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Morning shootaround — May 14




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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Can Duncan turn back Father Time again?

Over a career that will travel directly from San Antonio to Springfield, Mass., Tim Duncan has beat them all: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and more. But here at age 40, it’s clear he’s waging an ultimately futile battle against some guy with a long gray beard and a hooded robe.

We’re reminded once again that Father Time is unbeatable, and on the heels of him giving Kobe a shove — gently, of course — is Father Time turning his attention to Duncan in these playoffs?

Duncan has struggled in two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and when you weigh the entirety of the 2016 playoffs, he has been inconsistent at best. He’s 12-for-24 on shots right at the basket, he’s seldom blocking (or altering) shots and doesn’t always find himself on the floor in the moment of truth. Duncan’s role with the Spurs seems more likely a ceremonial one compared to his prime. He’s averaging just 21.6 minutes per game and although he has been a presence on the glass, he’s a secondary offensive option and rarely has plays run for him.

And so, as the Spurs prepare to play two games in OKC in a series that’s tied at one apiece, an important and fair question must be asked: Has Duncan hit the final wall of a career?

At this time a year ago, he was the finest player on a floor that included Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Kawhi Leonard. Duncan was superb in the Spurs’ classic seven-game, first-round series with the Clippers when he averaged 17.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and served as a mighty closer in several of those games. Once again, the Spurs’ strategy of keeping Duncan in a regular-season deep freeze worked; he was preserved for the playoffs and delivered the energy and production. Over the last three seasons, Duncan’s playoff numbers were higher than his regular season numbers, and this despite the fact the competition got tougher and the games obviously took on a higher meaning.

This season, circumstances have changed things a bit. The Spurs not only signed LaMarcus Aldridge, but Leonard’s role and talent have soared, thus reducing the need for Duncan to play major minutes. In fact, the three principle members of the Spurs’ glorious run of championships — Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — have all seen a reduction in roles and production. This is no longer “their team” as the Spurs have successfully introduced a new nucleus and have hardly suffered for it. Plenty of teams would kill to have this level of bump-free transition, which is a credit to coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ organization.

But against a quality team like OKC (and then again against the Golden State Warriors, if the expected Western Conference finals showdown materializes), the Spurs need all hands on deck. Parker is averaging 4.5 points against Russell Westbrook in this series. He was benched for a fourth-quarter stretch in Game 2 that was costly, because his replacement, Patty Mills, shot horribly. Ginobili has been inconsistent off the bench, and his decision to pass out to Mills in the crazy closing seconds of Game 2, rather than shoot a potential game-winning 10-foot floater, was strange.

There’s still time for Parker, Ginobili and even Duncan to put their signature on this series. The most curious case-study will be Duncan. He’s at an age where just being able to play on an NBA level is noble. And aside from a few offensive hiccups, he has been a contributor. But two games into the West semifinals, and really throughout these playoffs, Duncan hasn’t stood out. And this has never happened before in 18 years.

It’s all something that’s hard to imagine or even get used to seeing. Hopefully for the Spurs’ sake, Duncan still has a rewind button that’s still fully functional.

 

Spurs braced for history and Thunder

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich after Sunday’s practice.

SAN ANTONIO — If they needed a reminder, the Spurs could always dig deep into the NBA annals to the 1985 Finals where Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were thumped 148-114 at Boston Garden in the series opener by the Celtics. It became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

It was memorable, indeed. Mostly for the way the Lakers came back to win the next game and went on to claim the crown, the first time they ever beat Boston in the playoffs.

For a dive not nearly as deep into history, the Spurs could look back just a year ago to a 100-73 thumping they laid on the Clippers for a 2-1 series lead. Then the Clippers came right back to win Game 4 in San Antonio and went on to eliminate the Spurs in the first round.

In other words, it’s one game.

One big, ugly, hurtful bruise of a 124-92 haymaker that the Spurs delivered to the jaws of the Thunder Saturday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. But the veteran club isn’t expecting OKC to roll over again.

The Spurs shot 60.7 percent in the opener, hit 9 of 15 shots from 3-point range, scoring 73 points by halftime and building a lead that reached a ridiculous 43 points. LaMarcus Aldridge went 18-for-23 for his 38 points and Kawhi Leonard was a two-way monster.

“I think that after a game like that you are worried,” said Manu Ginobili. “I mean, the tendency is to be satisfied so you get to worry about the next one because it’s a natural tendency. Hopefully, we don’t fall for that.

