Posts Tagged ‘Tony Parker’

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to get there.”

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

One Stat, One Play: Spurs will make you put the ball on the floor


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Spurs limit the catch-and-shoot

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The San Antonio Spurs are coming alive.

The champs have their second-worst winning percentage of the Tim Duncan era, but have won six straight games to move up to sixth place in the Western Conference. With the team’s top four perimeter players all shooting better than 50 percent during the winning streak, the Spurs’ offense has been the sharpest its been (112.6 points scored per 100 possessions) since early December.

The Spurs still rank outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency for the first time in six years. Their shooting has dropped off both in the paint and from 3-point range.

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have both dealt with injuries and taken steps backward on that end of the floor. And Boris Diaw hasn’t provided his usual brilliance off the bench.

But the Spurs have been getting the job done defensively all season. They rank in the top five in defensive efficiency for the third straight season and 14th time in Duncan’s 18 years in the league. No other franchise has ranked in the top five more than seven of those years.

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One reason the Spurs are so good defensively is their ability to limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot jumpers. They allow just 21.2 per game, the fewest in the league.

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Effective field goal percentage drops significantly when you can make your opponent put the ball on the floor, mostly because your pushing him inside the 3-point line. But catch-and-shoot jumpers are also better shots (for the offense) from a pure make-or-miss perspective.

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The Spurs limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot opportunities in a few different ways…

  1. They pressure the ball, making it tougher to make a direct pass to an open shooter.
  2. Their bigs hang back on pick-and-rolls, so that their teammates don’t have to help much on the roll man and can stay at home on the shooters.
  3. They close out aggressively, but at an angle to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor, where more passing lanes are available.
  4. If there is any help on pick-and-rolls, it doesn’t come out of the strong-side corner.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a possession from Sunday where the Spurs prevent a Bulls catch-and-shoot jumper with a lot of the principles listed above. Chicago shot just 3-for-13 on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the Spurs’ win.

The Spurs put their six-game winning streak on the line against the visiting Cavs at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader. Cleveland doesn’t shoot a lot of catch-and-shoot jumpers as a team, but Kevin Love and J.R. Smith both rank among the league leaders.

Morning shootaround — March 9


Video: Highlights from games played March 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook joins historic company | Here come the Spurs | Still no love between Warriors, Clippers | Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas

No. 1: Westbrook joins historic company — At this point, perhaps we just expect it. The last few weeks, with his teammate Kevin Durant out and the Oklahoma City Thunder fighting for their playoff future, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook just keeps carrying the Thunder. Last night against the Raptors, Westbrook posted his fifth triple-double in the last six games. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double since the All-Star break, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In the meantime, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Westbrook is keeping some historic company…

Another short list — make that three lists — of achievement with legends of the game. This time Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

“It’s been crazy,” said teammate Anthony Morrow. “I nicknamed him Maniac Russ. He’s incredible. His ceiling is so high.”

Westbrook’s ceiling is so high, his numbers against Toronto didn’t even move the meter: 30 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high-matching 17 assists, four steals.

Eyebrows rose only when you learned that only Magic has posted those minimum numbers in an NBA game. And when you learned that Westbrook joins Robertson as the only players ever with at least 200 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists over a five-game span. And Westbrook joined Jordan as the only players in the last 50 years to average 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over a 10-game span.

It’s not crazy to ask if anyone has ever played basketball like Russell Westbrook is playing it.

This is a national phenomenon. Nightly must-see NBA TV. Forget the playoff race. Forget even the MVP debate. Who needs a trophy? America has spoken. Basketball can’t take its eyes off Russell Westbrook.

“If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know,” said the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

***

No. 2: Here come the Spurs — They’ve spent most of the season dealing with injuries and trying to keep above water. While other teams have made headlines, the San Antonio Spurs finally have everyone healthy and — talk about good timing — according to Gregg Popovich, are finally playing their best basketball of the season. Yesterday against the Bulls, the Spurs were able to withstand Tim Duncan‘s first-ever zero field goal performance thanks to a big game from Tony Parker. Don’t look now, but with five straight wins under their belt, the Spurs are looking strong, writes Jeff MacDonald in the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are joined by Finals MVP awards, and for a large chunk of December shared space on the injured list.

After the Spurs claimed their fifth consecutive victory Sunday, this one a 116-105 handling of admittedly short-handed Chicago at the AT&T Center, no two players have been as vital in the champs suddenly looking like the champs again.

