Posts Tagged ‘Warriors’

Blake suddenly back in playoff hunt

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

VIDEO: Golden State’s Steve Blake dishes it out

Coach Mike D’Antoni called Steve Blake into his Staples Center office approximately 90 minutes before tipoff against the Rockets on Feb. 19 to tell Blake the Lakers had just traded him to the Warriors. The full-court press of emotions started instantly.

Family concerns flashed first into Blake’s mind. How Kristin had essentially just become a single parent for at least two months, and probably longer, because their three boys had to stay in Southern California until the end of the school year. How he, Blake, would have the hurt of missing his wife and Nicholas, Jameson and Zachary, even if the Los Angeles-Oakland flight was a weekend hop compared to many other NBA relationships.

And then it hit him.

The playoffs. He would be going to the playoffs after all.

In that instant, Blake went from missing the postseason for the first time since 2010 to an important role in the playoffs as backup point guard on a team searching hard for depth, depth at point guard in particular, and someone who could be dependable with the ball. Perfect, then. The Warriors needed him as much as he needed them.

Blake was the farthest thing from anxious to get away from the Lakers, even in this 2013-14 of misery, but being swapped for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks provided an opportunity that would not have come otherwise. He would be on a club where every game, regular season and after, meant something, not playing out the string. Barring a collapse — Golden State is only two games ahead of No. 9 Dallas, but falling into the lottery would require being passed by the Grizzlies, Suns and Mavericks the final 11 contests — there would be a playoffs.

“I’m very grateful for that, to be on a great team,” Blake said. “If I was going to get traded, this is the ideal place to go to for me. I’m very grateful for that.”

Ideal location, only an hour in the air from the rest of the family, and ideal situation. It would be playing behind Stephen Curry, yes, and no one is more important to their postseason hopes than the starting point guard, but the backup for the Warriors is no ordinary backup. Jarrett Jack proved that last season by finishing a lot of games in a move that allowed Curry to play off the ball.

When Jack left for Cleveland in the summer as a free agent, Golden State hoped Toney Douglas could step into the role, with Andre Iguodala playing there as well in addition to starting at small forward. That didn’t happen. Turnovers piled up. The Warriors traded for Jordan Crawford, hoping he would be the answer. That didn’t happen either, with Crawford more of a shooting guard.

Enter a player with the experience of winning an NCAA championship at Maryland and 23 games of playoff time the last three seasons alone as a Laker, usually making sound decisions with the ball and making 3-pointers, a history that prompted his new coach, Mark Jackson, to say, “We know he is not afraid.” Then it was Golden State’s chance for an immediate reaction: Blake’s first 17 games have resulted in 59 assists and 16 turnovers in much-needed stability for an offense that too often gives away possessions, quickly making him a valuable part of the rotation even while shooting 40 percent.

“Big picture it was going from a disappointing season to a contender,” Blake said. “It’s a great feeling.”

It’s an unexpected opportunity to play beyond April 16.

Hall of Fame debate: Mitch Richmond

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Nicknamed 'The Rock', Mitch Richmond

Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, Mitch Richmond posted 21 ppg in 14 NBA seasons.

Mitch Richmond is a finalist for the Hall of Fame and solid candidate for Springfield, Mass., when inductees from the North American committee, the group that handles most candidates with NBA ties, are announced April 7 at the Final Four. But his name and career does not resonate today the same as contemporaries on the ballot, Alonzo Mourning as likely the leading candidate, former Warriors teammate Tim Hardaway with the perception advantage of starring with high-octane Golden State plus the glam of Miami, and Kevin Johnson with the boost of recent years in the news as mayor while partnering with David Stern to save professional basketball in Sacramento.

The Richmond legacy, meanwhile? As the M (Mitch) partnering with Hardaway and Chris Mullin, good friends to this day, in the Run TMC scoring festival in Golden State. That’s the image.

The Richmond truth? He was a Warrior only three seasons, the same time he spent in Washington and far behind the seven campaigns of running marathons on broken glass in bare feet with the Kings. Sacramento was his real career home base.

Sacramento was also where his Hall candidacy received his greatest boost, strange as it sounds with those three seasons of less than 30 wins and the four others of no more than 39. Never touching .500 or better than fifth place in the seven-team Pacific Division, it turns out decades later, has become one of the selling points for enshrinement.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond quickly became a household name as a member of the Warriors

Seven losing teams, seven chances for opponents to pull out the familiar refrain that the run of averaging 22 or 23 points a game was simply putting up big numbers on a bad team, and they cared not at all. Six times in those seven seasons, coaches put him on the All-Star team would it would have been easily understandable to run from anything connected to the Kings of the 1990s, not embrace it. Coaches putting him on that pedestal is a very loud statement.