“We understand it’s an exception. It doesn’t happen that often, having a shooting night like that (and) their having as bad night as they did. So my feeling now is just being worried because we know it is not being the same and we start the game a little relaxed.”

The Spurs smothered the Thunder from start and it snowballed out of control early. OKC was most definitely unprepared for what hit them and outperformed and out-executed by the Spurs and a good deal of that has to fall on rookie coach Billy Donovan, getting his first real baptism by fire against Gregg Popovich.

But if the long, six-month grind of the regular season teaches you anything, it’s that there is always another game coming up and always a chance to forget the past.

“We have been on that side of it,” said Tony Parker. “It’s easy to get motivated, because it’s just one game.  They have nothing to lose and can steal a game and do their job.”

It’s a lesson most often learned painfully, usually by a team made up of younger players. But these Spurs know that just because the jumpers and layups didn’t fall for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook one night it doesn’t mean they won’t on another.

“I think our maturity will set in,” said David West. “Obviously, they’re a great team with great players, guys who can make plays and win games…We got off to that great start that really propelled us throughout the game but, obviously, it means nothing. Game 2 is Game 2. It has nothing to do with game 1.”

“Pop uses the words ‘appropriate fear’ quite often,” said Danny Green. “That’s what you have to have. We’ll go into this next game, we’ll see things we can fix, things we need to adjust. We shot the ball well. They didn’t shoot it as well as they’re going to shoot it. We have to assume we’re not going to shoot it as well for the rest of the playoffs. We hope we do. But it’s very rare where everybody is making shots like we were last night. You have to assume it’s going to be harder for us.”

It can hardly get much easier. But even knowing all the pitfalls and the history doesn’t mean that a trapdoor won’t swing open beneath your feet. Because of, well, human nature. The Spurs are now 43-1 on the season in the AT&T Center. But all it would take is one reversal by OKC to puncture that air of invincibility on the Spurs’ home floor.

“We all talk about it. We know,” Ginobili said. “But the head is sometimes very hard to control. If it was that easy then you wouldn’t see it that often. And in every sport and athlete it happens many times. Hopefully, we don’t fall for it and we understand and we convince each other that the risks of winning like this.”

“So, yeah, we do (worry). It’s natural. Of course, during the games you love games like that because it’s not the amount of tension. But sometimes you prefer to win a close game knowing the tension is going to be similar the next game. Here, it’s going to be a completely different story and hope we don’t let down.”

History says this thing hasn’t even started.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs trying to solve Curry and vice versa | Rockets’ brass will be evaluated at season’s end | What can Bryan Colangelo bring to Philly? | Should losing teams rest players?

No. 1: Spurs trying to solve Curry and vice versa After three games this season, and with another showdown looming Sunday, it’s clear the Spurs have targeted Steph Curry as the player they must stop. That’s not exactly breaking news; Curry is the league’s leading scorer and the heavy favorite to win his second straight MVP. But the Spurs bring one of the league’s top defenses and can throw multiple bodies in Curry’s direction, starting with Tony Parker and Patty Mills and at times they might surprise Curry with Kawhi Leonard.  Curry spoke about the Spurs on the eve of the final meeting between the teams before the playoffs with Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle

Stephen Curry thinks he figured out something in Thursday’s meeting with the Spurs, and he’ll get a chance to test his theory when the Warriors play at San Antonio on Sunday.

After scoring 14 points on season lows in field-goal (4-for-18, 22.2 percent) and three-point (1-for-12, 8.3 percent) shooting in the Warriors’ 87-79 loss to the Spurs, the Warriors’ point guard bounced back with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor in Thursday’s 112-101 win.

“I just watched the film and made adjustments based on how they played me in San Antonio and how I thought they’d probably continue,” Curry said before Saturday’s game against the Grizzlies. “Instead of searching for the three, I was trying to keep them off-balance by getting into the paint and making plays.

“I just slowed down, really. Any game where somebody makes crazy adjustments like that, you’ve got to be able to take your time and figure out how you’re going to attack that space. I didn’t do it well in San Antonio, but I made the proper adjustments last game.”

Curry is averaging 11.1 three-point attempts per game, but with the Spurs switching on pick-and-rolls and running him off the three-point line, Curry made a concerted effort to get into the lane.

