Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Morning shootaround — May 17




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Moment of truth | Irving sits out | Father’s memory drives Kerr | Thibs or bust

No. 1: Rockets-Clippers reaches seventh heaven or hell — Very few words generate more buzz, more excitement, more stomach-churning anticipation than this: Game 7. After all the back-and-forth, all the blowouts and all the missed opportunities on both sides, now the Rockets and Clippers will settle the matter of who gets the last spot in the NBA’s version of the Final Four today when they square off at Toyota Center in Houston. Our Fran Blinebury says it will be remembered as the tale of comeback or collapse, depending on your perspective, when the matter finally comes to a head:

History and the home court gives the Rockets a decided leg up before the opening tip. Road teams have won just 24 of 119 Game 7s in NBA playoff history and only eight teams ever have come back from the 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series that Houston is attempting. The last time it happened was in 2006.

However, the Clippers faced the same situation in 2012, letting a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies turn into a 3-3 tie and throat-tightening time. But they went into Memphis and won Game 7. The Clippers have also won seventh game showdowns last season against the Warriors and in the first round this season over the defending champion Spurs. In Las Vegas, the odds makers have the Clippers as a two-point favorite.

***

No. 2: Ailing Irving held out of practice — The countdown clock to the Eastern Conference finals is down to three days and it looks like Cavs’ point guard Kyrie Irving will be happy to use up every single minute of that time as he hopes to heal a left knee injury that was tweaked in the close-out Game 6 win at Chicago. He’s also got some some other aches and pains, so our Steve Aschburner notes that Irving — uncertain for Game 1 against Atlanta on Wednesday night — was just a spectator when the rest of the Cavs hit the practice court on Saturday:

With days to go before the Eastern Conference finals begin in Atlanta, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire squad had been held out of practice Saturday. But since most of their players did participate, point guard Kyrie Irving‘s lack thereof was duly noted by assembled media.

As the folks at Ohio.com reported:

[Irving] was held out of practice Saturday after reaggravating a left knee injury in Thursday’s closeout Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

An MRI on Monday revealed tendinitis in Irving’s knee. Irving has also been battling a right foot strain suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving saw the doctors again Friday. Blatt couldn’t give a definitive assessment of Irving’s status for Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks in Atlanta, but said the Cavs “hope” he can play.

“He going through a lot of treatment and we’re monitoring and just hoping that he progresses from here until game time,” Blatt said.

***

No. 3: Kerr is guided by his father’s legacy — There are many reasons why the Warriors have advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly four decades, but none more so than coach, Steve Kerr. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News tells the wonderfully poignant story of the man who shaped Kerr, his father Malcolm, who was gunned down by an assassin in Beirut back in 1984. It is highly recommended reading:

Kerr spoke at length about his childhood during a recent interview and credits both parents, working in concert across continents, to provide “everything I needed.” But in personality, Kerr said, he is wired like his father: Reserved but passionate (the father about Lebanon, the son about basketball), thoughtful but possessing a razor wit.

Kerr’s memories remain vivid all these years later, and he rattled them off: There is Malcolm, reading The New Yorker in the stands at Dodger Stadium. There is Malcolm, coming home from the office and making popcorn. There is Malcolm, emerging from his study to shoot baskets in the driveway.

And there is Malcolm, patiently waiting for his enraged son to settle down.

“He set such a good example,” said Kerr, who has three children. “I’ve tried to be the same way with my kids.”

The lessons imparted at home and the experiences gained overseas — “They all got thrown into bathwater and survived,” Ann said — combined to shape Kerr’s worldview, foster a sense of empathy and sharpen his interpersonal skills.

Those same skills would help carry him through a 15-year NBA career — a second-round draft pick, he won five NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs — and ease his transition to coaching.

“I developed a lot of compassion living in Egypt, seeing the poverty,” he said. “The discussions around the dinner table about world politics and understanding how fortunate we were — all that helped me gain perspective on life.

“That helped with teammates when I was a player and now as a coach.”