Seven losing teams, seven chances for the media to pelt Richmond with the verbal stones of a supposed star getting Sacramento to the playoffs just once, the 39-43 Kings of 1995-96 that lost 3-1 to the SuperSonics in the first round, and still massive appreciation. He made second-team All-NBA in 1993-94 (on a 28-54 club), 1994-95 (39-43) and 1996-97 (34-48) and third-team in 1995-96 and 1997-98 (27-55).

Richmond averaged 21 points a game in 14 seasons with the Warriors, Kings, Bullets and Lakers, even with the 4.1 of the closing act of 2001-02 in Los Angeles, and had 10 years in a row of at least 21.9. He was a star as a junior and senior at Kansas State — college careers are weighed as well — and won gold (1996) and bronze (1988) with the U.S. Olympic team. There was also the 2002 NBA championship with the Lakers while Richmond logged 11.1 minutes in the regular season and four total minutes in two appearances in the playoffs.

“When I played with Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Run TMC, Sarunas Marciulionis, it was easy to play,” Richmond said. “I still got my points, but I played with players that made the game easier. It’s harder to play on a team that’s not winning and to try to keep that going when you know every guy is trying to trap you and bring in a whole defensive set for you. It’s more work. It’s not an easy thing. If I just roll over and don’t play well, then what? I’m a bust.

But I went out every night trying to do the best I can and trying to do my job. When you look at me, I wasn’t a selfish guy. I felt like I played hard, I played both ends of the floor. But sometimes you get with an organization that everything doesn’t click. That shouldn’t stop you from looking at a guy’s numbers different than if the guy was somewhere else.”

Richmond cites the reaching 20,000 points as the primary boost for the candidacy, but the bigger push in that regard is being 37th on the career scoring list when everyone ahead of him except Vince Carter is either already enshrined or an easy in when the time comes. There’s not even a debate on the others.

“I think I’m the only guy with 20,000 points that is not in the Hall of Fame,” Richmond said. “All the other guys are still playing, everybody else is in. And I think more than anything, even though I played on some rough teams, my peers understood that I tried to play both ends of the court. I hope that’s enough.”

Antawn Jamison, who may or may not be retired, and Tom Chambers are also past 20,000, but point taken. Richmond has a case.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond talks with NBA TV about his Hall of Fame nomination

Morning Shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s latest collapse cause of concern | Jackson’s ways should work in N.Y. | Wade’s historic shooting season | Davis puts on another show for Pels | Thompson works with a heavy heart

No. 1:  Repeated defensive collapses cause for serious concern — Forget about who was in street clothes (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) or who was in uniform but did not play (Russell Westbrook). The Oklahoma City have legitimate cause concern these days because they have apparently lost their defensive mojo since the All-Star break, struggling yet again to defend the way you expect an aspiring championship outfit to work on that end of the floor. What once looked like just a temporary glitch in the Thunder’s matrix is starting to look like something much more serious, as Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman detailed after the Dallas Mavericks worked the Thunder over:

Dallas 109, OKC 86, the Thunder’s worst home loss (23 points) since April 2009, the franchise’s inaugural season in the metro.

“The timeouts…well we didn’t need them at the end of the game,” Brooks joked.

Once again, as has been the case during this recent tailspin, the problems started on the defensive end.

Whether it was a lack of energy, lack of effort or lack of proper personnel — with three starters sidelined — the Thunder just couldn’t get nearly enough stops.

Dallas scored 29 points in the first quarter, 30 in the second and 32 in the third, grabbing and building what was a 21-point lead heading to a meaningless fourth.

Overall, the Mavericks shot 53 percent from the field and a scorching 13-of-24 from deep. Countless perimeter breakdowns led to uncontested jumpers and slow rotations allowed an array of easy buckets at the rim.

And as the steady flow of Maverick points piled up on Sunday night, the Thunder’s timeout huddles grew increasingly more animated. But that genuine displeasure didn’t translate to the court. When the ball was in play, there seemed to be a general disinterest.