He attempted only seven three-pointers Thursday, and two were prayers at the end of quarters. It was the eighth time all season that Curry attempted seven or fewer three-pointers.

“I think teams have mimicked what the Spurs did the last time we played them in San Antonio,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Teams really started jumping out at him and switching, so we’re seeing it more and more. They definitely have a plan, and they’re good at it. They’re obviously smart. To do something like that, you have continuity, understanding and togetherness, and they’re really good at it.”

Curry has gotten pretty good at handling it, too.

That’s one of the reasons that the entire basketball world will be tuned into Sunday’s game.

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No. 2: Rockets’ brass will be evaluated at season’s end With the Rockets qualifying as the heavy favorite to win the season’s most disappointing team award, are big changes coming? That question wouldn’t even be asked right around this time last season, when the Rockets were one route to an appearance in the Western Conference finals. But this season has been all sorts of hell, starting with the early firing of coach Kevin McHale and the failure to incorporate Ty Lawson into the lineup. It would be big news if Daryl Morey loses the GM job if only because Morey has a reputable track record. Anyway, owner Leslie Alexander must decide the fate of Morey and also interim coach JB Bickerstaff. Here is Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com …

Sources told ESPN that the Rockets believe every aspect of the organization — coaching staff, front office and, of course, their roster — must be subject to a thorough review in the wake of Houston’s slide to a 38-41 outfit that’s at serious risk to miss the playoffs after damaging losses this week to Dallas and Phoenix.

Houston won 56 games and reached the Western Conference finals last season.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has publicly acknowledged that Bickerstaff — who replaced Kevin McHale in an interim role just 11 games into this season — would have to be assessed at season’s end.

Significant roster changes are likewise expected, with free agent-to-be Dwight Howard widely anticipated to move elsewhere and little certain beyond the Rockets’ presumed intention to reload around star guard James Harden.

Sources say Morey, whose contract runs through the 2017-18 season, ‎also faces some uncertainty in the wake of the Rockets’ struggles. Morey’s ever-bold approach to roster assembly won deserved kudos for bringing Harden (October 2012) and Howard (July 2013) to Houston in quick succession, but team chemistry has been a rising concern this season given the well-chronicled deterioration of the Harden-Howard relationship and the failed offseason gamble on guard Ty Lawson.

“You’re asking the wrong guy about that,” Morey told ESPN in a recent interview when asked about his job security. “That’s Mr. Alexander’s choice and all I do is my job every day. He makes that call.”

After a 4-7 start, Houston made the stunning decision to part ways with McHale, who had barely begun the first year of a new three-year extension.

Bickerstaff has fared better, going 34-34 in his interim role, but Houston’s defensive frailties and repeated inability to hold big leads have conspired to put the Rockets on par with the Chicago Bulls on the list of this season’s most disappointing teams.

Bickerstaff, for his part, says he has not yet commenced discussions with management about his job status.

“No, not at all, that’s not even a issue [or] a concern,” Bickerstaff said of his future prior to the Rockets’ loss to the Suns on Thursday night.‎

***

No. 3: What can Bryan Colangelo bring to Philly? The Sixers haven’t officially named Bryan Colangelo as the successor to Sam Hinkie, who resigned last week, although it could happen by Monday. But that hasn’t stopped Philly from wondering if the team of Colangelo and Colangelo — no, not a law firm, but the father-son front office combo of Jerry and Bryan — can produce a somewhat drastic turnaround for the rebuilding team. Here is Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the possibilities …

Folks bashed the Sixers for nepotism, immediately after learning it would be Bryan Colangelo. They brought up that he was unable to win an NBA championship during his stops as general manager of the Phoenix Suns and the Toronto Raptors.

And they delivered perhaps the lowest blow of all, mentioning that he drafted 20-year-old Italian Andrea Bargnani with the first overall selection in the 2006 NBA draft. Let’s just say making Bargnani the first European to be selected first overall didn’t pan out. He never lived up to the hype surrounding that pick and is on his third NBA team.

But what the disappointed folks don’t mention is that Bryan Colangelo is a two-time NBA executive of the year. The 50-year-old first won the award in 2005 with the Suns. His second award came in 2007 with the Raptors.

“If you are the Sixers, you should be really happy about this,” said a league executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Plus it will be a seamless transition with Jerry and his son. Everything will be on the same page.”
That wasn’t the case with Jerry Colangelo and Hinkie over the last four months.

