson and Deron Williams on the perimeter and been knocked off his man by sturdy Nets screens far too easily. When he failed to contain Nets reserve Marcus Thornton in the second quarter of Game 3, Raptors coach Dwane Casey had finally seen enough, sending him to the bench. Ross played just the first five minutes in the second half on Friday, and then was done for the night.

Now, he must consider replacing Ross in the starting lineup.

“We’re still going to look at that,” Casey said. “The decision hasn’t been made but we will look at it. Right now we don’t want to do anything drastic. … It’s not panic time, but we do have to look at that position and get more productivity out of that spot.”

It might not happen, just because the options are limited. They could start Greivis Vasquez, who is already responsible for a large playmaking burden, and would put DeRozan on Johnson permanently — a situation he has struggled in so far. Casey could opt for John Salmons, who has been unpredictable on both ends since arriving in Toronto. Or he could start Landry Fields, the team’s best defender but an absolute offensive non-threat. As always, given the options, Ross represents the highest upside.

Winning this series is not Casey’s only consideration, though. All along, both Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri have emphasized that player development is still a big factor for the Raptors, despite the semi-accidental success they have achieved. That becomes much tougher to live by during the playoffs — after a grinding 82-game season, a surprise Atlantic Division title and the first three coin-flip games of this series that could have been turned by getting something, anything from Ross’s spot. Given the way he is playing, Ross is actively hurting the Raptors’ chances of winning this series.

Certainly, that is not ideal. That does not mean Casey should change it, though. Casey acknowledged that it is far tougher to stick with young players when they struggle in the post-season than it is during the regular season.

“But a big part of the reason we’re here is because of their play,” Casey said. “I’m not blind to the fact that they are our future and the only way they’re going to learn is to go through it. The amount of time might be a little shorter, but they’ve got to get out there.

“Both [Ross and Jonas Valanciunas] are soaking up big minutes. If they weren’t young guys, if that wasn’t our future, our direction, they probably wouldn’t be in there with some of the mistakes they’re making. But, they’re our guys.”

Now, it is on Ross to wake up.

***


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Vince Carter

No. 5: ‘Vinsanity’ outshines ‘Monta Madness’ — Vince Carter‘s corner 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday afternoon gave the Mavericks a 109-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, a 2-1 series lead, and took the spotlight away from Monta Ellis‘ incredible game. Ellis, the same player who helped knock-out the one-seeded Mavericks in 2007, is thriving in the Dallas and his ability to penetrate has been nearly impossible for the Spurs to stop. Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News with more on Ellis:

 Even on a mostly balanced afternoon, one in which Coach Rick Carlisle had all hands on deck in a 109-108 Game Three upset of the Spurs, one player had to rise up to make Vince Carter’s game-winner possible.

That man was Monta Ellis, and it’s not surprising at all when you think about it. He’s the only Maverick who has been here before.

Eighth seeds enjoy success over No. 1 seeds on an infrequent basis in the NBA. It has happened five times in 20 years. But Ellis was on the other side of the Mavericks’ most frustrating playoff start — a first-round loss to Golden State in 2007 after Dallas had won 67 regular season games — and so he’s feeling right at home.

“That series was similar because that Dallas team was a great team, too,” Ellis said. “For Golden State, it was just our time. Now we’re trying to make this our time, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not going to get big-headed because we’ve won two games.”

Carter’s deep corner jumper drove the place crazy, but it was Ellis who led all scorers with 29 points, driving inexorably and sometimes recklessly to the basket, forever on the attack.

“We need to ride a hot hand whenever we can find it,” Carlisle said. “Ellis down the stretch was great. The ‘and-one’ was big.’ ”

Ellis’ ability to deliver in the clutch and his willingness to do it in selfless fashion are making all things possible.

Keep in mind he was a 21-year-old backup guard on that Warriors team. He never would have guessed that seven years later Golden State’s upset of Dallas would be his only taste of playoff success.

“I’m just going out and playing basketball like I have all season,” Ellis said. “The points may look like it was me, but it was a total team effort. We’re playing as a team. We’re winning.”

Ellis insisted that nothing about his post-season play is designed to suggest he was overlooked around the league when Dallas signed him for three years and $25 million — far below what most 20-points-per-game scorers command.

“I don’t make anything personal,” he said. “I’m just on a better team. I don’t have to go out and get 65 percent of the team’s points or anything.”

While Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki struggled from the floor in a Game One defeat — each went 4-for-14 for 11 points — the Mavericks’ shooting guard has picked up the pace by averaging 25 points in the two Dallas wins.

Nowitzki has not yet had his first 20-point playoff game — he averaged 25.9 in the post-season before this series — and while he shot a higher percentage Saturday, he has had trouble freeing himself from the attention he’s getting from Tiago Splitter and the occasional double teams.

But Ellis is being Ellis. He’s willing to attempt some of the more improbable hanging drives to the bucket you’re likely to see. They don’t all connect, but he was 12-for-22 from the field Saturday including 3-for-7 from three-point land. The Mavericks will take that from last season’s free-agent bargain every time.

