Posts Tagged ‘Tony Parker’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 17


VIDEO: Steve Smith names his top-five must-watch games for ’15-16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall doesn’t expect Olympic invite | Kings tab Beech to head analytics | Donovan’s journey included a stop on Wall St.

No. 1: Wall doesn’t expect Olympic inviteJohn Wall could very well be the second best player in the Eastern Conference. And he could see improvement this year if the Wizards play more Mike D’Antoni-ball, like they did in the playoffs. But all that might not mean anything when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski choose the 12 guys who will represent the country in next year’s Olympics. CSNWashington.com’s Ben Standig spoke with Wall, who doesn’t think he’ll be wearing “USA” on his chest next summer:

John Wall did the math. He’s not making Team USA’s squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Wall wants in, no doubt. The two-time NBA All-Star will have the 2015-16 season to impress. However, having just left USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas, the Washington Wizards star grasps the red, white and blue numbers game. At this point, Wall is directly competing with fellow point guards Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley Jr. Heavy hitters indeed.

If history is a guide, three point guards will be part of the 12-man roster. Barring the unforeseen, two of those spots are locked up. Paul was a member of the 2012 Olympic gold medal squad. Curry helped the US triumph at the 2014 World Cup and then led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA championship.

“Oh, yeah. Ten times out of 10 they’ll be on the team,” Wall said when presented with the premise during a discussion Saturday. He spoke with CSNwashington.com at his charitable foundation’s back to school event for local kids in Washington.

Before the three PG factoid could be fully stated to Wall, he blurted out a name.

“Kyrie.”

Irving also played on the 2014 team, not to mention at Duke for Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He’s also currently a teammate in Cleveland with king maker LeBron James, who is another 2016 lock if wants in.

“I’ll be out of the picture,” said Wall through a laugh and without any noticeable trace of resentment.

***

No. 2: Kings tab Beech to head analytics — There’s been a lot of turnover in the Sacramento Kings’ front office since Vivek Ranadivé bought the team two years ago. In July, amid a story that new Kings vice president Vlade Divac was “strongly opposed” to analytics, the team parted ways with Dean Oliver, who essentially wrote the book on analytics. Less than a month later, Sacramento has found a replacement. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that they will be hiring Roland Beech, who founded the site 82games.com and has spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks:

The Sacramento Kings have come to terms with Roland Beech to hire the longtime NBA sabermetrician to head up their analytics department, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Beech is poised to join the Kings as their vice president of analytics under Vlade Divac, Sacramento’s new head of basketball operations.

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No. 3: Donovan’s journey included a stop on Wall St. — New Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan is, basically, a basketball lifer. But between his playing career and his coaching career came another job that helped him realize where his passion was. The Oklahoman‘s Anthony Slater has the story…

For 23 years, Donovan avoided the Wall Street lifestyle that so many from Rockville Center are so often destined. He rerouted his path to the NBA with an undying dedication to basketball. But athletic limitations gave his dream an expiration date. By 1989, he was out of the league and a 24-year-old looking for work. Wall Street was the most obvious choice.

Those four months in a Lower Manhattan office are nothing more than a footnote in the iconic coach’s illustrious career. But in retrospect, they served as an important sparkplug for his second basketball life. The brief unhappiness bred both an appreciation for what he left behind and an extra boost of hoops passion that turned into one of Donovan’s best assets, paving his path to the Thunder organization.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans are getting together in L.A.Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith are still unsigned, but the Cavs have added Jared Cunningham to their training camp roster … and Tony Parker headlines France’s Eurobasket roster, which includes five other NBA players and two former NBA’ers.

ICYMI: The top 100 plays of the 2014-15 season:

VIDEO: Top 100 Plays of the 2015 NBA Season

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Aldridge move just another master class by ever-evolving Spurs

VIDEO: David Aldridge on why LaMarcus Aldridge picked Spurs

This was hardly a roman candle that came out of nowhere on the Fourth of July.  It was a carefully managed, brilliantly-executed plan.

Think of all the things the Spurs have been able to accomplish over the past two decades:

— 18 straight trips to the playoffs.

— 16 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins.

— 5 NBA championships.

Now this might be the slickest trick of them all.

LaMarcus Aldridge jumps from the Trail Blazers to the Spurs.

While so-called glamour franchises in New York and Los Angeles  keep floundering in their bids to reclaim relevance, little ol’ San Antonio finds a way to keep barreling down the tracks like a locomotive toward championship No. 6.  And maybe 7 and 8.