But aside from Bargnani, Bryan Colangelo has been known for excelling while making aggressive moves.

He drafted Steve Nash 15th overall in the 1996 NBA draft and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998 in exchange for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, and a 1999 first-round pick that he used to select Shawn Marion.

He also drafted Amar’e Stoudemire ninth overall in the 2002 draft.

Some of his most noteworthy roster moves came during and after the 2003-04 season, when the team finished, 29-53.

In January 2004, he sent Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, and Cezary Trybanski to the Knicks for Howard Eisley, Maciej Lampe, Antonio McDyess, Charlie Ward, Milos Vujanic, and 2004 and 2010 first-round picks. Then he signed Nash as a free agent that summer.

The following season, the Suns went 62-20 and lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. Nash was named the league’s MVP, and Mike D’Antoni, now the Sixers’ associate head coach, was the NBA coach of the year.

That was the first of three Pacific Division titles and the first of back-to-back conference finals appearances for the Suns.

However, Bryan Colangelo wasn’t there to celebrate all that put in place due to a soured relationship with managing owner Robert Sarver, who bought the team from Jerry Colangelo.

So he took over the Raptors’ on Feb. 28, 2006. In 2006-07, the Raptors finished 47-35 and made their first playoff appearance in five seasons. It was also their first winning season since 2001-02.

Bryan Colangelo is also an architect of this season’s Raptors, who are the Eastern Conference’s second-best squad.

He selected DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick of the 2009 draft. Colangelo hired Dwayne Casey as the head coach in June 2011. He drafted Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth pick of the 2011 draft two days later. Then, after drafting Terrence Ross with the eighth pick in 2012, he acquired Kyle Lowry in a trade with Houston Rockets in July 2012.

***

No. 4: Should losing teams rest players? The Sacramento Kings are going nowhere except the draft lottery again, a fate that has been assured for weeks. However, that hasn’t stopped them from sitting players. DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, among others, have “rested” as though they were veterans with minor ailments, awaiting for the playoffs to begin. Is that fair, especially since the NBA, beginning with this season, spaced games apart and reduced back-to-backs? The Kings are hardly the only non-playoff team to sit players for reasons other than injury; but some fans in Sacramento sounded off on it to Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee

At 12:31 p.m. Thursday, the Kings put out a news release that said DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo would not play that night at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It attributed the planned absences of the star center and flashy point guard to their need for rest. The two must have really been tired, because they just got a night off Saturday in Denver and a night off the previous Monday in Portland.

Along with Rondo and Cousins, another young man at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday night was tired. His name is Terrence Zwane, and he was tired of big-money players resting on nights like Thursday, when he paid $300 to sit in the lower bowl.

“I don’t think it’s cool,” said Zwane, 26, a legal assistant who attends about 10 games a year.

Zwane reasoned, accurately, that the salaries of Cousins, who is making about $15.9 million this season, and Rondo, who punches the clock for $9.5 million, are largely responsible for his high cost for a good seat. The abilities of the two, of course, are the reason Zwane was willing to spend the money. Then he came to the game and they didn’t play, and the team didn’t even make the announcement that they were not going to play until seven hours before the game, when the two players were as healthy as could be reasonably expected for the 79th game of the season

Resting a player for one or two games over the course of a long season, “if you need to do that,” makes sense to Zwane. Otherwise, in instances such as Thursday, “It’s really pointless, especially when you are paying them big money and we are paying big money to watch them,” he said.

Without Cousins and Rondo, the Kings understandably lost to the Timberwolves 105-97. Maybe they needed Thursday off to ensure they would be rested enough to play in Saturday’s final game at Sleep Train Arena, which is expected to be filled beyond capacity to celebrate 28 seasons there.

After Thursday’s game, Kings coach George Karl was asked what he would say to the fans, if he could say anything, about paying big money to see the game and then having Cousins and Rondo miss it to rest.

Karl was the wrong guy to take the question. It should have been directed to general manager Vlade Divac, but Divac wasn’t on hand, so the coach gave it a shot.

“I’m old school,” Karl said. “I like playing every game like it means something.”

But in the modern NBA, “everybody’s doing it,” Karl said about giving guys days of rest when it appears to people like Zwane that they don’t really need it.

“Philosophically,” Karl said, “I can see the good in why you do it, and I can see philosophically why the fans should be upset, why they’re upset.”