***

No. 4: Bulls and Thibodeau need detente — Let’s face it. Despite all of the supposed excitement in the front office over Fred Hoiberg, there will be a learning curve if Fred Holberg makes the jump from the college ranks to head coach of the Bulls. And despite the fact that he’ll have his pick of the jobs in Orlando and Denver and New Orleans, Tom Thibodeau will have considerable building to do before he gets those teams to the current level of the Bulls. So David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the best shot at a championship for both sides is to find a way to work and stay together:

Unless Thibodeau’s successor is Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, no new coach will be more qualified to get the Bulls to the NBA Finals quicker. Unless Thibodeau unseats David Blatt in Cleveland — possible, but still a long shot — it’s hard to imagine any team Thibs inherits being closer to winning their conference than the Bulls. Sorry, drama kings, both Thibodeau and the Bulls are better together than apart.

Compromise should be the goal — not the enemy — for Thibodeau and the Bulls management tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson. It should be imperative to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he intercedes to help them achieve it. Reinsdorf, 79, should understand that letting Thibodeau go now realistically removes the urgency from next season. Any new coach introduced, whether it’s Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg or Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, delays any realistic championship run.

Creative tension is great until it shatters a championship window. With the White Sox, Reinsdorf presided over the soap opera that played out between then-general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. With the Bulls, back in 1998, Reinsdorf oversaw the clash of then-GM Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson. At least those previous odd couples won titles together before divorcing. The Bulls and Thibodeau are on the verge of splitting before ever playing into June.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan is going after some big names to assemble a high-powered coaching staff with lots of NBA experience in OKC…Dwight Howard, who leads the playoffs in technical fouls, admits that his emotions often get the better of him on the court…Before they take the court for Game 7 against the Rockets, the Clippers better make sure they’ve unloaded their emotional baggage from Game 6…Word is the Celtics are looking to move up in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein…Coach Randy Wittman believes Paul Pierce will return for another season with the Wizards…Members of the National Basketball Players Association are quite content with the direction and leadership shown by new head Michele Roberts.

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.

***

No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

***

No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.

***

No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of ESPN.com evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

Gasol plans to play in Cavs-Bulls Game 6

CHICAGO – For Pau Gasol, it’s a no-blink showdown of history vs. urgency.

The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has had, by his own count, three hamstring strains in his 14 NBA seasons. One sidelined him for a month. Another put him out for more than two weeks.

The third? That’s the one he’s dealing with right now, and he’s only five days removed from having to exit Game 3 of the Bulls-Cavaliers Eastern Conference semifinal series due to the pain and limitations stemming from it.

But Game 3 probably feels as if it’s a month ago to the Bulls and many of their fans – Chicago’s 2-1 series lead has turned into a 3-2 elimination predicament – so if Gasol and his team’s medical staff can just convince that balky left hamstring that it’s had plenty of rest and treatment …

Y’know what? Doesn’t matter. Gasol said Wednesday that he will play in Game 6 Thursday night at United Center.

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday that having Gasol’s length, his shooting and passing abilities and his know-how – even on a limited basis – could be helpful if his team hopes to force a Game 7 Sunday back in Cleveland. The team with the rebounding edge has won each game and Gasol, in the paint, is Chicago’s best shot at getting easy baskets when one of its chronic scoring droughts hits again.

While Gasol was officially listed as probable in the Bulls’ injury report, there was no mention of guard Derrick Rose. The point guard suffered symptoms in his right arm from the shoulder stinger he had late in the series opener, but Thibodeau said Rose was fine Wednesday.

Gasol likely out for Game 5; Irving won’t consider sitting


VIDEO: Irving talks to reporters on Monday

CLEVELAND – Injuries are an entirely individual thing. They vary in type, severity, discomfort and impact on an athlete’s ability to compete. One player’s plantar fasciitis, in other words, is another player’s sore foot, and there’s nothing to be gained from comparing and contrasting.

So the fact that Chicago forward Pau Gasol (strained left hamstring) is expected to miss his second consecutive game in the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cavaliers is unrelated to Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving‘s decision to keep playing on a sprained right foot that has led to tendinitis in his left knee.

Gasol, 34, a savvy veteran of 10 NBA postseasons and 114 playoff games, is being cautious with an injury that, if aggravated, could lead to a much longer layoff. Irving, 23, has a whole eight postseason games under his belt, knows his team already is down one star (Kevin Love) and can’t fathom sitting out when teammates such as LeBron James (ankle) and Iman Shumpert (groin) are playing hurt.

“I can’t do it,” Irving told reporters at the Cavaliers’ facility Monday. “Mentally, I can’t do it. I can’t look myself in the mirror and sit on the bench or sit in the locker room while I watch my teammates go out there.

“I’d rather give 30 percent, 40 percent, rather than give none at all. I just literally can’t do it. I can’t sit on the bench and be hurt and be OK with that. And still, I still know I can be effective.”