Just more than 12 months after their last celebratory river parade with an aging roster, the Spurs have made the transition to the next stage of the franchise with a move that was both brash and bold, but also a long time coming.

For even as general manager R.C. Buford and his staff kept juggling a roster built around the aging core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to annually compete for championships, they were always looking ahead to this day when the future merged with the present.

“My complete faith and trust in R.C. is never going to change, because of the track record he has,” head coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s always thinking not just for the next year and the next two years, but the next three years, the next seven years, that type of thing.”

By making all of the necessary moves — trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta for a handful of beans, letting Aron Baynes go to Detroit, Marco Belinelli to Sacramento — Buford has set up the Spurs not only for next season but perhaps the next decade.

For so many years, the Spurs and their fans have proudly worn the label of a franchise that builds championships rather than buys them.  They were the ones that defiantly took down — and ultimately broke up — the Monied Mercenary Miami Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But the game of pro basketball is a business and the business is about making the most proficient, often the shrewdest, moves to stay on top of the competition.

Of course, the Spurs will be right back among the teams at the head of the Western Conference class in 2015-16 with a front line of Duncan, Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.  With this nifty Texas two-step, the Spurs, who lost in the first round of this year’s playoffs, are suddenly 2-1 oddsmakers favorites to win the West, ahead of champion Golden State and Oklahoma City, and 4-1 to win it all, behind only LeBron and Cleveland.

Let’s not forget that with literally billions of dollars being thrown around in the free agent market in less than a week, Buford locked up Aldridge for four years (player option after third) at $80 million.  It’s a number that will look positively pedestrian net summer when the salaries shoot through the clouds with the influx of new TV money.  It almost looks that way now when you consider that Orlando will pay Tobias Harris $64 million over the same time frame.  Go ahead, compare Aldridge and Harris.

But just as important, with Aldridge at 29 and Duncan at 39, the Spurs will be in the thick of the contending pack for the foreseeable future.  That had to be the decision-making difference for Aldridge after he heard pitches from Portland, L.A. Phoenix, Houston and Miami.  Whenever the ageless Duncan finally decides to hang up his spurs, Aldridge has a 24-year-old running mate in Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, to keep churning ahead with perennial chances to add to the banner collection.

Don’t think that’s a tough trick to pull off without hitting bottom and suffering the bruises and indignity of suddenly finding out how life feels in the draft lottery?  Just ask the Lakers and Knicks.

As carefully and strategically as Popovich has managed the minutes of his veterans over the years to keep them fresh, Buford maneuvered and managed the salary cap with the flexibility of tiny gymnast to make this day possible.  It was never just a year-to-year reach for one more playoff run, but a decade-long plan to transition to the future.  All the while the Spurs were stacking up Larry O’Brien Trophys, they were keeping an eye on this critical summer when 10 contracts were timed to come off the books at the same time.

“We put the team together with that in mind,” Popovich said.

Sometimes the best-laid plans work out perfectly.

Morning shootaround — June 30


VIDEO: How LaMarcus Aldridge’s move in free agency will affect other teams

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JUNE 30 ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers, Rockets first up with Aldridge | What would adding Aldridge cost Spurs? | Report: Gasol only taking meeting with Grizzlies | How much has Wade financially sacrificed? | Report: Knicks in lead for Afflalo, Monroe

No. 1: Report: Lakers, Rockets first up to meet with Aldridge  Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is one of — if not the biggest — big fish in this free-agent class. The Mavericks have clear hopes of going him, using the lure of the hometown team to get the Texas native back in his home state and give them a new building block for whenever Dirk Nowitzki retires. The Mavs will have to wait their turn, though, writes ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, as the L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets will apparently be the first of many teams to make a recruiting pitch to the big man.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets will get the first opportunities to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge shortly after the free-agency period officially begins at 9:01 p.m. PT Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Aldridge also will meet with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and with the New York Knicks on Thursday, league sources told ESPN.com.

According to one source, the chance of Aldridge staying with the Portland Trail Blazers is “very unlikely.”

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony has already called Aldridge, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

ESPN.com reported in May that both the Spurs and Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas. But sources said last week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Lakers.

The Lakers, sources added, firmly believe they will now be in the Aldridge hunt. And there is a rising sentiment, sources said, that the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge’s wish list despite the fact that he was a high school star in Dallas.

The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge’s most likely destination if he goes through with the idea of leaving the Blazers to start anew. The contingent for San Antonio’s pitch to Aldridge is expected to include Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich, according to multiple media reports.

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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.