In addition to holding Cousins and Rondo out of the Minnesota, Denver and Portland games, the playoff-eliminated Kings rested Kosta Koufos, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison in Tuesday’s loss at home to Portland.

As Karl said, it is popular for teams to dial back on playing time for those who have been pounding the floorboards fairly relentlessly since October. Most of the time, the decisions to rest players are made collectively – between the front office, coaching staff and players – although it’s not known how the decision was made by the Kings.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Not only does Kobe Bryant want the Warriors to break the Bulls’ record of 72 wins, so does LeBron JamesFred Holberg says the Bulls need to figure out a leadership command for next seasonBrent Barry was asked his opinion of the Timberwolves and also about the coaching position, and Bones was to happy to share his thoughtsCan Alec Burks stay healthy and help the Jazz lock up a playoff spot?

Morning shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green: Warriors ready for season to end | Parker doesn’t think Spurs will rest stars | Reports: Jackson wants to keep Rambis as coach | Scott irked by Lakers’ play in Kobe’s final games | Cavs getting act together

No. 1: Green says Warriors ready for season to end — Golden State still has a shot at 73 wins, but the road to it just got a lot tougher. After last night’s overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors have nine losses. They’ll have to run the table over their next four games to reach the magic number and to forward Draymond Green, the chase for history is wearing on the team a bit. Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com has more:

Following Golden State’s stunning 124-117 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Warriors forward Draymond Green conceded the team had at least gotten distracted by the possibility of winning 73 games and said the Warriors are ready for the regular season to be over.

Asked whether the Warriors had gotten caught up in the hype of possibly setting an NBA record for wins in a season, Green responded, “Honestly? Yes.” Then he corrected, “I wouldn’t necessarily say caught up in the hype.”

Green also said the Warriors are ready for this particular segment of the season to finish.

“It’s human nature to where, all right, kind of ready for the regular season to end,” Green said. “Talking 82 games, we get bored with that after awhile. And that’s no excuse, just, I’m always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s kind of at a point now where you’re ready for the regular season to be over.”

Green continued, “Now, saying that, we got to be a better enough ballclub to continue to try to get better with these games and try and go into the playoffs the right way and not stumble in the playoffs, so, think that’s something we have to focus on. We got to try to finish out this regular season strong.”


VIDEO: Warriors fall to Wolves in OT

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Morning shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs won’t chase 41-0 home mark | Warriors set franchise wins record | Report: Chemistry issues dogging Bulls | Cousins, Rondo face suspension | Russell deals with fallout from video incident

No. 1: Spurs won’t chase perfect home record — The San Antonio Spurs had to endure a fourth-quarter push by the New Orleans Pelicans, but held on last night to win 100-92. The victory moved the Spurs to 38-0 at AT&T Center this season, marking the best home start in NBA history to break the 37-0 record the Chicago Bulls compiled in 1995-96. Three home games stand between home court perfection, but in typical San Antonio fashion, going 41-0 at home means nothing to the Spurs. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com has more:

Gregg Popovich’s blank stare on Wednesday previewed what he would say when asked what it meant for the San Antonio Spurs to run off their 38th consecutive home victory and set a record for the best home start in NBA history.

“Absolutely nothing,” Popovich said. “Maybe a cup of coffee. Maybe.”

While observers might view what’s percolating in San Antonio as special, the Spurs consider the regular-season accolades meaningless if they’re walking away in June without a championship trophy in hand. Most made that abundantly clear in a business-as-usual locker room on the heels of San Antonio’s 100-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“The only thing I see is that we can try and win a championship,” point guard Tony Parker said. “I don’t really think about having a good regular season, how many games we won. It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won.”

Manu Ginobili hadn’t played since March 25, as the club deactivated him for matchups on Saturday and Monday at Oklahoma City and Memphis. Ginobili’s last extended rest came in February as the result of testicular surgery, which kept him out of 12 games. Upon return from that setback, Ginobili racked up a season-high 22 points in 15 minutes. After this latest two-game rest, Ginobili came back to the lineup and lit up the Pelicans on 5 of 6 from 3-point range for another 20-point night while tying Leonard for the team high in steals at three.

San Antonio faces Toronto, Golden State and Oklahoma City in its next three home games.