“When the ball is moving and we’re making shots, everything is easier,” said Parker, who poured in a season-high 32 points. “The energy is good and we’re playing defense. We’re pushing the ball. Everybody is playing better.”

Sunday’s victory, combined with the L.A. Clippers’ loss at Golden State, moved the Spurs (39-23) into a virtual tie for fifth in the Western Conference.

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to pinpoint the pair whose revival has sparked the Spurs’ recovery.

Asked before the game to diagnose the Spurs’ resurrection after a rough February, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau began his answer this way:

“It looks like Parker’s getting back to being Parker.”

Backing up Thibodeau’s point, Parker had everything working for a national television audience on ABC.

Parker buried a jumper on the Spurs’ first possession, albeit after dribbling off his foot. He had his spin move working. He wiggled for tough shots and — most importantly of all — knocked down the open ones.

Parker finished 13 of 19, putting further distance between himself and a ragged rodeo trip. When he was done, Parker had his highest-scoring outing since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals against Portland.

“He’s been in that mode for the last two or three games, and feeling very confident about his health,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think he is where we’d like him to be.”

***

No. 3: Still no love between Warriors, Clippers — The Clippers are still waiting for the return of Blake Griffin, which seems to still be uncertain, but in the meantime, the Clippers ran into their longtime Western Conference foe the Warriors yesterday. And while the Clips gave them a good run, the Warriors won, 106-98. But, as usually happens when these teams square off, these teams once again almost squared off. During the postgame interview with Golden State’s Draymond Green, Clippers forward Dahntay Jones delivered a bump to Green. Later, Green told reporters he was taking the high road, writes ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss

During the segment, Clippers guard Dahntay Jones walked into view of the camera, bumping Green as he went past. Green did not take the gesture kindly, and told reporters as much in the locker room.

“I think he wanted a reaction from me, but he don’t play,” Green said, taking note that Jones is averaging a career-low 4.6 minutes per game this season.

He explained his lack of reaction, saying, “Me getting suspended and him getting suspended, it’s different.”

He added, “If [Dahntay Jones] gets suspended they may not even notice.”

Green expressed that the bump should warrant scrutiny, saying, “I definitely expect that to be reviewed by the NBA. For him to look at me, look at me again, and bump me when I’m doing a postgame interview; that’s really smart, too, when it’s on ABC. The postgame interview is the highlight of that segment and you bump somebody.”

Green wasn’t finished with Jones. In explaining the shooting guard’s behavior, he said: “He got some camera time, which he needed because there wasn’t much celebration from their bench today, so you didn’t see him much. He got the camera time he was looking for.”

Jones denied that the bump was intentional, telling reporters, “That’s not how you bump somebody if you purposely want to bump them.”

***

No. 4: Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks made a splash a few weeks ago when they traded for Rajon Rondo, with the idea that Rondo would re-sign with the Mavs this summer and give the Mavs an All-Star level point guard. But it hasn’t been that simple. While the Mavs have remained above-average with Rondo, their offense has had growing pains, some of which have bubbled over into the public consciousness, including an on-court showdown between Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle that resulted in a Rondo suspension. Still, as Rondo told Yahoo’s Marc Spears, he’s still open to staying in Dallas beyond this season…

Q: What do you think about the perception that you want to depart from Dallas?

Rondo: “First of all, I’m misunderstood in general. I don’t mind because I’m very quiet and I stay to myself. People are going to say what they want to say. I don’t talk, so I don’t know why they would say that. I don’t think I play as if I don’t want to be here. I give it all when I’m out there on the court.

“I’m always in communication trying to learn and get better and learn what’s better for the team. All I care about is winning. I made a lot of sacrifices, I believe, coming here. I try to give up the ball and move without the ball a lot more. It’s hard to adjust. But for the sake of the team to win that’s what I’m trying to.”

Q: So you are open-minded to re-signing with Dallas?

Rondo: “Why would I not be? There are a lot of things that I really love. Even the practices, we listen to music, my type of music. It’s the little things. Say we are going to California, we will play Too $hort and West Coast music. If we are going to Houston we might play chop and screw, Bun B or something like that. If we are going to New Orleans we might play Lil Wayne at practice, during shooting 30 minutes before practice. It’s a cool way they run it. We get our work in.