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Morning shootaround — May 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers keep it up | Conley hoping to play in Game 2 | Popovich: Spurs’ core likely to return | Beal, Wall expect to play in Game 2

No. 1: Clippers keep on rolling, rally for Game 1 win — Had the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets, few would have faulted them. They did, after all, just win a thrilling, emotional Game 7 in the first round against the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs just two days earlier. As well, they were without star point guard Chris Paul for last night’s game. None of that affected Los Angeles’ crew though as they withstood a rough first half to score a 117-101 win, writes our own Fran Blinebury:

You don’t usually notice growth spurts until after they happen, but here are the Clippers getting taller, stronger, tougher right in front of our eyes.

It was one thing to take down the defending champion Spurs in Game 7 before a roaring, emotional home crowd with adrenaline of the moment temporarily numbing the pain of Chris Paul‘s strained hamstring, enabling him to stay on the court and even hit the decisive shot.

But now it was 48 hours later, Paul was out of the lineup entirely and the Clippers were down 13 points on the road.

“Trust,” said coach Doc Rivers.

“Stay confident,” said center DeAndre Jordan.

“Be who we are,” said guard Jamal Crawford.

Who they are now is very different team than the one that opened training camp back in October, the one that was still searching for direction in February, maybe even different from the one that walked into the playoffs just a little more than two weeks ago.

Of course, it helps that the Clippers can bring power forward Blake Griffin to every game. Griffin has been arguably the best all-around participant in the playoffs to date. His 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists were his third triple-double in eight post-season games this year.

When he wasn’t punishing the Rockets with his bull moves down in the low post, he was knocking in jumpers or spotting the ball to his teammates for open 3-pointers and other good looks.

“He’s like Tom Brady standing in the middle of the field picking them apart,” Barnes said.

With Paul watching from the bench or pacing nervously in front of it wearing a green jacket, Griffin was the trigger to the offense, playing point forward and making the entire machine work smoothly. Just as important, he kept his team together with prodding words of encouragement.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin powers the Clippers’ Game 1 victory

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Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

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No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Spurs: Is this the end of beginning or beginning of end?


VIDEO: Discussing the Spurs-Clippers series

This is where the Spurs put themselves. Game 7, on the road, against a team that is younger and faster, surging in confidence.

They can blame an uninspired effort on Thursday night in Game 6 and coach Gregg Popovich certainly did, calling them soft and their performance embarrassing.

The truth is the Spurs are in this fix because of other nights when they couldn’t get it done. March 17 and a desultory loss to the lowly Knicks. April 15, the final night of the regular season and a letdown in New Orleans.

Win either one of those games and the Spurs aren’t in this fix, defending champions not only trying to save themselves from elimination in the first round, but also from facing a playoff minefield that only gets tougher to navigate from here.

The Spurs could have been the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference rather than an unlikely No. 6 seed having to deal with the spritely legs and hungry hearts of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the 56-win Clippers.

Maybe past is prologue and the Spurs can take a page out of the 20th anniversary book of the 1995 Rockets, who climbed from the No. 6 seed to win the most unlikely championship in NBA history, taking down the Spurs ancestors along the way.

Hakeem Olajuwon said even he didn’t quite believe that, after a season of turmoil and injury and disappointment, the Rockets could go all the way until they somehow managed to escape a first-round battle with at 60-win Utah team. It gave them life. It gave them hope that anything is possible.

However a win tonight just gives the Spurs another hurdle, a hurried flight to Houston to open the conference semifinals on Monday night and the immediacy of another hill to climb.

It’s either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end that we’re watching with this amazing run of Spurs excellence that has won five titles since 1999. They either rise up and make more history or it could be the dynasty crumbling. For while 39-year-old Tim Duncan continues to defy the aging process to crank out performances that are stunning and does not seem like a man heading to retirement, Tony Parker is hobbled by an ailing Achilles tendon and Manu Ginobili appears broken down, worn out and on his last legs. Watch them closely tonight. It could be the last time the Spurs Big Three is on the court together. A loss tonight and the reconstruction process really begins.

If the Spurs don’t beat the Clippers and advance, it will be a loud and sudden fall for a team that just 10 months ago had elevated the game to a different level, practically playing with a musical score as a background, in taking apart and taking down the celebrated Miami Heat and chasing LeBron James back to Cleveland.

Now here they are standing in a hole they dug for themselves, and it’s just the start.

Pop’s, Doc’s Game 7 Numbers Tell Story


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich poked his team after their Game 6 loss at home to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ask most observers who they would like to have pushing buttons in a winner-take-all, NBA playoff Game 7 and they’d tell you Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers or both.