“Seemed like we wasn’t there. We just coasted,” Kevin Durant said. “No excuse. None. We gotta figure it out. We’re pros. We gotta learn on the fly. All of us. We gotta act like we care.”

It’s déjà vu for a Thunder team that looked like it had solved its defensive woes the past two games, but instead reverted back to the plodding form that now has OKC 5-6 since the All-Star break.

“Just an overall theme of not good enough on the defensive end,” Nick Collison said. “I’d like to see us be a lot more consistent here finishing up the year.”


VIDEO: Thunder coaches and players discuss OKC’s home loss to the Mavericks

***

No. 2: Phil’s winning ways will work in New York, so says Scott Williams – If Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant spoke up on Phil Jackson‘s behalf, no one would be surprised. Alpha dogs sharing fond memories about the man who helped them to some of their greatest success  would be nothing out of the ordinary. But Jackson’s is routinely praised by all of who have played and worked under him, stars and role players alike. Milwaukee Bucks assistant and former Chicago Bulls big man Scott Williams is a staunch believer in Jackson’s powers, and he witnessed that power before the word Zen was ever used in relation to Jackson. While everyone waits to see what Jackson will do his his first days in charge of the Knicks, Williams is predicting big things, writes Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News:

“I knew Phil before he was the Zen Master,” Williams said. “Everyone sees the big, beautiful skyline of a career that he has, 11 (coaching) championships and all. I was there when they were still digging out the foundation, frustrated that they couldn’t get past the Pistons. We were hell-bent on getting the one seed in the conference just to get home court.”

Jackson, the architect of dynasties in Chicago and Los Angeles, will bring his towering legacy to midtown Manhattan Tuesday when he is introduced to his former city as president of the Knicks.

Once a free-spirited cog in Red Holzman’s wheel, Jackson will come full circle as he searches for answers to a riddle that has baffled all executives and coaches in recent years: How will he fix the Knicks?

Former players like Williams believe he will bring in smart basketball people who understand his system and vision.

“His championship pedigree, his intelligence, his creativity is a fresh approach to the game,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Williams recalled the early days of Jackson in Chicago, and noted that Jackson gained more confidence in his coaching as the Bulls became more comfortable with the triangle offense and the idea of “playing on a string,” a unique structure to the team that depended not only on Michael Jordan’s talents but the consistency within the moving parts.

“The game’s evolved now, there’s more banging now, but it was fun,” Williams said. “He gives you a lot of those tips from a guy who played 10 years in the league.”

There will be stress that comes with the job and dealing with Dolan, but Williams noted that Jackson’s willingness to study philosophy and psychology helped him build relationships.

“Ahead of the curve, not just barking at guys,” Williams said.


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what Phil Jackson must fix with the Knicks

***

No. 3: Where does Wade’s historic shooting season stack up? – No one is touting Dwyane Wade for postseason honors, not with his maintenance program garnering more headlines than his actual play this season. But Wade is putting together a historic season, nonetheless, one that has been largely overlooked … until now, thanks to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Jackson highlights Wade’s shooting performance this season, the best by a shooting guard in 3-point shot era. The fact that he’s doing it in the Heat’s Big 3 era makes it perhaps even more impressive:

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field –– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix’s Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade delivers in Miami’s win over Houston

***

No. 4: Davis shows off his brains as well as his talent on career night – Pelicans big man Anthony Davis has made a fantastic transition from college star to NBA All-Star. But it’s been more than just his raw talent and physical gifts. As was on display during his career-night against the Boston Celtics Sunday, Davis beats you as much his with his mind and his sky-high basketball IQ as he does anything else. Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune has the details from Davis and Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who has been instrumental in the development of the young star:

Davis, playing a career-high 48 minutes, scored a career-high 40 points and had a career-high 21 rebounds, marking the first time in franchise history anyone has ever reached that statistical feat. He also had three blocks, making him only the eighth player in NBA history to have at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in a game.

“When you go for those kind of numbers that’s a lot of God given talent,” Williams said.

And maybe even more important, Davis didn’t have any mental lapses down the stretch.

In fact, in the closing seconds of the game, Davis had the ball and an open lane to the basket. But instead, he pulled the ball out and passed to Anthony Morrow, who passed to Brian Roberts, as the Celtics tried to foul in an attempt to stop the clock.

It was a heady play, and the Pelicans ran out the clock to snap their two-game losing streak.

“That’s the kind of play that a younger guy probably would go and dunk the ball just to get two more points,” Williams said. “But we don’t need that. We don’t need to stop the clock.”