“It’s a player’s organization. Players first, from our plane, the way we travel. I don’t take that for granted. We eat good. We stay at the best hotels. Of course, it’s the NBA. But this organization has the best. They have PlayStation in the lockers. I don’t play games, but it’s nice to know I got a PlayStation. TVs in your own locker. I heard about it – [Brandon Bass] and J-Terry [Jason Terry] told me – but seeing it and experiencing it.

“I love it here. I don’t dislike anything. I’m not uncomfortable. Of course, the system is different, but I’ve been here for two months. It’s going to take time. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

Q: Are you excited about being an unrestricted free agent for the first time next offseason?

Rondo: “Not really. I never had it, but I want to live for today. When it’s going to come is when it’s going to come. One thing that will help me is that when I tore my ACL that made me realize to live in the moment. Don’t think about next month or think about two months from now. Life isn’t guaranteed. Enjoy the situation you are in now. We’re blessed and what is going to happen is going to happen.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Would the Knicks trade their first-round pick? … Erik Spoelstra says George Karl is already having an impact on the Sacramento Kings … The Heat have signed Michael Beasley to a second ten-day contract … Danny Ainge says Ray Allen still has basketball left in him … Swaggy P is going to be out for at least a few more games

Something new for old Tim Duncan


VIDEO: Parker scores season-high 32 as Spurs race past Bulls

Well, if you stick around the game long enough, anything is bound to happen. It did Sunday for Tim Duncan.

The future Hall of Famer, perhaps the best power forward ever, didn’t hit a basket in the Spurs’ win over the Bulls. Yep, that’s right. Zippo. Oh-for-eight, to be exact. So, for the first time in 1,311 games, you scored as many baskets as Duncan.

Of course, not that Duncan cared much. Actually, by game’s end, he was too busy smiling at the sight of Tony Parker finally coming through with a monster game (a season-high 32 points) which is far more important to the Spurs, since Parker had struggled since recovering from a bad hammy. And the Spurs did win the game, keeping them in seventh place in the West and (for now) avoiding the dreaded eighth spot and a potential first-round matchup with the Warriors (we’d rather see Russell Westbrook vs. Steph Curry anyway).

Duncan scored three points, which says plenty about the Spurs, that they could beat a quality team like Chicago mainly on smart point guard play and balanced scoring and solid defense. Truth be told, the Spurs haven’t leaned heavily on Duncan over the last few years, at least until the playoffs.

With a few minutes left in the game, Duncan was nailed to the bench, not because he went without a hoop, but because the Spurs were comfortably ahead and the reserves were doing a fine job. And he was smiling. Which means he probably wasn’t even aware he went without a basket, nor cared.

Morning Shootaround — March 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hawks close the door | Harden strikes back | Parker sparks Spurs | Mavs slide continues | Shaw eyes Magic

No. 1: Hawks clinch series over Cavaliers — Is there anybody left that still thinks the Hawks are not for real? Is there anybody out there that thinks an Eastern Conference finals showdown between Atlanta and Cleveland wouldn’t be a classic showdown? DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore suffocated LeBron James all night long and the Hawks wrapped up the season series over the Cavs 3-1 with a victory that stretched their latest winning streak to six games. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the details:

Carroll and Kent Bazemore harassed and frustrated James much of the night. The two defenders got plenty of weakside help on James. The Cavaliers star even exchanged words with Schroder as his frustration built.

“We just played Hawks defense,” Carroll said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates because they were meeting him at the rim. They were helping me out. Like I said before, I just want to be a gnat. When you are outside in the summer and you just can’t get that gnat away from you, that’s all I wanted to be tonight.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the team approach to limiting James.

“It always starts with taking individual pride, but it takes five guys, the whole team, working together and doing everything in unison,” Budenholzer said. “I think at the point of the ball, DeMarre and Kent were very good and the weakside was active and aware, and we were able to try to get out to shooters because he’s such a great passer and he sees the court so well. I think it’s like anything. It takes a group effort. It’s great to be tested and challenged like we were tonight.”

***

No. 2: Harden takes out frustrations on Pistons — Even for a guy who is leading the NBA in scoring and is considered a frontrunner for the Kia MVP award, it was a tough week for James Harden. After he kicked Lebron James, Harden was suspended for one game in Atlanta and then was fouled on what the league office admitted was a missed call in the final seconds of another loss to Memphis. So Harden was ready to bounce back and did it with his third triple-double of the season against the Pistons. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tells how good it felt for The Beard:

“Yeah, it’s all about having fun, especially when … you just lose two in a row, two tough games and you have get a win,” Harden said. “We go out there, have fun, execute and play together.”