As three-time champion Tony Parker said afterwards, “I thought we did pretty good (against the point guards), it was more Ellis that was hurting us today.”

And then, having led the way for 47 minutes and 58 seconds, Ellis stepped into the shadows and ceded the spotlight to Carter.

Eight-seed madness ensued.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sacramento Kings will draft the best player available. … Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr may meet this weekend to discuss the Knicks’ coaching vacancy. … The NBA continues to investigate the alleged Donald Sterling recording. … Former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley died Saturday at age 77.

ICYMI: NBA TV’s Inside Stuff ventured to Toronto to find out why Amir Johnson is so important to the Raptors …


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Amir Johnson

Nets’ Johnson continues to punish Raptors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 3

NEW YORK – It seems that you can’t consider Joe Johnson without considering his contract. He’s overpaid, yes.

But when you look through that lens, you can lose sight of how valuable Johnson is on the floor and how much of a problem he’s been for the Toronto Raptors in their first round series with the Brooklyn Nets.

We’re three games in and Toronto has yet to find an answer for Johnson, who led Brooklyn to a 102-98 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead on Friday with 29 points on 17 shots. He scored 21 in the second half as the Nets took control of the game and then held on down the stretch.

“I was just being patient,” Johnson said. “Throughout the first half, I saw them coming at me with the double-team, so I was just trying to make the right play for my teammates, and we were rolling early. In the second half, it opened up and I got a couple of easy looks.”

Johnson’s numbers sure make it look like it’s been coming easy. Through three games, he’s averaged 23.7 points on 26-for-43 (60 percent) shooting.

Since January, the Nets have found success playing small. But their small is big, starting with Johnson’s 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame that, combined with the skills of a lead guard, is near impossible to stop one-on-one.

Johnson is neither quick nor explosive. He rarely reaches third gear. And when he gets the ball, you know what’s coming. But whether he’s gotten it on the perimeter or in the post, he’s been punishing the Raptors inside. Seventeen of his 26 field goals have come in the paint.

“He’s a big body,” DeMar DeRozan said after having to work harder for his 30 points on Friday. “It’s tough once he gets you down there and gets his hip on you. He’s a very crafty little baller. His floater … you really can’t do much to it.”

Post-ups have been the go-to play call for the Nets, but even in isolation, Johnson hasn’t settled. And he’s consistently been able to use a crossover or two to get his defender on his hip and get to his floater, which has been money all series. He has shot 13-for-20 in the area of the paint outside the charge circle in the series.

Toronto simply doesn’t have anybody who can guard Johnson. Their starting wings – DeRozan and Terrence Ross – are too skinny. Raptors coach Dwane Casey has called on reserve Landry Fields in this series solely to guard Johnson, and the first time Fields defended Johnson in the post on Friday, the Raptors still sent a double-team.

After Game 3, both Casey and DeRozan said that they have to be quicker with those double-teams.

“We’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re getting help their quicker,” Casey said. “When we do get it there, we’re in pretty good shape in those situations.”

But no matter the defense, the Nets have been rather efficient in this series, improved offensively each game. And double teams on Johnson could help some of his teammates get better looks at the basket.

“We just have to continue to play through our bread and butter and know that Joe gets his great shots,” Shaun Livingston said. “It makes the game easier for us too. It conserves energy for everybody, so we can be fresh and kind of get our game going from all angles.”

Deron Williams, who had 22 points in Game 3, has been benefiting from the attention on Johnson, but has also turned up his own aggressiveness in the postseason, taking his matchup with Kyle Lowry personally. Much of Brooklyn’s offense has been actions involving both Williams and Johnson, and they’ve played off each other well.

“We had to learn to play with each other,” Williams said of his on-court relationship with Johnson. “We’ve had to learn to share the ball and also learn where each other’s going to be. I think we understand that right now. When Joe’s playing in the post, I know where the double-team’s coming from and where I need to be. And he knows where to find me.”

The Raptors lean heavily on Lowry and DeRozan. The Nets are more balanced, but if Williams and Johnson can match the production of Toronto’s backcourt, they’re in good shape.

If Toronto can’t find an answer for Johnson, they’re not.

Nets’ experience takes home-court advantage from Raptors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 1

TORONTO – The Brooklyn Nets just don’t care.

They don’t care about Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri saying “F— Brooklyn!” at a pep rally before Game 1 of their first-round series.

“I don’t even know who the GM is,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said when asked about it.

They don’t care about the raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road,” Paul Pierce said after scoring nine straight points to put the game away. “It’s fun when you go on the road and [win]. I think it’s more gratifying that winning at home.”

And they don’t care about how inconsistently they played in the regular season, because the switch has been flipped.

“We’re locked in,” Pierce added. “It’s the playoffs. We understand the moment.”

The Nets came to this series with experience (about 10 times as much postseason mileage as their opponent), while the Raptors had home-court advantage. After a 94-87 victory on Saturday, Brooklyn has both.

The experience showed in the fourth-quarter execution. Down one with five minutes left, the Nets went on a 13-5 run, getting two points each from Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett before Pierce went on his run. He capped it with a vintage, back-his-man-down-to-the-elbow, turnaround jumper.