Immediately after the final buzzer, Davis looked to Williams and pointed his right index finger at his head, acknowledging to his coach he knew he had made the smart choice.

“I was letting him know that I have a little bit of basketball IQ,” Davis said jokingly. “Not much, just a little bit. Alexis (Ajinca, Pelicans center) was trying to tell me ‘I thought you were going to go and dunk it.’ But I know a little bit.

“I just know I wanted the game to be over with. I didn’t want to give them a chance to get another look off. So even if they would have fouled or I would have made the basket, they would have had probably three or four seconds to try and get a shot.”


VIDEO: Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had a career night in a win over the Celtics

***

No. 5: Emotional Thompson lifts Warriors at the end The Splash Brothers were on their mark throughout their unbelievable comeback win over Portland. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 64 points and two clutch 3-pointers (from Thompson) in a game that the Warriors trailed by 18 points before staging their furious rally. While it was a showcase for all involved and certainly for those who watched, it was an emotional night for Thompson, who worked with a heavy heart after attending the funeral of his grandfather before coming up with those late-game heroics. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson high-stepped toward halfcourt and greeted Draymond Green with a leaping shoulder bump.

“I’ve never seen him that emotional,” Warriors power forward David Lee said. “I even saw him actually pump his fist one time, which is more emotion than I’ve seen in two or three years combined.”

Thompson had plenty of reason to break from his usual stoicism, having left his grandfather’s funeral just in time to make the game and then knocking down two three-pointers in the closing minute to clinch a 113-112 victory over the Trail Blazers on Sunday at the Moda Center.

The third-year guard missed a game Friday for the first time in his career, snapping a franchise-record 214-game streak, and then took three flights from the Bahamas to get to Portland between 1 and 2 a.m. Sunday.

He certainly appeared fresh by the fourth quarter, when he scored 15 of his 27 points to complete the Warriors’ comeback from an 18-point deficit. With the score locked at 107-107 and 54 seconds remaining, Thompson drilled one three-pointer, and with the Warriors trailing 111-110 and 11.9 seconds left, Thompson hit another for the game-winner.

“We wanted to get this one for him,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had 37 points and joined Thompson in combining for 51 of the team’s 69 second-half points. “We understand that he’s been through a lot this week and traveled a lot of miles. He compartmentalized it for about two hours to come out and play, and that was big for us. We needed every play he made.”


VIDEO: Klay Thompson saves the day for Golden State in its win over Portland

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks have had enough of home after the longest home stretch any of them can remember … No one, and we mean NO ONE, does 50-win seasons like the San Antonio Spurs … Blake Griffin‘s game just keeps getting better, and that includes more than just his shooting touch and aggressiveness … The return of Eric Bledsoe has been great for the Suns, they’ve won two of three since he came back. But will it be enough to save their playoff hopes?  …

ICYMI of the Night: Jazz big man Derrick Favors is playing on a team that is struggling this season, but that hasn’t kept him from turning in his best season as a pro. He was particularly impressive in defeat against the San Antonio Spurs last night …


VIDEO: Derrick Favors shows off his goods against the Spurs

Hall of Fame debate: KJ vs. Hardaway


VIDEO: The Hardaways through the years

 

They played the same position (point guard) at the same time (late-1980s to early-2000s) at the same high level (All-Star appearances) and were teammates for a summer, so it’s easy to see the 24 anonymous voters stacking Tim Hardaway against Kevin Johnson among the Class of 2014 decisions, even if it isn’t actually a balloting one-on-one. Both could make it to Springfield, Mass., or both could miss. Neither outcome would be a surprise in a year with the opening of several credible candidates — but no automatic — among the eight finalists from the North American committee.

Johnson, on the ballot since 2011, made it out of the initial round of voting for the first time, forward progress that can equal optimism for candidates in the search for hints in a secret election process. Hardaway, meanwhile, can find hope in the sustained support of being a finalist for the second year in a row.

But head-to-head, as part of the analysis by the 24 voters?

Johnson: Played 1987-88 through 1999-2000 with the Cavaliers and Suns, with 1998-99 spent in retirement. Averaged 17.9 points, 9.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds. Finished in the top five in assists four times, the top 10 six times. Second-team All-NBA four times, third-team once. All-Star three times. No NBA titles, 105 playoff games. Most Improved Player in 1988-89. Won a gold medal with the United States at the 1994 world championships.