Parker said earlier in the week that he doesn’t expect Popovich to play all the front-line players in either of the remaining matchups against the Warriors (April 7 and April 10). Parker reiterated that point at Wednesday’s shootaround and said it “doesn’t matter to me” when asked about the importance of the club’s current home streak.

Ginobili echoed those sentiments.

“No, it really doesn’t [matter],” Ginobili said. “If we would have lost Game 24, and now we are 37-1, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. Having a 38-game streak or 37-1 is unbelievable, anyway. So I really don’t care about streaks. We know we are having a great season. If we would have lost one more or two more, it wouldn’t change that.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks after the Spurs’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: What did we learn from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEORelive the best moments from last weekend’s Warriors-Spurs game

> Biggest takeaway from Warriors-Spurs Round 2?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not much, though both teams were outstanding defensively. The Spurs can feel good that they were able to slow the Warriors down for a night, but until they do it against the “Lineup of Death”, there can be no real peace of mind. It will be interesting, though, to see what Golden State’s coverages on LaMarcus Aldridge are going forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The seven-game series we get between these teams this spring, assuming the basketball gods smile on us, won’t necessarily be a pyrotechnics show, all showy and shiny offense. And it still will be good, with plenty of moves and counter-moves, adjustments to adjustments, raw human emotion and all the expected drama. But the Spurs looked determined to have someone other than Stephen Curry beat them, an approach most Golden State opponents either haven’t fully embraced or managed to deploy. Over 100 points or under, this still is what we want, “The Finals” before The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Much has to be held in reserve considering that Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli did not play for the Warriors. However, writing off the outcome as a “good loss” for the Warriors because they simply didn’t shoot the ball well is a bit naive. The Spurs defense — the way they guarded Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, kept men in their faces, had bigs come out to guard the perimeter — had a lot to do with that poor shooting. In the end, it was simply the latest move in a grand chess match that will only be great fun to watch in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That Warriors-Spurs in the real Round 3 — the Western Conference finals — would be a great chess match of coaches. We pretty much knew that anyway, along with the fact that it would be a great series in a lot of other ways, but Saturday night in San Antonio was a good reminder of possibilities for lineup maneuvers. I don’t think this regular-season game provided many real takeaways, though, at least beyond the news flash that Stephen Curry is human. Two championship-caliber teams? A terrific San Antonio defense? The Warriors feeling run down? We already knew all that too.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We know nothing, really, because Andre Iguodala didn’t play. That said, if Tony Parker and Patty Mills can use their quickness to disrupt Steph Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge can effectively be a consistent go-to scorer, then two of the Spurs’ biggest worries are solved. It’s all a chess game right now until they meet in the West finals if we’re all so lucky.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs’ plan of countering the Warriors with size bore some fruit. San Antonio played through Boris Diaw and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post early and often, slowed down the pace, and racked up 24 second chance points, while also keeping the Warriors from getting out of the break, by beating them up on the boards. Andrew Bogut‘s absence played a part (the Spurs grabbed just one offensive rebound in 17.3 minutes with Bogut on the floor in January), but we saw why the Spurs went the other way last summer while the rest of the league moved toward trying to imitate the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Spurs is going to be every bit as intriguing as I suspected it would before their first game of this regular season. Two of the best and most complete teams we’ve seen in recent years battling it out for every single inch, that is the way I like it come playoff time. The past, present and future of the league on display in this one series. And we get to see it in a best-of-seven series with a trip to The Finals on the line … my big takeaway from Spurs-Warriors Round 2 is I can’t wait for Rounds 3 and 4 and the rubber match in the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: How hard is it to beat the Warriors? They were finishing a back-to-back, on the road, against an opponent seeking revenge after a 30-point loss, Stephen Curry couldn’t make a shot — and it was still a tight game. The takeaway is that the best any contender can hope for is to give itself a chance by slowing the pace, because Golden State is not going to be routed in a seven-game series. (Also, isn’t it hard to imagine the Spurs winning any series in which they bench Tim Duncan? No matter how much sense it makes tactically, isn’t he their soul?)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog That the Warriors not only have a margin of error, it’s perhaps slimmer than we realized. I know the Warriors were without 3 of their rotation players, but they’ve been without guys the last few weeks and managed to mostly just roll along. The Spurs felt like they somehow managed to slow the pace while still controlling the tempo, and of course Curry never really got going. Either way, I want to see a fully healthy Golden State team in this match-up before arriving at any conclusions.

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

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