Posts Tagged ‘Warriors’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 202) featuring Charles Barkley

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Charles Barkley is not afraid to admit when he’s wrong.

He just can’t remember the last time he was actually wrong about something.

Like many of us, though, he couldn’t have predicted the Final Four field facing off for the right to play for the NBA title, well at least not three of the four teams.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers making the Eastern Conference finals is by no means a surprise. But their opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, and the two teams in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, weren’t on everyone’s preseason list to make it this far. Those slots were supposed to be reserved for the blue bloods, the franchises used to working this late in a season, not these upstarts from around the league.

Stephen Curry and James Harden, the top two finishers in the voting for the KIA MVP award and now the combatants at the center of the Western Conference finals, had other ideas.

So did Al Horford and those three other All-Stars the Hawks will deploy against James and his crew in the Eastern Conference finals. The revolution will be televised this year and who better to analyze it all than the biggest star of TNT’s Inside the NBA crew, who joins us on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley.

Dive in to see who we all think comes out on the other side of a heated Final Four round of the NBA Playoffs on Episode 202 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Charles Barkley …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Think you are clowning Chuck? Keep dreaming!

Morning Shootaround — May 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals | Doc’s message to the Clippers | LeBron at his best? | Hawks and Josh Smith in conference finals

No. 1: Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals — The righteous rally from that 3-1 series deficit came with the fairly tale ending the Houston Rockets imagined, complete with the unusual suspects providing many of the highlights. But no one should dismiss the obstacles and adversity the Rockets faced in storming to three straight wins in their Western Conference semifinal showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. Our very own Fran Blinebury, a man who chronicled past championship teams in Houston, puts the accomplishments of this current Rockets crew in context:

The Rockets didn’t just return to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades. They did it in the very same manner as their famous forebears, with the kind of escape worthy of the Great Houdini.

Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series. They stood with their toes dangling over the edge of the cliff for three straight games and never felt their knees buckle.

Down by 19 points with less than 15 minutes to play in Game 6, they never blinked.

Son of Clutch City. Clutch City Jr. Clutch City 2.0. Pick your descendant.

“There’s only a handful of teams that have done that,” said the resurrected MVP runner-up James Harden after 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the clincher. “We were locked in since being down 3-1. We just said one game, one game, one game.”

When it finally came down to that one game — Game 7 — on a throwback Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center, they grabbed it by the neck from the opening tip and weren’t going to let go until the Clippers ultimately surrendered and the 113-100 victory was complete.

Harden attacked at the offensive end. Dwight Howard was tall and ferocious at the defensive end and every other player that coach Kevin McHale ran out onto the court kicked in his own contribution in some way. International veteranPablo Prigioni, on his 38th birthday, was every bit as important as either of the two marquee stars with his steals and his hustle and his relentless smarts.

This kind of comeback, this kind of emotional turnaround, doesn’t happen without a total buy-in from every single man on the roster. There cannot be a weak link, a single crack in the wall that allows doubt to leak through.

“The guys that we have in this locker room, it’s easy to get down 19 on the road and then just give in and say, ‘Maybe next year,’ ” Harden said. “But I think the injuries this year, throughout the entire year, it’s kind of made us fight through adversity no matter what. So we’ve always been short, down a man It’s always finding a way to get through, finding a way to fight it.”

That the overwhelming capper came just seven days after the Rockets had been whipped and beaten down and humiliated in Game 4 at Los Angeles to dig their 3-1 hole was surprising. That it came at the end of three straight desperation games was positively shocking. And it could be another two decades before another Rockets team — or any other, for that matter — matches that electric comeback.

“It just tells us that we are capable of winning three games in a row,” said McHale. “The guys in there just had a lot of fight and we don’t get to this if not for Trev [Ariza], [Corey] Brew[er], Josh [Smith], Dwight and Jet [Jason Terry]. What they put on in that fourth quarter in Game 6 was amazing. That 40-15 run, you don’t see that very often and I’ve been in this league for a long time.”

***

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Morning shootaround — May 17




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

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

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

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

***

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

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

As the folks at Ohio.com reported:

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Santa Cruz to host 2016 Showcase

The NBA Development League is finalizing plans to return to Santa Cruz, Calif., for the 2016 Showcase, the annual gathering of every team for several days of games that draws front offices from around the NBA and overseas as a scouting bonanza.

Final details need to be resolved. But barring unexpected complications, an announcement is expected within about six weeks.