Hardaway: Played 1989-90 through 2002-03 with the Warriors, Heat, Mavericks, Nuggets and Pacers. Averaged 17.7 points, 8.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds. Finished in the top five in assists four times, the top 10 eight times. First-team All-NBA once, second-team three times, third-team once. All-Star five times. No NBA titles, 56 playoff games. First-team all-rookie. Won a gold medal with the United States at the 2000 Olympics and the 1994 world championships.

Johnson: Sixth all-time in assists per game. The five ahead of him are either in the Hall of Fame now (Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas) or will be (Chris Paul). Among the rest of the top 10, No. 8 Jason Kidd and No. 9 Steve Nash also will be, with No. 7 Deron Williams needing a big turnaround and No. 10 Rajon Rondo needing more time. Hardaway is 12th. That is a big boost to the KJ campaign, with the counterweight that Mark Jackson was third in total career assists and received so little support three years in a row that he dropped off the ballot.

Hardaway: In a historic time in NBA history for guards — Michael Jordan, Magic, Stockton, Gary Payton, with Kidd coming fast — Hardaway was the only one to get a first-team All-NBA. That was 1996-97, when he joined Jordan at the top, with Payton and Mitch Richmond, another finalist this year, second-team and Stockton and Penny Hardaway on the third tier. The one time they both made the honor role, 1992-92, Tim Hardaway was second-team, Kevin Johnson third-team. (The three years before that, KJ made second when the only guards ahead of him where Magic and Jordan. Ranking high on the Best of the Rest level in that era has always been one of the unique selling points for Kevin Johnson in the Hall.)

Same position and same era — that’s a great compare and contrast for the Hall panelists heading toward the April 7 announcement of inductees, with 18 of 24 needed to join David Stern (Contributor), Sarunas Marciulionis (International), Bob Leonard (ABA), Guy Rodgers (Veterans) and Nat Clifton (Early African American Pioneers) as previously disclosed members of the Class of 2014. Spencer Haywood, Alonzo Mourning, Richmond and college coaches Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams are the other finalists from the North American committee.

Season On The Brink For The Hawks?

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Atlanta Hawks vs. Magic

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled to keep up their early-season success of late.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sooner or later, one way or another, you knew it was all going to catch up with the Atlanta Hawks.

The injuries.

The close losses.

The missed opportunities.

The injuries.

They weren’t going to stay above the fray in the Eastern Conference mix behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat forever. Not without Al Horford. Not with coach Mike Budenholzer pushing every button possible to make up for the loss of the team’s franchise player after his season-ending pectoral muscle tear the day after Christmas.

It’s amazing it took this long for the wheels to come off for the Hawks. They held on to their top-four status in the East for a good month after Horford went down. Jeff Teague played his guts out before injuries interrupted his season and he hasn’t been as consistent since. Elders like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and pups like Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack rose up when they were needed. Paul Millsap even earned an All-Star nod, the first of his career, stepping into the void to replace what Horford gave the Hawks on a nightly basis.

But here they are now, with the smoke clearing and the mirrors smashed, facing their most grueling stretch of the calendar with their season on the brink as they cling to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Wednesday night’s game in Boston begins a season-defining road stretch that includes stops in Phoenix Sunday, Portland (March 5), Golden State (March 7), Los Angeles (the Clippers on March 8) and finishing up in Utah (March 10). Survive this stretch and there is still hope that the Hawks can get healthy enough in time to at least fend off late-season charges from issue-laden Detroit, Cleveland and even woeful New York.

If the Hawks get buried on this road trip, they’ll surely get caught (and be passed up) by one of those teams. Not that they are looking that far ahead.

“You never should look ahead that far,” forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We’re just trying to get better and trust the system and let our work do the talking.”


VIDEO:
Al Horford suffers a season-ending pectoral injury in Cleveland

The power of positive thinking might not save the Hawks this time around. They overachieved early this season and their above-.500 work through early February was fool’s gold. The Hawks are 2-9 this month and don’t exactly boast a road reputation that gives reason to think this big trip will end well.

They are 9-19 on the road with wins over the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Of that group, only the Bobcats are in the playoff mix.

The only saving grace for the Hawks is that they are not alone. Every team in the Eastern Conference not named the Pacers or Heat have to operate like their season is on the line over the course of the next four to six weeks. That’s how fluid the playoff picture is. Whoever gets hot the fastest can chew up some real estate in the standings and push their way into that No. 4-5-6-7 mix in the pecking order.