That’s open to debate, with Irving shooting 5-for-23 the past two games, contributing a combined 23 points and two assists. And if his foot doesn’t heal quickly, the pain in his left knee could worsen, because that’s how compensating injuries work.

“We’ve tried almost everything to get this feeling right,” Irving said. “When the right-foot injury happened, what I was most nervous about is what’s happening now: my left leg just compensating for my right one. It’s just my body talking to me. My mind just has to be stronger, and it is. I’m just going to continue to will myself through these playoff games the best I can.”

Gasol has done only rehab work, nothing on the court, since exiting Game 3 and having his hamstring injury verified by an MRI exam Saturday. The skilled 7-footer scored 21 points in Game 1 of the series, taking advantage of Cleveland’s defensive inattention. The Cavs subsequently adjusted, holding Gasol to a combined 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting in Games 2 and 3.

But the Bulls still missed his knack for easy scores in the paint and his versatility to pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with mid-range jump shots. Without Gasol as a threat, Cleveland was able to challenge other Bulls sources of offense, such as Mike Dunleavy (1-for-7), Taj Gibson (2-for-7) and Nikola Mirotic (1-for-9).

The offense endured a drought of nearly seven minutes in the second quarter when Chicago got outscored 16-0. Then, across the third and fourth quarters, the Bulls were outscored again over a span of seven minutes, 16-2.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau felt his players’ concentration in finishing plays and seeing the ball into the basket wasn’t sharp Sunday. “We’ve got to make shots,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s film session. “We missed a lot of open shots and we missed layups. And I thought late, we didn’t run. We’ve got to make sure that we run late. We got some good looks that we’ve got to make.”

No Gasol means smaller lineups for Cavaliers-Bulls in Game 4


VIDEO: What should we expect in Game 4 of Cavs-Bulls?

CHICAGO – Pau Gasol, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man who suffered a strained left hamstring in Game 3 Friday night, won’t play Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol still was sore and didn’t even try to warm up for the matinee game. He said, more than two hours before tipoff, he was “undecided” whether Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic or some other Bulls reserve would start in Gasol’s spot.

“We’ll see how it unfolds. We’ll see what the game tells us that we need,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the flexibility, whether we start Taj or Niko, the other guys, they’re all going to play a significant role.”

Cleveland coach David Blatt said that, since his team often uses smaller lineups (with LeBron James as the power forward and Tristan Thompson or pre-surgery Kevin Love as the center), the Cavaliers should be able to do well against a Bulls group missing the 7-foot Gasol. The Bulls had great production after Gasol got hurt Friday using Gibson and Mirotic together on their front line.

“They’ve played Mirotic at [power forward this season], more with Gasol or with [Joakim] Noah than perhaps with Taj,” Blatt said. “It should not be a difference-maker. In that case, I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s playing but how you’re playing.

“We’ve got to do a great job of continuing being active on defense and being focused on rebounding the ball. Mirotic is going to stretch the floor more, which means you’re flying around a good bit on the perimeter. Then you’ve got to really lock in on the rebounding aspect, because you’re not in normal positions. But that’s a lineup we should and can play well against.”

Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving has been dealing with a sprained right foot, an injury suffered early in the first round against Boston. After he rolled his right ankle in Game 3, the foot seemed to bother Irving more than in this series’ first two outings.

Thibodeau, who helped coach Irving for Team USA last summer, didn’t want to count on a key opposing player being less than 100 percent.

“At this time of the year, you know guys are getting nicked up,” Thibodeau said. “But as I said, I was around Kyrie in the summer. I saw him get bumped. The guy’s tough, he plays through thing. So I never underestimate that. If you let your guard down against a player like that, it doesn’t take much for him to get going.”

Bulls’ Gasol won’t play in Game 4

From NBA.com staff reports

The Chicago Bulls have a 2-1 lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, but if they hope to win Game 4 today (3:30 ET, ABC), they’ll have to do so without Pau Gasol.

In his pregame media address Sunday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol is still dealing with soreness from the hamstring injury he suffered in Game 3 and will not suit up today. Thibodeau wouldn’t reveal who will replace Gasol in the starting lineup, but veteran forward Taj Gibson or rookie forward Nikola Mirotic are the most likely candidates.

