Posts Tagged ‘Washington Wizards’

Morning Shootaround — May 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Wednesday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Horford saves the Hawks | Warriors find the formula | Gasol says he’ll play Thursday | Rockets hoping to attack again | Casey to return as Raptors coach

No. 1: Horford saves the Hawks — After Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, the Atlanta Hawks were in danger of going down 3-2 with the conference semifinals heading back to Washington, against an opponent that had it’s point guard back. But Al Horford saved the day, rebounding Dennis Schroder‘s miss and putting it back in the basket to put the Hawks on the brink of reaching the conference finals for the first time in 45 years. Sekou Smith was at The Highlight Factory for the wild finish

So if there is anyone affiliated with the Hawks who understood the significance of winning this game on this night, with all that was riding on the outcome, it was Horford.

The Hawks have checked every box during his journey from rookie sensation to face of the franchise. First up was just making the playoffs. Then it was advancing past the first round and now comes that final hurdle, making it to unchartered territory that is the conference finals … and perhaps beyond.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of crunch time play, “but more importantly we won. We all get to celebrate. And it’s about our team. I was just in that position and I just made a play. I’m just excited we’re in a position of 3-2 now, and took care of home … and now we have a chance to go up to D.C. and wrap the series up.”

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No. 2: Warriors find the formula — The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the regular season (by a wide margin), thanks to top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they outplayed the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the conference semis on Wednesday to take a 3-2 series lead, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes

The Warriors laugh at Charles Barkley and others, who say their jump-shooting team can’t win a NBA title.

They laugh, because the Warriors know they aren’t merely a jump-shooting team.

They also sport the league’s best defense as they showed Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, where they made 14 three-pointers on one end and played championship-level defense on the other in beating the Grizzlies 98-78 and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Of the 180 NBA teams that have broken a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 of a seven-game series, 81.7 percent have won the series. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memphis’ FedExForum.

“Our intent is to go down there and try to play the kind of defense we’ve played the past two games, which has really turned this series,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I said the first couple of games that our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense. I was wrong. It wasn’t good enough. This is what it’s going to take, this kind of defense from tonight and Game 4.”

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No. 3: Gasol says he’ll play Thursday — The Chicago Bulls’ season will be on the line in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). So Pau Gasol, who’s officially listed as “probable” by his team, says he’ll fight through whatever hamstring pain he has after missing the last two games (two Cleveland wins). Our Steve Aschburner has the story

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

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No. 4: Rockets hoping to attack again — No team in NBA history attempted more 3-pointers than this year’s Houston Rockets. But the Rockets extended their historical season by outscoring the Clippers 64-46 in the paint in Game 5 on Tuesday. To get Game 7 back on their home floor, they’re looking to do the same thing in Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

It was as much as anything the key to the Rockets escaping the ignominy and damage of their lost weekend in Los Angeles with a blowout win of their own to cut the Clippers’ series lead to 3-2 heading into Thursday’s Game 6.

There was, however, one more benefit that came with going at the Clippers instead of trying in vain to go around them. It’s better to hit than be hit. That’s not just a strategy, though the Rockets’ success on Tuesday started there.

“Basketball is a mindset,” McHale said. “Everybody is really talented. It usually is the toughest minded team that’s going to win.”

Though much of the series, that had been the Clippers. On Tuesday, the Rockets turned that around by attacking the paint as they had throughout the season.

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No. 5: Casey to return as Raptors coach — Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said that the postseason “influences everything” in regard to his offseason decisions. So, because the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion, we can expect some changes in Toronto. But those changes won’t start with the head coach, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports. Dwane Casey, who has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be back for fifth season with the Raptors …

No news is good news for Dwane Casey.

While Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri has not declared one way or the other whether Casey will be back as the team’s head coach next season since the team crumpled to the mat in four games against the Washington Wizards, his return is not in question, sources have told the Sun.

What is less clear, is whether his coaching staff will remain intact, or whether there will be some alterations.

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall came back from his broken hand and almost led the Wizards to a huge win … After a quick start, the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with the Warriors on WednesdayMatthew Dellavedova picked up an after-the-fact technical foul for the leg lock that preceded Taj Gibson‘s flagrant foul in Game 4 … The Clippers aim to be better in their second chance to close out the Rockets … The Miami Heat, heading to the Lottery for the first time in seven years, should like what they see wherever they draft … and when it comes to the Draft, don’t underestimate the importance of the interview.