“We talked about that Monday in our meeting after the [Sunday loss to Miami],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, taking his cue from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Thibs said it best, we cannot exhale right now. We have to push through these next couple of games and weeks because this next stretch can alter your season and what you want to do if you let the fatigue of the season get to you. We look at the loss columns for everybody and we feel like we’re right there. You have to bounce back from tough losses and get back at it. Miami and Indiana have separated themselves from the pack, so everybody else has to be fighting for that next spot, that No. 3 seed. And we’re grinding for it right now.”

The Bulls are also grinding without the face of their franchise, Derrick Rose. They’ve surely dealt with their fair share of injuries and adversity this season. But some teams handle it better than others. They are 16-8 since trading Luol Deng to Central Division rival Cleveland. While the Hawks struggle to dig out from under their February avalanche, the Bulls surge along.

Thibodeau oozes confidence when talking about his wounded group, insisting that they have more than enough to get the job done each night. The Bulls’ experience operating under duress in recent seasons certainly aids that cause. Their familiarity with one another (and Thibodeau’s hard-charging style) are assets as well.

The Hawks, with a first-year coach in Budenholzer and a largely revamped roster, have no such benefits. General manager Danny Ferry had a chance to look for some temporary roster help at the trade deadline, but didn’t come away with anything that would make a significant impact.

The fact is, the Hawks are still finding out if they are cut from that same tough fabric the Bulls are. Time will tell. And time, particularly the next 13 days or so, will tell about these Hawks. They are 10-17 without Horford and their confidence seems to be fading.

“The interesting thing about the East,” Hawks veteran guard Lou Williams said, “and I’m trying to say the politically correct thing here … a couple of wins in a row here and you’ll be right back in the fold. We recognize and understand that. So our job is just go out, take it one game at a time and see if we can put a string of wins together and get there.”

That’s much easier said than done at this juncture for the Hawks, who can hear the clock ticking on their season.


VIDEO: The Hawks fight back, but can’t finish off the Bulls in Atlanta

Warriors Get Stephen Curry Some Relief


VIDEO: Curry helps Warriors knock off Kings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The world changed a little more Wednesday night, when the Lakers of all people officially became a team to circle and peck at, just as L.A. picked off so many other teams’ players in seasons past to gear up for its playoff runs.

That it was the Warriors capitalizing on L.A.’s status was not a surprise. The Lakers wanted to dump salary to get away from the luxury tax, Golden State had exceptions that allowed it to make deals without sending equal salary in return, and the Warriors were going to be aggressive leading to the trade deadline on Thursday. It’s what they do, period, but more than that, this time it’s what they know they had to do coming out of the All-Star break at 31-22 and unexpectedly at the back of the Western Conference playoff pack.

This was a precision strike that would have made the old Lakers proud. The Warriors, not merely making a second deal in a little more than a month to bolster the bench, added an experienced reserve who would benefit a starter most of all.

As if Stephen Curry – expert shooter, improving ball handler leading the league in assists, All-Star, probably the Northern California guy who won the $400-million Powerball drawing Wednesday – doesn’t have enough going for him.

The Warriors acquiring Steve Blake from the Lakers for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks in a Los Angeles salary dump is another projected boost for the bench. It also allows Curry to stay fresh now, which is especially bad news for the rest of the league.

For more than a month, Curry had been alluding to the effects of playing more point guard than before, meaning more ball screen duties, extra running and the increased attention from defenses following Jarrett Jack‘s offseason move to Cleveland via free agency. He was feeling it at 37.7 minutes per game, tied fifth in the league, as the drain began to evolve into an issue that could threaten the Warriors in the playoffs. And still Curry was at 24.6 points and 9.0 assists per game while shooting 46.3 percent overall and 41.5 behind the arc.

The first proposed answer, Toney Douglas in the summer as a free agent, was ineffective and eventually traded as part of a three-team deal that delivered the next proposed answer, Jordan Crawford. Crawford provided 16.8 minutes off the bench, but was mostly a shooting guard stretching to play the point off the bench, just as the Celtics had used him, mostly as a starter, earlier in the season to patchwork the hole until Rajon Rondo came back from a knee injury.

Blake, though, is more a point guard who can play off the ball as well and an experienced, playoff-tested backup. A much better fit behind Curry, in other words, while also being able to play with Curry in a backcourt that would allow Klay Thompson to rest.