There was a good deal of that to go around, from Terrence Jones returning from a first-half scare when he hobbled off with a strained right rip to score 11 of his 17 points in the second half to Joey Dorsey coming off the bench to snare 10 much-needed rebounds. Rookie KJ McDaniels even knocked down a shot for the first time since joining the Rockets, saying, “It felt really good; a big relief.”

Harden especially seemed to need the release. He began the game as if in a mad rush to leave the one-game suspension and last-minute missed call behind him, getting six turnovers and missing a handful of layups in the first half. Once he settled down, however, he seemed to control any part of the game he chose.

By the time Harden found Corey Brewer on a cut for a layup, he had 12 assists for his fourth game in the past five with at least 10, and the Rockets began clearing their bench with a 22-point lead.

“He’s going to find you when you’re open,” said Brewer, who made 7-for-12 shots for his 15 points off the bench. “Everybody is going to (defend) him and leave guys open and he’s making the right pass. We just have to make the right shots because we’re so wide open.”

Harden’s triple-double was his third of the season, the most for a Rockets player since Clyde Drexler had three in the 1996-97 season. Though the Rockets led by as much as 24 and never trailed by more than one point, the Rockets needed Harden to dominate when Pistons big men Andre Drummond (who had 21 rebounds) and Greg Monroe (who had 19 points) took over inside in the second half.

***

No. 3: Parker continues his comeback — The Spurs have been waiting months for Tony Parker to regain his form and provide the kind of offensive spark they’ll need to defend their NBA championship in the playoffs. Lately the shots have started to fall. Then Friday night there was his signature spin move on the fastbreak. Parker isn’t ready to jump the gun and say all of his troubles are in the past just yet. But according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, it certainly looked like old times in a win over the Nuggets:

His teammates call the signature sequence “circle to the square.”

Tony Parker will be out on the break. He will make a 360-degree spin move to separate from his defender (“the circle”) then lay the ball off the middle of the backboard (“the square”).

His Spurs teammates have been waiting for Parker to break out that geometry lesson for quite some time.

Midway through a tougher-than-expected 120-111 victory over Denver on Friday at the AT&T Center, Parker at last obliged.

After Parker spun past Will Barton en route to his best scoring night in more than two months, guard Danny Green made the declaration Spurs fans have been pining to hear.

“Yep,” Green said, “he’s back.”

There are others in the Spurs’ locker room who would call rumors of Parker’s resurrection premature.

One of them is Parker.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” the 32-year-old point guard said. “Every time I think I’m back, I get something else wrong.”

Still, Parker was a catalyst for the Spurs’ fourth consecutive victory Friday, which equaled their second-longest streak of the season.

He busted out his entire arsenal on his way to 24 points and seven assists — teardrops, rim runs, jumpers, all of it.

***

No. 4: Mavericks out of class against Warriors — They were a couple of weeks late to be part of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary celebration. But the Mavericks certainly looked like the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” in back-to-back national TV losses at Portland and Golden State. Dirk Nowitzki tells Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that all teams go through slumps. But seven losses in their last nine games, the playoff picture is starting to look daunting for Dallas:

The Warriors are the best team in the Western Conference for a reason and they showed their strength throughout with a balanced attack and strong defense anchored by Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. The Mavericks were shooting under 35 percent through three quarters, after which they were down 82-64. It didn’t get much better in the fourth.

The Mavericks? They look lost right now and it’s clear they need to regroup.

“I’ve been in this league 17 years,” Nowitzki said. “Even in our great years, the championship year, it’s not all smiles. There were some times we went through some rough stretches. I remember we went 2-7 over one time in the championship year. You just got to stick with it. You never know what can happen in a month or month and a half.

One thing for sure is if we want to make a run at this, we got to get healthy. That’s obvious.”

In their banged-up state, the Mavericks were rolled on back-to-back nights by Portland and Golden State.

“You never want to lose like that twice on national TV,” Nowitzki said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s not good. I can’t say anything great about these two losses. We got to get some of our mojo back.”

The Warriors now have won six in a row against the Mavericks dating to last season. The last time Golden State had six consecutive wins against the Mavericks was from Dec. 26, 1996 to Dec. 16, 1997.