Morning shootaround — May 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson | Pelicans refute Dumars talk | Duncan’s choice will affect Ginobili’s future | Thibodeau miffed over lack of free throws for Rose

No. 1: Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson — Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King addressed the media yesterday in his end-of-season news conference and much of what he had to say wasn’t a surprise. Per King, the team wants to re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and, overall, King was pleased with the team’s late playoff push and playoff run. The one piece of surprising news, however, was that the Nets seem open to trading their multi-million dollar backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post has more:

Brook Lopez has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors the past few years. But after an impressive second half, the Nets have made it clear they view him as the franchise’s centerpiece moving forward.

Nets general manager Billy King reaffirmed that Wednesday, saying he’s committed to re-signing Lopez if he opts out of his contract as expected and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“For us to get in the playoffs that stretch, [Lopez] was the guy who carried us. He was our best player,” King said during his end-of-season sitdown with reporters. “Without Brook Lopez, there’s no way we even get to where we go to this year.

“I’ll say it again: We want him back. I want him back, [coach] Lionel [Hollins] wants him back, ownership wants him back. We’ve all said it. There shouldn’t be any more doubts about it.”

But while the Nets seem committed to Lopez, they’re ready to move on from having the NBA’s most expensive backcourt. King says he’s open to trading Deron Williams or Joe Johnson this summer.

“We’re going to explore all options, as we have [previously],” King said. “Will there be a trade? There could be, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to look at every option to get better.”

When King put together the triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Lopez three summers ago, the Nets thought they would be headed into Brooklyn with a team ready to compete for championships. That hasn’t happened, though, as the Nets have compiled a combined 10 playoff victories and advanced to the second round just once in the past three years.

Now the Nets appear headed for significant changes, and it will be a big surprise if all three high-priced former All-Stars are back next season. The plan instead seems to be building around Lopez while keeping Thaddeus Young, who also has a player option that he’s far more likely to exercise.

The Nets are in an incredible predicament, of their own making, after they sent three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. One of those first rounders is for 2016, meaning the Nets can’t tear down their roster this offseason.

So while the Nets certainly have an eye on the oodles of cap space they are projected to have when the salary cap spikes next summer – currently more than $50 million – they have to find a way to remain competitive next season without sacrificing the only kind of long-term flexibility they have.

*** (more…)

Cavs turn to Thompson, Bulls prepared


VIDEO: Tristan Thompson won’t confirm he is starting Game 2

CLEVELAND – Tristan Thompson, who finished fifth in balloting for the NBA’s Kia Sixth Man Award as Cleveland’s first big man off the bench, will move into Cavaliers’ starting lineup for Game 2 against Chicago Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

The No. 1 problem facing the Cavaliers and coach David Blatt in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Bulls is plugging the lineup hole opened by Kevin Love‘s postseason-ending shoulder injury. Thompson is a logical choice – he ranked fourth on the team in minutes logged this season and played 37 minutes off the bench in Game 1 Monday.

Blatt started veteran wing player Mike Miller in that one, but Miller took only two shots, hit one, scored three points with five rebounds and was a minus-19 in 16 minutes. The other two veterans Blatt used in that rotation, James Jones and Shawn Marion, went scoreless in a combined 14-plus minutes.

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Thompson gives Cleveland a more traditional look up front, while freeing LeBron James from having to guard one of Chicago’s bigs. James prefers more freedom and less banging at that end, and the move meshes with what many expect to see a more offensively assertive Cavs superstar.

“The thing is, [Thompson] played 37 minutes in the last game, so we have an idea of who he is and how he fits in,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They can play him at the five, play him at the four. And because of all the things LeBron can do, that gives them great flexibility. Obviously the biggest concern will be the rebounding aggression.”

With 274 offensive rebounds in 2014-15, Thompson ranked fifth in the NBA, and he was fourth in offensive rebound percentage (14.5). In four games against Chicago, he averaged 9.0 points – his 36 points were only seven fewer than Love scored against the Bulls – and 8.4 rebounds.

Cleveland was 5-10 in the games Thompson started this season.

“The thing with Thompson,” Thibodeau said, “the second shots can really hurt you. And then they don’t play conventional after that. We could see the second lineup with all guards.”

