Posts Tagged ‘Tim Duncan’

Morning shootaround — April 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry sparks Warriors’ wild comeback win | Parker questionable for Game 3 | Carlisle stands by Rondo trade | James give Love another vote of confidence

No. 1: ‘Fearless’ Curry fuels epic Warriors comeback — Years and years from now, perhaps we will all look back on Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans series as the one that sparked Golden State’s title run. Or, if nothing else, the game has already secured a spot as one of the all-time great NBA playoff comebacks. The Warriors climbed from a 20-point hole in to tie (and, eventually, win) Game 3 thanks to the heroics of Stephen Curry and his never-say-die style of play. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group expertly details an amazing game by the Warriors and Curry:

The Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season, including a league-leading 28 on the road. But none compares to the one they notched against the Pelicans in Game 3 of their first-round series that the Warriors now lead 3-0.

After dominating for most of the game, the Pelicans left a crack open when Anthony Davis missed a free throw with 9.6 seconds left, giving the Warriors a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer.

Of course the ball went to Curry, and the NBA’s all-time single-season record-holder in such shots missed his first try. Given a second attempt off a Marreese Speights offensive rebound, Curry threw up some magic from the corner as Davis collided into him. Curry pumped his fists after Tyreke Evans‘ 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed.

“You give him two looks at that basket? In the corner?” Warriors forward Draymond Green said incredulously. “Oh man, I knew that was money when it left his hand.”

“To make that shot shows everything that Steph is about,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “On a night when he’s not even having a great shooting performance, his confidence level is just off the charts. He’s fearless.”

“It’s a long game,” Curry said of the comeback. “We just stick with it, and it’s a sweet feeling to get this win after how the whole game went.”

Davis poured in 29 points, and Ryan Anderson added 26 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough. The Warriors can sweep the series with another win in New Orleans on Saturday.

“You can’t sugarcoat it,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps a thrilling Game 3 of the Golden State-New Orleans series

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Morning Shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

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Paul still pounding at the championship door


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?

Numbers preview: Clippers-Spurs


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Clippers – Spurs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — This just isn’t fair. The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs were the league’s second and third best teams according to point differential (whether you want go by raw plus-minus or pace-adjusted numbers). And one of them won’t be going to conference semifinals.

The Clippers had the No. 1 offense in the league, despite a 15-game absence from Blake Griffin, and won 14 of their last 15 games. The Spurs are one of only three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and went 21-4 after Feb. 25.

But that 21-4 run only pushed the Spurs from seventh to sixth in the Western Conference. Their loss on the last day of the season put them in this matchup, which may be worse news for the Clippers than anybody else.

The good news is that these two teams are on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. So a potential Warriors-Spurs showdown or Warriors-Clippers slobberknocker is in line for the conference finals.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Clippers-Spurs, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

Pace: 97.0 (11)
OffRtg: 109.8 (1)
DefRtg: 103.0 (15)
NetRtg: +6.9 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers notes:

20150417_on-off

San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

Pace: 95.9 (17)
OffRtg: 106.2 (7)
DefRtg: 99.6 (3)
NetRtg: +6.6 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at each location).
Pace: 98.0
LAC OffRtg: 109.8 (1st vs. SAS)
SAS OffRtg: 104.8 (12th vs. LAC)

Matchup notes:

Bad Seed: Spurs crash to No. 6


VIDEO: Pelicans beat Spurs, drop San Antonio to No. 6 seed

If the great philosopher Yogi Berra were on hand, he might have trotted out one of his classic lines: “It’s deja vu all over again.”

Remember when the Spurs let the 2013 NBA crown slip through their fingers and crash to the floor in the final seconds of Game 6.

Well, the stakes weren’t quite so high this time, but the defending champs still treated the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference like a greased pig and, as a result, will open the playoffs on the road for only the second time in the Tim Duncan Era.

The Spurs touched down in New Orleans Wednesday night with a No. 2 slot and the Southwest Division title within their reach. But they flamed out in a 108-103 loss to the Pelicans that sent San Antonio crashing all the way down to the No. 6 seed.

As a result, rather than being guaranteed home-court advantage in at least the first two rounds, the Spurs will open the playoffs in Los Angeles on Sunday against the No. 3 seeded Clippers.

The Spurs had picked themselves off the floor by winning 21 of their previous 24 games and 11 in a row as the took the court in the Big Easy. But the veteran club with the high class pedigree looked under motivated and was outplayed from the start by the Pelicans team that clinched a playoff berth with the win. New Orleans slipped in as the No. 8 seed and will face Golden State.

The Pelicans built a 23-point lead in the second quarter, led by 16 at the half and held on down the stretch after the Spurs cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter and to 104-101 in the final seconds.

Maybe the Spurs were overdue for a slip-up or maybe they simply ran out of gas after the late finishing kick over the past six weeks. But long before they arrived in New Orleans, the reigning champs had given themselves virtually no margin for error by losing to the likes of the lowly Knicks, Pistons and Kings in a regular season that they would now most definitely like to forget.

As Yogi might also have said, it got late early for the Spurs this season.

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.

 

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

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Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

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No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

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No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant held out of practice | Report: Spurs might pursue Grizzlies’ Gasol | Gordon apologizes for Suns talk in 2012

No. 1: Durant held out of practice with Thunder — A little over a week ago, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he expected reigning MVP and team star Kevin Durant to return to the lineup in a week or two. Well, here we are eight days later … does it look like Durant will be suiting up soon for OKC? Based on Royce Young‘s report on ESPN.com’s Daily Thunder blog, it sure doesn’t sound like it:

Durant did not practice today, held out with what Brooks called “some soreness,” which is a word I’m quite sick of seeing, personally.

“Experiencing a little bit of soreness,” Brooks said. “That’s expected. We have some peaks and valleys, and we always have a cautious approach, so today he didn’t do anything.”

Eight days ago, Brooks updated Durant’s timetable to return to play in a “week or two.” That followed two one week re-evaluations. So since Durant underwent a second surgery on Feb. 23, he’s missed almost four weeks.

Asked if he’d classify Durant’s soreness as a setback, or how he’d classify it, Brooks worked around the edges of answering that.

“Just he experienced some soreness,” Brooks said. “I think when you go through rehab, we all know through the rehab process you’re going to have some peaks and valleys, and you just have to adjust accordingly. That’s why he was off today, and he’s definitely not playing tomorrow. That’s all part of the process with his rehab.”

Asked directly if Durant’s timetable has changed, Brooks gave maybe the most revealing answer of all.

“I don’t know that yet,” he said. “But we’ll definitely take, with all our players, with injuries we’ll always take the best interest of the player and always take a cautious approach.”

That’s worrisome. Again, Durant was given a timetable of “a week or two” eight days ago, which suggested he would be back soon. Him not practicing today is certainly a step in the wrong direction of returning, and it certainly appears he’s not on track.

Obviously, with all of this Durant stuff, there’s a lot of worry and concern. But I’ll say this: I have every reason to believe Durant will return in the regular season. I have been told repeatedly by those who would know that Durant’s Jones fracture isn’t at risk. It’s about the pain he’s experiencing as a result of the screw head rubbing against a bone for weeks.

 


VIDEO: OKC’s players are readying for a big showdown with the Hawks tonight

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