***

No. 5: Shaw would like to coach Magic — It’s only been a matter of days since Brian Shaw was dumped by the Nuggets. But the veteran who played part of his NBA career in Orlando reportedly would like a chance to resumer his coaching career with the Magic, according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

A person close to Shaw told the Orlando Sentinel that the former Magic guard would “absolutely” be “very interested” if or when the job opens.
Shaw, 48, is coming off a bitter breakup with the Denver Nuggets, fired in just his second season as head coach on Tuesday.

He had replaced venerable George Karl, landing his first opportunity after years as an assistant. But he and the underachieving Nuggets didn’t mesh. They lost 19 of 21 in one stretch this season, and a Denver columnist wrote that players lacked professionalism and essentially quit on Shaw.

Shaw played three seasons with the Magic (1994-95 and 1996-97) before retiring after the 2002-03 season.

He served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.

The Magic fired Jacque Vaughn on Feb. 5 after he coached for two-plus seasons. Vaughn’s lead assistant, James Borrego, took over as interim coach.

General Manager Rob Hennigan said that Borrego could be considered a candidate to be hired on a permanent basis.

The Magic are 5-6 under Borrego.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hassan Whiteside had a conversation with Erik Spoelstra, then a good seat on the bench to watch the Heat in a near-miss against the Wizards…Cavs coach David Blatt isn’t happy that his main man LeBron James has been taking so many hits lately…The Clippers will honor long-time play-by-play man and one of the all-time greats Ralph Lawler on Monday night at Staples Center…Michael Beasley says he’s playing “with desperation” in what he sees as his last NBA chance…Mickey Arison imagines John Lennon singing in Miami at a Heat game.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

***

No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

***

No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …

Morning shootaround — March 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’ | Mirotic steps up for banged-up Bulls | Can LeBron’s milestone entice Ray back? | Duncan: No time to panic

No. 1: Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’Josh Smith brought an enormous bundle of skills to Atlanta and hung out his shingle for the Atlanta Hawks for nine years. But he eventually came to represent unfulfilled potential and a little bit of indulged stardom, to the point his services no longer were required. Smith left in 2013 to sign a fat free-agent contract with Detroit and has been a target ever since of however many fans cared to populate Philips Arena. The difference this season is that there are more of them, and their booing rankled Smith, on a mediocre night individually, in his return Tuesday with the Houston Rockets. Here’s Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

The interplay between Smith and the Philips Arena crowd was lively throughout the night. Smith, an Atlanta native who played his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks, was booed loudly whenever he touched the ball. The catcalls grew louder in the third quarter, after Smith drained a 3-pointer that rattled around the rim several times before dropping in. Smith then shushed the crowd by placing his finger over his lips as the Hawks called timeout.

“I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners,” Smith said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Despite qualifying for the playoffs in Smith’s final six seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks never finished in the top half of the NBA in attendance. This season, the Hawks are faring better at the gate and averaging just more than 17,000 per game, their highest total since Smith came into the league.

Smith was a polarizing player during his nine seasons in Atlanta. Chosen by the Hawks with the No. 17 pick in 2004 draft, Smith dazzled fans with his acrobatics, shot-blocking and athleticism. But despite being only a 28.3 percent 3-point shooter, Smith attempted more than 942 shots from beyond the arc as a Hawk. Toward the end of his tenure, a groan would emanate from the crowd at Philips Arena whenever he elevated for a long-range shot.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Feb. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett talks the talk upon return | Timeline for Rose | Sullinger vows to trim down | Carter-Williams caught off-guard | Kobe: NBA was out to get Lakers

No. 1: Garnett talks the talk upon returnKevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota was a success, in regard to the atmosphere in the Target Center and the result on the scoreboard. And Garnett’s impact on the Wolves went well beyond the five points, eight rebounds and two blocks he tallied in less than 19 minutes. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner made his own return to the Twin Cities and wrote about the conversations Garnett had (and will continue to have) with his new teammates

“Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”

That was the storybook of Garnett’s return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn’t participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he’s getting to know on the fly.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of … you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

“That’s what I do,” Garnett said. “I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show ’em what I was seeing. Just slow ’em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.”