The D-League had considered rotating the Showcase among different cities each year, similar to the NBA with All-Star weekend, and also weighed making Las Vegas the semi-permanent home as the latest strengthening of ties with the NBA. Both scenarios will likely remain as options for future years, but D-League officials received so much positive feedback after Santa Cruz hosted the 2015 event in January that it was the only destination that appeared to receive serious consideration.

Santa Cruz, the home of the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate, is about 75 miles south of San Francisco on California’s Central Coast. The site received high marks from visitors for the gym, Kaiser Permanente Arena, the many dining options within walking distance during breaks and the organizing by the host team. It didn’t hurt that temperatures in January were usually in the 70s during the days with abundant sunshine.

The Santa Cruz Warriors also won the D-League championship in April.

Morning Shootaround — May 15


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Thursday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets say they are ready to go all the way | LeBron an underdog … never | Pierce’s bravado versus Horford’s grit | Warriors get defensive to turn series around

No. 1: Rockets say they are ready to go all the way — An epic comeback is one thing. But what the Houston Rockets played and lived through last night in Los Angeles was something bigger, at least that’s what it felt like on the inside (from the 2:29 mark of the third quarter until the end it was the Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and the rest of the crew’s show minus James Harden). Rallying from that monstrous deficit and staving off elimination in the conference semifinals was just the first step to much, much bigger things, according to Corey Brewer. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle witnessed the madness:

As the Rockets took off, the Clippers crumbled. They missed 15-consecutive fourth-quarter shots, many coming at the rim or on rushed, but open jumpers. They made just 4 of 22 shots in the fourth quarter with Chris Paul tacking on a 3 at the buzzer as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

“They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch,” Blake Griffin said. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things. Got to be better.
“You could tell we kind of got stunned, and we didn’t respond well.”

When the Clippers were rolling, Griffin had put the exclamation point on their run with a 360-degree spin in the air on a layup. He was 12 of 15 for 28 points after three quarters, then missed all five of his fourth-quarter shots.

“There was times where it just seemed like everything was going their way,” Howard said. “Blake hit 360, 180, I don’t know what it was, and I said, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But we pulled together, we just kept saying we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to give up, we done come too far just to end it like this, and we just kept fighting.

“Josh hit some big shots. Everybody played great tonight, and we never quit. That’s why we got the win tonight. We kept believing, no matter how tough it got out there, because there was some rough times out there. As a team, we never gave up on each other.

The Clippers did not give up. There was not time for that. But they did break down, missing the sort of shots that had built the lead and led to the blowouts over the weekend.

“You know, I thought we were trying to run the clock out, and we stopped playing,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “They kept playing, and then once it got to eight, you could just feel it.

“I don’t think they thought that they had the game in the bag. I thought they thought, we walk the ball up the floor. I thought we got very tentative offensively, very few people even wanted to shoot in stretches, and you know, it happens. But it’s awful to watch. It’s awful for our team, and we have to figure out in the next 48 hours how to get them back, because we can’t get this one back. We gave this one away. There’s no doubt about that.”

Whether the Clippers gave it away, the Rockets took it or some combination of both, the teams head to Sunday’s Game 7 rolling in opposite directions. As Game 6 demonstrated, that does not mean much.

“I played in a lot of games in my life and you can get the vibe of games and think you have the chance to win,” Brewer said. “Like Trevor (Ariza) said at the beginning of the fourth – he said we are going to win a championship, but we have to win this game first.

“If we win this game right now, that’s how you become a champion.”

***

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 201) Survive And Advance

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Survive and advance.

That is the phrase all of the teams still alive in the NBA playoffs should have plastered on those shirts splashed across the seats in the arena on game day.

Survive and advance. It’s what the best of the best do on the rugged road that leads to The Finals.

Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and LeBron James — buzzer-beater heroes for their respective teams over a wild playoff weekend — know exactly what we’re talking about on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive and Advance.

It’s the same attitude James Harden must have if the KIA MVP runner-up wants his season to continue beyond tonight’s Game 5 showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. The same attitude KIA MVP Stephen Curry showed in the Golden State Warriors’ season-saving Game 4 win in Memphis against a Grizzlies team that had Curry and his screw on the edge heading into that pivotal tilt.

The aesthetics are meaningless at this stage of the season.

No one really cares if you win big or win in style.

The only thing that matters is that you survive and advance to the next round.