ICYMI: Al Horford rebounds the missed layup by Dennis Schroder and puts it back to win game 5 for the Hawks:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Al Horford

Morning Shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lebron carries Cleveland | Houston blasts off thanks to Harden | New Orleans fires Williams | Will Wall return tonight?

No. 1: LeBron Carries Cleveland Going into last night, the Cavs and Bulls series was tied two games apiece, sure, but the Cavs found themselves beset by injuries and in need of some help. Enter LeBron James. The King went for 38 points, a dozen rebounds, six assists and three steals, and carried the Cavs to a 106-101 Game 5 win, giving the Cavs a series lead and leaving them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. As Steve Aschburner writes, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler may be one of the league’s best defenders, but stopping LeBron James is not only nearly impossible, it’s nearly thankless as well…

So he got dressed slowly? Butler should have been doing everything slowly, from walking to talking. He is doing so much in the series and it’s not enough. His Bulls team is down 3-2 and Butler is signed up for another four or eight quarters of hell.

“Nobody cares,” Butler said of the wear and tear, along with the psychic scars, this series has inflicted. “Nobody feels sorry for me anyway. I’m supposed to produce at both ends of the floor. Make shots. And guard. I’ve just got to do better.”

Do better. Chicago likes to think of itself as a blunt, no-nonsense town and that’s a big-shoulders way of approaching his duty on James. When he subbed back in to start the second quarter, knowing that a third foul would sit him down again, Butler wasn’t surprised to be lined up again against James. No rest for the weary.

“It’s just part of the game plan,” said Butler, taciturn as the Texan he is when talking serious business. “Just got to guard without fouling. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But that’s that. Can’t change it.”

James roared to his best game of the five so far in the series and patted himself on his own back for avoiding even a single turnover. Meanwhile, Butler was down the hall, quietly licking his wounds and searching for ways to do better in a largely no-win situation.

“I don’t mind him being my shadow,” James said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’ll take all competition. I love going against Jimmy. I think it brings out the best in myself. And I try to reciprocate back to him.”

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No. 2: Houston blasts off thanks to Harden The Los Angeles Clippers won Game 4 of their series against the Houston Rockets by 33 points, taking a 3-1 series lead in completely convincing fashion. Last night in Houston, with the Clippers holding the chance to close out the series, the Rockets fought back, making an adjustment to the starting lineup and getting a triple-double from a flu-addled James Harden in a big 124-103 win. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, it may have taken them four games, but perhaps the Rockets finally found their groove against these Clippers…

“We weren’t aggressive enough the first four games,” Harden said. “We were timid. They have really good bigs. We made a conscious effort to go into attack mode.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his rotation a bit to play Harden for shorter stints, having him come out in the first quarter when Dwight Howard usually does. But when Harden returned, he took over, scoring 14 second-quarter points to take the Rockets to a 15-point lead. He still played 43 minutes, getting his first playoff triple double with a career playoff high 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“James started warming into the game,” McHale said. He was moving the ball. We attacked. Finally, we got to the basket. We got points in the paint and tried to attack and played a little bit more like we tried to play the entire year.”

“We play better when we play inside-out, attack downhill. We’re one of the best teams at getting points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

When he knocked down a corner 3 with 2:02 left, he had 26 points, the Rockets had a 21-point lead and Harden could finally head to the locker room early.

“He wasn’t feeling well all day,” McHale said. “He had a hell of a game. He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”

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No. 3: New Orleans fires Williams The New Orleans Pelicans embarked upon a rebuilding program a few years ago, trading Chris Paul, drafting Anthony Davis, and slowly but surely creating a team that could be a postseason problem for the rest of the Western Conference. This season, the Pelicans not only made the playoffs, but they won a game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. So perhaps coach Monty Williams can be excused for showing up yesterday at the team’s facility thinking a contract extension was in order. Instead, writes John Reid, Williams was fired with a year left on his contract.

When Monty Williams came to the New Orleans Pelicans’ facility Tuesday morning for a meeting with executive vice president Mickey Loomis, he thought the discussion would be about a possible contract extension, league sources said.

Williams, whose contract was set to expire after the next season, had just ended the franchise’s four-year playoff drought and presumed he would be rewarded.

Instead, Williams was fired. He was completely taken aback by the decision, especially after recently receiving praise from ownership for reaching the postseason.

Loomis said the reason for the dismissal was more about the future of the franchise than Williams’ final season.

“I just felt like the end of the day, we had a good season and Monty did a great job, he’s done some really good things for us,” Loomis said. “But going forward, we just felt like our group needed something different to get to the next level.