“In a specific way, you’re adding a tough, kind of experienced player any team would do, no matter what the position,” general manager Bob Myers said at halftime of what became a 101-92 win over the Kings at Sleep Train Arena, not long after the trade became official in the second quarter. “But certainly Curry’s played a lot of minutes, Klay’s played a lot of minutes. We made a deal for Jordan Crawford. He’s been very good in the time that we’ve had him. We think this just bolsters the bench. It gives us so more options, so more weapons, in a player that you know when you give him the ball you can trust him. We just think it was a chance to improve our roster. That was the justification.”

Right on cue, Curry played 36 minutes Wednesday, making just five of 14 shots but contributing eight assists without a turnover.

“It depends on how coach wants to play the lineups,” Curry said of the new options. “I assume that he’ll (Blake) have that responsibility and we’ll be able to play together in some spots and be able to provide an extra ball handler. Definitely there’s a reason they made that trade, so we’ll see how it works out.”

Additionally, the Warriors are not necessarily done doing business before Thursday’s trade deadline. They were known Wednesday night to still be pursuing options, albeit with the sense that nothing was imminent.

Time To Step It Up For The Stretch Run


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the challenges facing the Knicks

Now that the slam dunking, 3-point shooting and other wretched excess of NBA All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror, even those of us who aren’t 7-footers can stand on our tip-toes and see the playoffs from here.

There’s jockeying the standings to be done: Races for the No. 1 seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference, the long-shot hopefuls trying to sneak in at the No. 8 spot and the down-to-the-wire elbowing for home-court advantage in the first round.

While Kobe Bryant continues driving himself to make it back onto the court this season because, well, he’s Kobe Bryant, there are a handful of other players and teams who need to step up their games coming down the homestretch:

Deron Williams — After a slow start a year ago, Williams found his stride and finished strong, averaging 22 points and 10 assists per game in the second half of the season. While the Nets have picked themselves out of the bottom of the garbage heap of the East to climb into the No. 7 spot in the standings thanks to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett finally starting to come around, the most expensive roster in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Williams can’t bounce back again and lead them. Is it the ankles? Is it the lack of confidence that he has mentioned? Or is he simply at the end of the line as an elite level point guard in his ninth season? Williams has scored 20 points just once since Jan. 4 and has only two games of handing out double-digit assists in 2014. He was even challenged to a 1-on-1 duel by coach Jason Kidd at a recent practice to try to light a spark.

Carmelo Anthony — He doesn’t show an interest in defense and, yes, he can turn Knicks games into a circus where he’s in the center ring and everyone else watches him hog the spotlight and the ball. Yet if it weren’t for Anthony carrying the offensive load, New York would be buried deeper in the standings. His PER of 24.61 is the second best of his career. Even at 20-32, the Knicks are within striking range in the East and Anthony is going to have to find a way to lift up his teammates — and save the job of coach Mike Woodson — rather than just outshine them before going into his summer of free agency. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith stopped his clown show and got back to playing basketball at least part time.

Timberwolves — The clock is ticking. Not just on another season when the Wolves were supposed become a playoff team that is slipping away. It could — and should — be ticking loudly on the end of Kevin Love in Minnesota. Two more seasons until Mr. Double-Double can fly out of the icy north to a landing some place where they actually do more than just talk about making the playoffs. Healthy again, Love is back to putting up big numbers. Yes, he’s faltered at times down the stretch as the Wolves have lost a ton of close games. But it really is a case of not having a supporting cast around him that has shown much inclination for improvement. That’s you, Ricky Rubio. Reports have said G.M. Flip Saunders is willing to trade anybody on the roster except Love in an attempt to keep him in Minnesota. But as another year comes off the calendar, you have to wonder if it isn’t already too late.

Manu Ginobili — Sidelined since the end of the January with a strained hamstring, the San Antonio firecracker is scheduled to jump back into the lineup this week. He’s not on this list due to underperforming but for how much the Spurs need him back in their lineup to get the fire burning again. Tony Parker got a chance to get a head start on his All-Star break because he has simply looked worn out this season after going all the way to The Finals last June and then playing for the French national team in EuroBasket. Tim Duncan is showing more and more of his age at times and there are rumors that he is thinking of retiring at the end of the season. The Spurs have played miserably against the top contenders in the West — just a single win over a Clippers lineup without Chris Paul. They need Ginobili to come back strong and healthy and durable to be considered real playoff contenders again.