Tune in to see who we think will accomplish that goal on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive And Advance

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Three buzzer-beaters to end three consecutive Eastern Conference semifinal games highlighted a wild playoff weekend

Did MVP excitement hurt the Warriors?

OAKLAND — There was the game Sunday afternoon, the announcement Monday morning that Stephen Curry won the MVP race, the press inference Monday afternoon with every Warriors player and coach in attendance, more MVP questions at shootaround Tuesday afternoon and again pre-game Tuesday night and a repeat trophy presentation just before tipoff, this time with commissioner Adam Silver.

And then the Warriors had to be ready for a playoff game.

They lost to the Grizzlies 97-90 while not only being outplayed but while looking disjointed with 20 turnovers. Curry made just seven of 19 shots, including two of 11 three-pointers. Some coincidence.

“It was weird,” Curry said. “That is the best way I can put it. It’s obviously my first time experiencing (it), as well as for my teammates. You want to stay in the moment and kind of stay focused on what the task is during the game. But obviously with the extracurricular stuff with the MVP and all of that, the celebration, and just change of routine to lead up to a game, it’s different. I don’t know if that’s a huge reason why we lost or not. But I think when we started the game, we felt like, oh, we’re ready to go. But it has been a long 48 hours. A lot of words, a lot of pictures, a lot of celebrating the accomplishment. Obviously, we didn’t get it done tonight, but we’ll be able to bounce back. I think the rest of the next three days will be huge to kind of rejuvenate ourselves and understand what we need to do to get a win in Memphis and try to make it happen.”

Coach Steve Kerr wasn’t buying it — “I don’t think so,” he replied when asked whether the MVP celebrations were a factor. “It shouldn’t be. But historically in this league you see this kind of stuff once in a while. But it shouldn’t matter.  You can’t do anything about it. You just have to go play. And I didn’t think it affected us, but, I mean, what affected us really was Memphis outplaying us.” His players, though, or at least the player at the center of attention, were clearly feeling the distraction.

Coincidence or not, the Warriors looked unusually out of sync in losing Game 2, beyond being outplayed by an opponent that handled the emotions of the playoffs much better. Memphis was looking at the possibility of an 0-2 deficit that almost certainly would have spelled eventual elimination considering the opponent, got a surge with the return of Mike Conley, and yet it was the Grizzlies who played with control.

“Yeah, I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Kerr said after the Warriors lost at home for the first time since Jan. 27 and only the third time all season. “That was the biggest issue. We were in such a rush. It’s a 48‑minute game. It takes an eternity to win an NBA game. I felt like we were in the middle of the second quarter, and it felt like desperation out there. We were too emotional.  We were too quick with our intention to score. Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own. I thought there was actually a pretty good stretch the middle of the second quarter where we seemed to get our bearings.

“Then the last few minutes of that second quarter we sort of lost control again, and that was the key point of the game to me. We had some open shots. We had a weird fast break that should have been a lay‑up that I think would have tied the game. Turned into a traveling call on Shaun (Livingston), which was a weird call, but that shouldn’t have mattered. We would have had a lay‑up at that point. We missed a couple of shots, and we didn’t handle our business in the last few minutes of the second quarter, and then now all of a sudden we’re scrambling again. They deserve to win. They kicked our butts.  They controlled the whole game, and we have to learn from this. We were not poised and we did not play well.”

How much of that was because of the Golden State mindset and how much was because Memphis played with greater intensity than in Game 1?

“It was both,” Kerr said. “They played a great game. Draymond (Green) picked up the two quick fouls early, which hurt us.  They scored inside. Zach (Randolph) got going, and so it was a combination. Mike Conley coming back, obviously made a big impact. (He) had a great game.  Like I said, this is the playoffs, so this is how it works, and we didn’t play well enough to win.”

Grizzlies need help beyond Conley


VIDEO: Mike Conley describes his facial injury

OAKLAND — The Grizzlies head into Game 2 against the Warriors tonight knowing the return of Mike Conley is a possibility but certain they need more help from the perimeter on offense — whether Conley returns or not.

Actually, Memphis needs offense, period, after scoring 86 points in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday in a loss that came despite big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph scoring 21 and 20, respectively. The rest of the roster  combined for 45 points while making three-of-12 attempts behind the arc, prompting coach Dave Joerger to note “we’ve got to get a third scorer, especially from the perimeter to try to find a way to get Courtney Lee free to get some more looks.”