***

No. 2: Friday could bring surgery and timeline for Rose — The Bulls received brutal news on Tuesday when they learned that Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. But they might not lose Rose for nearly as long this time, and there’s a chance he could return in the postseason. We’ll all know what the timeline is after Rose has surgery, which could come Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune

Thibodeau said surgery hasn’t been scheduled, but sources said while it’s mostly Rose’s decision, it will happen sooner rather than later, likely Friday because of minimal swelling. Team physician Brian Cole, who also repaired Rose’s first torn meniscus in November 2013, will perform the procedure. Rose underwent surgery two days after that injury.

An official timeline for Rose’s return won’t be known until Cole performs the surgery, but multiple sources expressed strong belief that this tear isn’t as significant as the one Rose had in November 2013. Sources added the expectation is that this procedure will remove a small cartilage tear, suggesting a shorter rehabilitation period.

Two other sources said Rose was told after the initial surgery that a future tear was possible, if not likely, and that a second procedure typically involves “cutting” or “snipping” the damage. That generally involves a rehabilitation process of three to eight weeks.

***

No. 3: Sullinger vows to trim downJared Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot and has averaged just 57 games in his first three years in the league. The foot injury isn’t related to the back issue he dealt with as a rookie, unless you choose to blame his weight for both. Sullinger doesn’t think his weight was a factor, but says he plans on using his time off to get in better shape, as Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writes

“Freak accidents happen. I just have to come back better,” Sullinger said.

Pressed on what he hoped to get out of recovery, Sullinger added: “A little bit of everything — change the physique, change the way I look. That’s the biggest thing, I think. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning is going to be a big factor. Conditioning is going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. We’re going to find ways, we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape possible.”

Sullinger had pledged to get in better shape this summer and did report for camp looking trimmer, but appears to have added weight during the season.

“I got in better shape, but there’s another level to it,” Sullinger said. “There’s always another level to everything. I just have to take it to another level. This year I came back in a little bit better shape. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. Now I just have to get back to the grit and grind, kind of break my body down just to build it back up. I think that’s what I’m going to do this summer.”

***

No. 4: Carter-Williams thought he was part of Sixers’ long-term plan — In his first game with his new team, Michael Carter-Williams got a win against his old team, scoring seven points and dishing out eight assists in the Bucks’ 104-88 victory over the Sixers. Before the game, Carter-Williams said that he thought he was part of the long-term plan in Philly, and that coach Brett Brown might have disagreed with Sam Hinkie‘s decision to trade the Rookie of the Year for the Lakers’ top-five protected pick. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has the story

He was reflective on his time in Philly, and seemed to be still somewhat baffled at what went down with him getting moved to Milwaukee in a three-team trade in which the Sixers ended up with a first-round pick from the Lakers, which is top-five-protected this season, top-three-protected for the next two seasons.

“I think the ultimate thing that it comes down to is coach Brown coaches and Sam [Hinkie] does the moves,” said MCW. “I think that’s what it comes down to and I think that’s the agreement and that’s all I really know. I think that if it was up to coach Brown, I don’t think I would have been moved, to be honest.

“I was pretty up to speed and pretty involved (disbelieving laughs). As far as I heard I was involved in the long-term plan, especially with me, Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel). It was really us three that was the core group and were told that we we’re going to be (there) for a pretty long time and we really want to build around. I understand that things change and plans change. I guess that Sam and the rest of those guys thought that to move me was the best move. That’s on them and it is what it is.”

***

No. 5: Kobe: NBA was out to get the LakersKobe Bryant certainly isn’t afraid to express his opinion. And you might say that he’s a little bitter about the events of 2011. In an interview/profile in this month’s GQ (Warning: some naughty language within), Bryant tells Chuck Klosterman that the ’11 lockout and subsequent veto of the Chris Paul trade were meant to “restrict the Lakers,” and only the Lakers …

The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this year, and it seems unlikely that they will challenge for a title next year. So if titles are your only goal, why even play these last two seasons?

I know what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers GM] tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss, the team owners] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I.

But how could that possibly be done? Doesn’t the league’s financial system dictate certain limitations?

Well, okay: Look at the [2011] lockout. That lockout was made to restrict the Lakers. It was. I don’t care what any other owner says. It was designed to restrict the Lakers and our marketability.

The Lakers specifically, or teams like the Lakers?