Morning shootaround — May 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors lose ‘poise’ in Game 2 | Thibodeau: Latest front office rumblings just ‘noise’ | Report: Thompson to start Game 2 | McHale blasts Rockets’ effort

No. 1: Warriors ‘poise’ fails them in Game 2 vs. Grizzlies — The scene at Oracle Arena last night was perfectly set for Golden State to snag a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference semifinals. Warriors star Stephen Curry got his MVP from Commissioner Adam Silver before the game, Golden State was fresh off a Game 1 romp over Memphis and had every reason to believe it could win again Tuesday. But the Grizzlies — thanks to the inspired play of Mike Conley — claimed a 97-90 series-tying win. Afterward, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, the Warriors said they were perhaps a little too pumped up for Game 2:

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost at home was back in January, against the Chicago Bulls. The last time they lost in regulation at Oracle was back in November, against the San Antonio Spurs. This 97-90 home loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies just wasn’t part of the plan, certainly not on the day of Stephen Curry’s MVP presentation.

In pregame, as Curry took hold of his trophy, Tony Allen was on the other side of the court, pacing like a madman. He had his own plans. He was ready to dash everyone’s expectations with a dose of chaos.

It took some inspired defense from Allen, combined with an inspirational performance from Mike Conley, who played magnificently despite a fractured face and foggy mask. Conley hit his first four shots and the Grizzlies never looked back. After Memphis went ahead 5-4, they led the rest of the way. Golden State had runs here and there, but they were never sustained. The game was always just out of reach, and the Warriors never got organized enough to tug it back.

“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr assessed. “That was the biggest issue.

“We were too emotional. We were too quick with our intention to score,” he said. “Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”

After the game, Curry preached calm, saying, “We’re not going to shoot 6-for-26 many times over this series, so we’re not going to overreact to one bad shooting night, as long as we get quality shots the next game.”

Draymond Green had a similar message, saying, “Nobody expects us to lose a game at home. Now the whole world has collapsed, the Bay Area’s just been hit by an earthquake. Everything’s going wrong.” He then downshifted into a reassuring tone, saying, “We’ll be just fine.”

That’s probably the right approach for the playoffs finally arriving at Oracle. The Warriors made it look so easy, for so long, that one could be deceived into thinking they could skate to a title sans stretches of doubt. It just isn’t happening that smoothly for a young team experiencing life as the favorite for the first time. Massive expectation doesn’t obviate pressure, it amplifies it.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Warriors and Grizzlies in Game 2

*** (more…)

Like the NBA’s age of Jordan, this shapes up as era of LeBron


VIDEO: Highlights of LeBron’s big Game 4 as the Cavs sweep the Celtics

CLEVELAND – For a decade and a half in the NBA, from about the mid-1980s through the end of the millennium, certain teams, coaches and especially players bemoaned their miserable luck at living through the era of Michael Jordan.

From access to individual accolades and scoring titles to capturing NBA championships, life was rougher for the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and plenty others because their basketball primes coincided with that man born on Feb. 17, 1963. Short of time travel or one of Jordan’s retirements, it was going to be tough for any of them to go through or even around arguably the game’s GOAT.

Something similar is going on now with a fellow born on Dec. 30, 1984.

That day – just 65 days after Jordan made his NBA debut for the Chicago Bulls – was LeBron James‘ birthdate. And the Cleveland Cavaliers star has a strangehold of sorts on NBA success in this century that might wind up rivaling Jordan’s.

OK, so James only had two rings. But he has played in four consecutive Finals and five in his career. He owns four Most Valuable Player awards and, in the 2015 balloting results released Monday, was the only player from the Eastern Conference who got so much as a fifth-place vote.

The Bulls, in prepping for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers, know of the feeling of being blocked from their greatest goals by James. But others do as well, from those he has blocked from reaching the Finals – Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony among them – to others who got there but fell short, such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Tom Thibodeau was the Boston Celtics’ assistant coach specializing in defense who game-planned for James successfully in 2008 and 2010. For the past five seasons, he’s been the Bulls head coach whose club got eliminated twice by James’ teams (2011, 2013). He knows this is the age of LeBron James.

“Yeah. It’s a great league and there’s great players, and it never ends,” Thibodeau said before Game 1 Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. “It keeps coming. When I was in Boston, we had a great team and he was chasing us then. Then he changed and obviously everyone was chasing Miami. Then this year, everyone was chasing San Antonio.

“So there’s a lot of great players in the league and he’s certainly right up there at the top. You have to give him a lot of credit. Sometimes it gets lost – he’s gone to The Finals four straight years, not an easy thing to do. Then he accepted the challenge to come back here. So we know how great he is.”