Lee is the obvious potential solution for the Grizzlies, a threat on 3-pointers who only managed three attempts in Game 1, missing two, while going four of nine from the field overall. If Conley plays, an uncertainty, and if he gets close to his regular-season level after missing three games in a row with facial fractures and subsequent surgery, he can help in that department as well.

“He’s a real pick-and-roll threat, he’s a threat in transition to go end to end,” Joerger said. “He also shoots a high percentage from three, especially as a catch-and-shoot guy…. We’re going to have to keep cutting, we’re going to have to knock down some shoots from the perimeter.”

The Grizzlies have listed Conley as questionable for tonight at Oracle Arena, an upgrade from doubtful the day before. He increased his activity at Monday’s practice and by shootaround on Tuesday was a possibility for the opening lineup. Nick Calathes had a bad showing as the Game 1 starter, leaving Joerger to consider going without a point guard for stretches. Beno Udrih is another option.

Also tonight, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, named MVP on Monday, will be presented the trophy again in a pregame ceremony.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 200): Cinco De Playoffs!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s a holiday.

Pick one.

Cinco De Mayo … Taco Tuesday … the NBA’s conference semifinals on both sides of the playoff conference divide are upon us.

Whatever you do tonight and for the foreseeable future, you’ve got the playoffs to enjoy. And so far, there have been no disappointments.

The newly minted KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, are making sure of it. Same goes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and (soon to show up) J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers; Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls; John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards; Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul (as soon as he returns from resting that hamstring) of the Los Angeles Clippers; Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks, James Harden, Dwight Howard and … ah, you get the point.

Instead of focusing on who is not coming to our Cinco De Playoffs party, we’re focusing on those who are present on Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast. And despite a tremendous marketing campaign to the contrary, there are plenty of guys interested in playing hero this time of year. In fact, it’s a right of passage.

So whoever you root for, wherever you are, pull up a seat and join us for Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast: Cinco De Playoffs?

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Stephen Curry is your new KIA MVP

Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s playoff action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets | Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason | Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? | Parade plans being made in Golden State

No. 1: The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets — Even with Chris Paul “questionable” for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are confident. They have an edge, of sorts, over the Rockets, according to Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times:

After edging the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Clippers have advanced to face a team with a lesser recent playoff pedigree than themselves.

The Houston Rockets have won two playoff series since 1997, one fewer than the Clippers have won since Chris Paul arrived in December 2011.

It’s true that Rockets guard Jason Terry won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and stars James Harden and Dwight Howard each advanced to the Finals with other teams, but the group has done little collectively besides getting past the Mavericks in a relatively breezy first-round series this season.

The Rockets and Clippers each won 56 games in the regular season, finishing tied for the league’s third-best record. The Rockets were awarded the second seeding in the Western Conference and the accompanying homecourt advantage in this conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Clippers by virtue of winning the Southwest Division.

The Clippers have dominated Houston in recent seasons, winning 11 of the last 14 games. But the Rockets won the final two games between the teams this season and Howard did not play in any of the four games in the series this season.

“Obviously, they have a good thing going,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas and really all the way down the line. They’re a great team.”

***

No. 2: Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason — The standard for toughness and determination in this postseason, at least in the Eastern Conference, is the Washington Wizards. Playing on the road to start both their first round series and the conference semifinals, the Wizards remain unblemished, perfect after five games. They are the embodiment of toughness, says Mike Lee of The Washington Post:

Bradley Beal and John Wall showed up at the postgame podium looking as if they had just been sparring for 12 rounds instead of playing basketball for four quarters. Beal had petroleum jelly covering two scratches under his right eye that came after Atlanta Hawks reserve guard Kent Bazemore inexplicably kicked him in the face while chasing down a loose ball. Wall had his left wrist and hand heavily taped after an awkward landing that was exacerbated by Beal tripping and falling on him.

At different times during the Washington Wizards’ 104-98 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Beal and Wall provided moments of spectacular play and trepidation for a team that suddenly doesn’t know how to lose. Beal matched his playoff career high with 28 points, his third 20-point game this postseason. Wall added 18 points and a game-high 13 assists , extending a string of four consecutive double-doubles that has seen him dish out 55 assists over those games. Beal and Wall have been a representation of the mental and physical toughness required to win at this time of year, having already led the Wizards to more postseason wins in the past two seasons than the previous 27 seasons combined.