As he went to bench afterward, he told the crowd, “That’s why I’m here.”

Some shots go in and some don’t, but all six of the late buckets from the vets showed poise in the face of solid defense. On the other end of the floor, Toronto struggled to get good looks. After Brooklyn took back the lead, the Raptors were forced to rush shots late in the clock on three of their next five possessions.

Two of the Raptors’ starters with no playoff experience – DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross – shot a combined 4-for-17, dealing with early foul trouble and never getting on track.

“I thought we played a little bit as expected,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It is our first playoff game.”

The Nets’ defense played a role in the Raptors’ struggles, closing off the middle of the floor and forcing Toronto into 19 turnovers and just 17-for-37 shooting in the paint.

In fact, until Brooklyn made its late run, both teams were scoring less than a point per possession. After making three of their first four 3-pointers, the Nets missed 19 straight. But their defense was good enough to let their experience take over down the stretch.

“You’ve been in those situations a number of times,” Pierce said. “I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarters, down the stretch of playoff settings.

“I just try to stay calm, bring my calmness to the game, and just try to influence the rest of the guys.”

Maybe Kidd was trolling Ujiri with feigned ignorance. Maybe Pierce was trolling the crowd with his post-dagger swagger. And maybe the Nets are better than a No. 6 seed with a 44-38 record.

After all, Pierce was the third option on most of those plays down the stretch, getting the ball on the weak side after Deron Williams and Johnson ran a pick-and-roll.

“I thought it was part of great execution,” Pierce said. “They took away our first and second option and I was able to fill in as a third option and make some plays.”

A guy with a championship ring and 136 games of postseason experience isn’t a bad third option to have.

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance — Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

***

No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways — Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

***

No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

***

No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee – Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds

Pierce cares not about your hand in his face


VIDEO: Pierce’s big three seals Brooklyn’s win vs. Toronto

BROOKLYN – Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Paul Pierce was going to play Monday night.

Pierce, dealing with an injured shoulder, played. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and hit the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer that gave the Nets a three-point lead with 1:14 left and propelled them to a big win over the visiting Raptors.

It was a tough shot, because Kyle Lowry was in Pierce’s shirt with a hand in his face. But Pierce had to take it because the shot clock was about to expire.

And maybe it didn’t matter that Lowry was there, because, according to SportVU, Pierce has shot better on contested jumpers than uncontested jumpers. Among 92 players who have attempted at least 100 of each, only one — the Pelicans’ Brian Roberts — has a bigger discrepancy.

Players who have shot better on contested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Brian Roberts 82 213 38.5% 63 128 49.2% -10.7%
Paul Pierce 83 236 35.2% 62 151 41.1% -5.9%
Russell Westbrook 73 203 36.0% 57 138 41.3% -5.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 200 439 45.6% 210 431 48.7% -3.2%
LeBron James 140 370 37.8% 47 117 40.2% -2.3%
Marcus Morris 102 252 40.5% 61 143 42.7% -2.2%
Rudy Gay 87 223 39.0% 105 259 40.5% -1.5%
Evan Turner 107 288 37.2% 88 231 38.1% -0.9%
Rodney Stuckey 67 178 37.6% 55 145 37.9% -0.3%
Jamal Crawford 142 355 40.0% 143 356 40.2% -0.2%
James Harden 141 375 37.6% 69 183 37.7% -0.1%

Minimum 100 of each.
Contested = Any jump shot outside of 10 feet with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

Note: We’re looking at standard field goal percentage and not effective field goal percentage to simply see the effect on a player’s success rate.

That LeBron James has shot better on contested jumpers is more incentive for defenses to play off him on the perimeter, as the Spurs did (successfully, until Game 7) in The Finals.

The league has shot 5.4 percent better on uncontested jumpers this season. But a contest will affect some players more than others. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberts and Pierce is the Suns’ Goran Dragic

Players who have shot at least 10 percent better on uncontested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player Name FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Goran Dragic 145 279 52.0% 52 178 29.2% 22.8%
David West 142 288 49.3% 35 102 34.3% 15.0%
C.J. Miles 86 191 45.0% 36 118 30.5% 14.5%
Khris Middleton 148 302 49.0% 57 161 35.4% 13.6%
Jameer Nelson 118 312 37.8% 35 143 24.5% 13.3%
Kevin Love 201 473 42.5% 45 152 29.6% 12.9%
Bradley Beal 181 431 42.0% 78 263 29.7% 12.3%
Jerryd Bayless 91 217 41.9% 41 137 29.9% 12.0%
Terrence Ross 107 240 44.6% 59 181 32.6% 12.0%
Randy Foye 150 363 41.3% 39 132 29.5% 11.8%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 121 296 40.9% 30 103 29.1% 11.8%
Josh Smith 126 380 33.2% 28 129 21.7% 11.5%

For some of these guys, the difference is about how well they shoot when they’re left open. For some, it’s about how poorly they shoot when there’s a defender nearby. Josh Smith probably shouldn’t shoot jumpers at all.