There is only one team like the Lakers. Everything that was done with that lockout was to restrict the Lakers’ ability to get players and to create a sense of parity, for the San Antonios of the world and the Sacramentos of the world. But a funny thing happened, coming out of that lockout: Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that **** off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that…

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wesley Matthews came up big in a big game for the Blazers … after which the Spurs’ Tony Parker admitted that he’s strugglingEvan Turner messed around and got a triple-doubleGeorge Karl needs a little patienceRajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle had a second angry exchange after the Mavs’ win on Tuesday … Mitch McGary is a hustler, homey … and the Suns will have new uniforms for Thursday’s game against the Thunder.

ICYMI: Rookie Markel Brown showed us that they may have picked the wrong Net for the dunk contest:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Markel Brown

Blogtable: Memories of Popovich …

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: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: The Spurs’ superstars reflect on what coach Gregg Popovich has meant to them

> He has 1,000 victories, multiple Coach of the Year awards, five NBA Championships … what’s the one thing (listed or otherwise) that stands out most in your mind about Gregg Popovich’s NBA coaching career?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’ll count down my top three Popovich thoughts. At No. 3, his maneuver to land Tim Duncan largely has been forgotten,but it was a tank job before people even called it tanking; David Robinson was hurt, so Popovich gassed then-coach Bob Hill and took over the coaching reins to make sure the Spurs had a legit lottery shot at their all-time franchise guy. Second, few coaches intimidated me as much when I first started covering him – I felt his early attack mode was driven at least partly by his own discomfort in those media exchanges – but now that we know each other, I look forward to the conversations (not mere interviews) we can have. And my No. 1 thing is Popovich’s resiliency. He went from defensive grinder to offensive innovator in mid-career to adjust to his roster, and he somehow turned the ultimate defeat in 2013 into the inspiration for yet another title with a group whose window allegedly had slammed shut.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: His unwavering dedication to doing whatever is in the long-term best interest of his players. It has cultivated an atmosphere of belief, loyalty, respect and those five championships.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNone of the above. Nothing speaks to his greatness more than the accomplishments you listed, but I have ways been struck by the emotional more than the tangible. Pop’s ability to know which players need more maturing and which can handle his fury (Tony Parker) is a quality that brings out the best. He has developed younger players, plugged in veterans, completely changed his team’s style of play and hired great assistants because Gregg Popovich knows people as well as he knows an X or an O.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, it’s hard to ignore his championships or longevity, both of which will be written on his coaching tombstone once he retires. But the other thing that strikes me most is his ability to avoid the relationship issues that hurts so many coaches, even the successful ones. With few exceptions, maybe Stephen Jackson in his second stint with the Spurs, I can’t think of any player who ran afoul of Popovich. That’s hard to pull off for a guy who isn’t afraid to, um, express himself.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Popovich often tells his players, “Get over yourself” and he clearly listens to his own advice, because, though he’s won multiple championships, he’s always been open-minded and willing to adjust as the game and his team have evolved. As Tim Duncan got older Tony Parker got better, the Spurs went from relying more on post-ups to relying more on pick-and-rolls. They picked up things from offenses from Europe and from Mike D’Antoni to eventually evolve into the machine we saw in last year’s Finals. And in the summer of 2012, they took a step back and used analytics to figure out how to get back to being a top-five defensive team, which was the biggest reason they got back to The Finals and, on their second try, won a fifth championship. Popovich is an old-school coach in many ways, but he’s smart enough to know that he’ll never stop learning.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The thing that stands out most in my mind about Pop is that he has always found a way to get the best out of guys who someone else either never believed in or gave up on. Boris Diaw is one of the best examples. I watched Boris struggle with his first steps in the league when the Hawks could not figure out what to do with him (was he a point guard or not?). The Spurs have gotten the very best out of Boris, thanks to Pop’s no-nonsense/tough-love approach. He’s a master at the most important part of the coaching game, getting you to operate at your absolute best, no matter what.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He established the standards of teamwork while bridging the NBA toward its ultimate future as an international league. The day will come – many years from now, but it’s definitely on the way – when Americans will account for less than half of the league’s players. Popovich showed that NBA teams could win not in spite of the international players, but because of them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: That he’s had exactly two head coaching jobs in his life. One at a Division III college, and then the one in the NBA where he’s won five titles and three Coach of the Year awards over two decades. Without naming names, there are coaches who bounce around and get opportunity after opportunity, and sure, sometimes it works and they finally find the right fit. But watching Pop’s success, and that of a guy like his longtime assistant Mike Budenholzer crushing it in his first head coaching gig, it makes me think that maybe there are times when it’s worth it to give the new guy a chance.