“We two guys that’s going to fight until the end,” Wall said after winning at Philips Arena for just the second time in his career and first time this season. “If it ain’t broke, you can’t get us off the court.”

The win almost felt bittersweet after Beal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter when he landed awkwardly on Hawks center Al Horford. Beal returned to hobble around for a few minutes but finally got benched, pulled a towel over his head and sobbed uncontrollably as the final seconds ticked off. He continued to weep through a postgame television interview and on his way for X-rays , which turned out negative. With a protective sleeve on his right leg, Beal walked with a slight limp after the game, and Coach Randy Wittman was uncertain about Beal’s availability for Game 2.

***

No. 3: Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? — No Kevin Love. No J.R. Smith (for the first two games). Some think that’s a “no go” for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight against the Chicago Bulls. But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might have something to say about that. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer raises some questions and provides some answers as this long awaited series gets ready for tip off:

1. It’s impossible to know how the Cavs will play in the first two games. Once General Manager David Griffin made his two deals in January, J.R. Smith sat out only one game with the Cavs. That was a 117-78 loss to Boston when the Cavs rested most of their key players, a game meaning nothing. So it’s only this game where we’ll see what the Cavs look like without Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Smith (two-game suspension).

2. That’s why it’s so hard to know how the Cavs will perform against the Bulls. It’s great to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they give your team a chance in nearly every game. But the Bulls are a tall team, and they also have some skilled scorers. I’m very, very worried about this matchup.

3. The 6-foot-10 Love would have been a big deal in the Bulls series. He probably would have been defended by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol — pulling one of the Bulls big men away from the basket. Coach David Blatt loves a power forward — “a Stretch-4″ — who can shoot. That’s Love. Without him, James Jones will be the best option for some parts in the game when the Cavs want a power forward who can shoot. But Jones won’t demand the defensive attention of Love.

4. When the Cavs start Smith and Love, the have two guys capable of making jump shots from long range. That helps keep the middle open for James and Irving to drive to the rim. Of course, Irving and James also can shoot from the outside. But they are even more dangerous when they drive to the rim.

5. When Smith returns from his suspension, the Cavs can play three guards — Iman Shumpert, Smith and Irving — with James at power forward and a big man (Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson) at center. Not sure what they will do in the first two games with no Smith, other than Shawn Marion will see some action at forward — and Mike Miller at guard.

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No. 4: Parade plans being made in Golden State — Five down and 11 more to go for the Golden State Warriors, who have looked every bit of the championship caliber team many assumed they would after an epic regular season. Sure, there is a long way to go, but the path is there for them to grind all the way to a championship. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News has done the math and is convinced that there will be parade through the streets of Oakland this summer:

There was one moment among the many, one move among the multitudes, one particularly providential part of Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Sunday.

It was presumptive MVP Stephen Curry casually dribbling into a high screen-and-roll, luring Zach Randolph to the perimeter … and then a sudden Curry fake that sent Randolph lunging to the right, a Curry sublime flash to the left, and a 3-point splash.

It was poetry. It shook the walls of the old building.

What opponent can stop that? Who can beat the Warriors when they have everything going at full throttle?

Nobody. That’s sort of important to know and point out, 11 victories from a title.

And though it was just a single play on the way to the Warriors’ commanding 101-86 victory over Memphis, it communicated everything important about this team and that player.

This is why the Warriors are already in total control of this series, this is why Curry will win the MVP on Monday (reported first by CSN Bay Area, with a 1 p.m. news conference as reported by this newspaper’s Marcus Thompson II).

And this is why the Warriors are in such a special place, time and mood.

Curry and his teammates know they can’t look too far ahead — not even to potentially winning the MVP, Curry said Sunday.

They realize that any little stumble or loss of focus could put them in jeopardy at any time.

But if they play like this for the rest of the playoffs, the Warriors are going to win the championship, there just isn’t much doubt anymore.

“It’s a fun time,” Curry said after his 22-point, seven-assist, four-steal performance. “The pressure is on.

“The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we’re ready for the moment, just trying to stay in the moment.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks have dug themselves a hole and must grind their way out of it, with the starting unit on the floor more, in the Eastern Conference semifinals … Grizzles look ordinary without Mike Conley in their first blush against the Warriors … Spurs still dancing around questions about the future of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the crewIman Shumpert is the X-factor for the Cavaliers against his hometown Chicago Bulls …  Tom Thibodeau still has the blueprint for defeating a LeBron James led team …