The most accomplished coach of his era (Pop) against the best motivator of his era (Doc), they’ve got the championships and big game experience oozing out of their pores with Saturday’s Game 7 of their first round series at Staples Center looming on an overstuffed sports weekend, the likes of which we might not see again anytime soon.

The NFL Draft, the Kentucky Derby, Mayweather-Pacquiao and, of course, that almighty Game 7 between the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs and wanna-be champs Los Angeles Clippers. It’s all there for your consumption this weekend.

But nothing beats the pressure-packed chaos of a Game 7 and to get it with two of the marquee coaches in the game, with Hollywood as the backdrop … it doesn’t get much better.

And when you toss in the metrics, things get even more interesting.

Doc has a 5-5 career record in Game 7s, 5-2 at home. Pop is 3-2 in his career, 1-1 on the road.

Doc and the Clippers have the most compelling numbers on their side is the 79.8 percent winning percentage (95-24) home teams own in Game 7s. But on the flip side, there has been a road win in a Game 7 in each of the past three postseasons and all in the first round (Brooklyn over Toronto in 2014, Chicago over Brooklyn in 2013 and the Clippers over Memphis in 2012).

Does it mean anything?

Not really. At least not in a tangible way that either the Clippers or Spurs will be able to use after opening tip.

Both Pop and Doc won Game 7s on their home floors last season, the Spurs beat back Dallas in the first round last season and the Clippers did it a day earlier against Golden State. So they have fresh memories of what needs to be done in this situation, as do their teams.

For all of Pop’s playoff experience, no active NBA coach knows the rigors of Game 7s the way Doc does. The Boston Celtics played in seven of them during his time running the show there, his veteran crew tested in each and every way imaginable during their glory days together.

All that said, the Spurs’ lone Game 7 win on the road in four tries, came in 2008 against the New Orleans Hornets and their All-Star point guard … one Chris Paul.

If you believe in any of the minutiae, that any of these numbers have a story tell, that should be more than enough to chew on between now and game time.

As much as we’d like to make this about the coaches, the bottom line is the players, on both sides, will have the final say.

Does Tim Duncan have one more superstar effort in him? Can CP3 finally slay the dragon and drive his team over the proverbial hump? Can Blake Griffin keep it going? Or will Kawhi Leonard win the battle of the young big men? Can J.J. Redick play hero? Will Tony Parker shake off whatever ails him and deliver like the former Finals MVP he is? Will DeAndre Jordan makes his free throws? And who serves as the Game 7 wild card among Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Austin Rivers, Patty Mills, Matt Barnes and Boris Diaw?

Someone will have to decide who moves on to the conference semifinals and that date with the Houston Rockets.

And instead of it being Pop or Doc, it will have to be someone else … then again, perhaps it’s best to go with the guys with the Game 7 track records.


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about his team’s mettle down the stretch in their Game 6 win over the Spurs

Parker ready for tonight’s Game 3

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is a go for Game 3 but that doesn’t mean Parker will definitely go, in terms of acceleration.

As Tim Duncan stated earlier, Parker is “a gamer. I guarantee he’ll be out there because that’s the player he is.” Actually, Parker’s presence wasn’t much in doubt; his ability to roam the floor freely without any restriction or pain is in question. He has battled leg injuries for a segment of the season, first the hamstring and lately the quad and Achilles, which caused him to skip the last five minutes of regulation and OT in Game 2 without scoring a basket. Obviously his health is of great importance to the Spurs’ chances of beating the Clippers in this first-round series, let alone repeating as champs.

“Been a tough year,” Parker said. “But nobody cares about that. I’ll be alright.”

A limping Parker conjures up images of last season when he couldn’t finish a pair of playoff series, but the Spurs won without him. There’s a difference this time, though. Parker didn’t get injured until late in those rounds. This time, he’s gimpy right from the start, which puts the Spurs in a bind. If he can’t play at or near his level, that’s asking the Spurs to beat Chris Paul with Patty Mills three more times.

One game, OK. But three?

Mills dropped 18 on the Clippers and was huge in overtime. Also, Duncan turned back the clock with 28 points and 11 rebounds, but had to labor 44 minutes. Essentially, it took a lot for the Spurs to win Game 2, which would’ve gone the Clippers’ way had Blake Griffin not lost a crucial turnover late in regulation (and another in OT).

As if Parker’s problems weren’t enough, the Spurs are getting little from Manu Ginobili, who seems a step slow on the floor and one step quicker toward possible retirement this summer.