Andre Iguodala — When the Warriors brought him in from Denver, the belief was that he’d upgrade the roster at both ends of the floor. They figured he’d be the slashing, penetrating force of the past, adding another scoring option and helping Stephen Curry distribute the ball and being a solid wing defender. While he’s helped move the ball and been solid on defense, the problem has been a lack of offensive production. He’s scoring just 9.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season in Philly. The Warriors don’t need him to challenge Curry or Klay Thompson as a big gun every night, but occasional flashes of firepower will be necessary if the team hopes to climb out of the No. 8 spot in the West and reach the preseason goal of a top four finish. Iguodala has scored 20 points only once since the opening week of the season.

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls – Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

MVP Ladder: Spicy Curry Stays Hot!



VIDEO: There was no snubbing Stephen Curry for the Western Conference All-Star team this time around

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Golden State Warriors entered this season with sky-high expectations, both internal and external. It’s no secret that they have struggled to get a handle on them. But that hasn’t kept Stephen Curry from doing his thing.

The man NBA TV’s Dennis Scott likes to call “Spicy” Curry has been hot even when the Warriors go cold, piling up 14 games in which he has scored 30 or more points. He had 12 all of last season. And there is no All-Star snub to speak of this season with Curry voted in by the fans, rightfully so, as a starter on the Western Conference team. He’s also featured prominently, as he has been all season, on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Curry was at his very best Thursday night on TNT, when he shredded the Chicago Bulls for 34 points (on 13-for-19 shooting), 9 assists and 3 rebounds in a much-needed win for a Warriors team that had been reeling on its home floor, losing five of their last seven games heading into the game.

Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge make up the top five of the Ladder this week. But Curry is pushing to join them at No. 6.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


Griffin’s, Clips’ Rise (Sans Paul) Impresses




VIDEO: Join in on the high-flying fun that is Blake Griffin’s ridiculous highlights

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In just about any other field, a month like the one Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin has put together would result in one of those employee of the month plaques that hang on an office wall.

Griffin will have to settle for knowing that whatever corner that needed to be turned without Chris Paul in the lineup has been turned, because an insane month from Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, not to mention a monster first month of 2014 from Portland Trail Blazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, has cast a huge shadow over the work of all others.

Still, it’s hard to be anything but extremely impressed with what Griffin has done since Paul went down with a shoulder injury Jan. 3. His January numbers alone, heading into tonight’s showdown against the Golden State Warriors (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), should force his critics to take another look at the master of highlights and recognize the evolution of his game.

Griffin is playing as well as anyone in a crowded field of quality power forwards, a group headlined by Aldridge, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Golden State’s David Lee and Miami’s Chris Bosh (who is often left off the short list due to the diminished statistical impact he has on a team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the first two options).

And tonight’s matchup against the Warriors gives him a chance to take another shot at a team that has worked overtime to get under his skin and test the Clippers’ mental and intestinal fortitude every chance they get. Griffin and Warriors forward Draymond Green were both ejected from the Warriors’ 105-103 win in Oakland on Christmas.

Griffin has been on an absolute tear since then. He scored 75 points in the two games immediately after that Christmas Day debacle and has destroyed the competition the past month, averaging 25.6 points on 56 percent shooting to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 74 percent from the free throw line.

Perhaps even more startling (and impressive) is that the Clippers lead the league in offensive efficiency since Paul, widely regarded as the league’s most complete floor general, went down. And that was earned against a stiff level of competition that included more top 10 defensive teams (6) than bottom 10 defensive teams (5) during their current run.

All of that is a credit to Griffin as well, now that the offense runs through him more than any other player on the roster. There is no doubt Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick have all stepped up in Paul’s absence. Clippers coach Doc Rivers is touting DeAndre Jordan as an All-Star, and it’s not just hyperbole. Jordan has been spectacular and leads the league in both field goal shooting and rebounding as of today.

“We have a lot of really good players and sometimes guys like Jamal, J.J., DJ some of these guys don’t get the credit they deserve,” Griffin said after Wednesday night’s win over the Washington Wizards. “They are more than capable. I think that’s what we’ve learned about our team, guys will step up and accept challenges and rise to the occasion.”

There is no denying that Griffin’s rise has been the ultimate difference maker for this team, particularly with Paul out of the mix for as long as he has been missing from the lineup.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks CP3 and the Clippers after a win ove the Wizards