“We’ve seen improvement from year to year. Obviously, we were excited to make the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the decision is to get to the next step up. We needed to do something a little different.”

Williams had a 173-221 record in five seasons with New Orleans and led the franchise to two playoff appearances, including his first season when he had All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Two weeks ago at his season-ending news conference, Williams spoke with excitement about the future of the team, which beat the Spurs to clinch a playoff berth and cap an improbable run down the stretch before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Western Conference’s top seed, Golden State. Williams, who guided the Pelicans to a 45-37 regular-season record, praised his players’ improvement over the past few seasons and looked forward to the possibilities.

“He was surprised, totally unexpected,” Loomis said of Williams’ reaction after losing his job.

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No. 4: Will Wall return tonight? John Wall suffered fractures to his left wrist early in Washington’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s missed every game since. But with the series now tied at two victories apiece and the Wizards needing a win tonight in Atlanta, could Wall swap his sharp sideline suits for a spot on the active roster? He made an appearance at Wizards’ practice yesterday and is a step closer to returning to action, writes Jorge Castillo in the Washington Post

For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.

Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”

Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.

“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to return in Game 6 … Now that he knows his knee is sound, Kyrie Irving is playing with peace of mindAlan Anderson underwent successful surgery yesterday … Craig Sager continues his fight against leukemia … The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new logos yesterday …

Morning shootaround — May 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr helps get Curry on track | Gasol likely out, but Irving will play in Game 5 | Teague steps up in Game 4 | Dirk: ‘I definitely want to fulfill my contract’

No. 1: Kerr’s message helps Curry turn things around — Entering Monday’s Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA MVP Stephen Curry was averaging 21.7 ppg and shooting a paltry 27.6 percent on 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors looked at a 2-1 series deficit. He turned those stats around drastically in Game 4, though, going for 33 points and shooting 4-for-9 on 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 101-84 road romp. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports, a morning chat with coach Steve Kerr may have been what Curry needed to get on track:

Before the Golden State Warriors gathered for the morning shootaround on Monday, Steve Kerr stopped his superstar for a 10-minute conversation. In a most blessed and blissful year, struggle had never found traction with Stephen Curry. The shots suddenly stopped falling in these Western Conference semifinals, and the coach of these Warriors hadn’t wanted to clutter Curry’s mind – only to deliver one overriding message.

Resist trying to do it yourself, Steph. Give the ball up, get it back and watch how the rhythm of it all transforms those misses into makes again.

“I never worry about his confidence,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports late Monday. “I don’t worry about anything with him. I just feel like there are times that he wants so badly to win, he tries to do too much.

“He’s still learning. That sounds crazy, because he’s the MVP of the league. But he’s still learning how to develop that rhythm, how to be patient and just move the ball, makes the easy pass – instead of trying to do it himself. That way, he’s much more likely to get hot in the game.”

This series promises to be vital for the growth of this Golden State franchise, a resolved and relentless Grizzlies core challenging the Warriors to be tougher and together.

As always, it started with Stephen Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Curry is the biggest bargain in the NBA, making $10.6 million this season. His Under Armour deal is far lower, but it’s possible that could be torn up and renegotiated at a market level this year, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There’s forever a calm to Curry, an assurance, and he always finds his center again. He had been uncharacteristically rushed and ragged in Games 2 and 3. The Grizzlies’ defense played a part, but truth be told, he missed shots that he often makes. He needed to find his way back, and that path turned out to be the one Steve Kerr had promised on Monday morning. The NBA’s MVP didn’t need to go chasing shots, because these Warriors would find him in the flow of that system. Slowly, surely, Stephen Curry had shot these Warriors back into the series, back into control.

“He has as much self-belief as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports. “He’s still learning about the rhythm it takes. It’s not an easy concept for a guy who is so talented and relied upon so heavily. That’s all part of the growth, the process and tonight he got that, stayed with it and executed it.”

For 10 minutes, the coach of these Golden State Warriors cornered his superstar on Monday morning and spared the cluttering of a beautiful basketball mind. Kerr kept it simple, and Curry was a most willing subject.

 


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Stephen Curry’s big Game 4

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Budenholzer faces second-guessing after decision to sit Carroll


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Pierce wins Game 3 at the buzzer

WASHINGTON — Frank Vogel can probably empathize with Mike Budenholzer.

In Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, Vogel took Roy Hibbert — the league’s best rim protector — off the floor for the Indiana Pacers’ final defensive possession, only to watch LeBron James drive for the game-winning layup at the buzzer. Vogel’s decision, of course, was second-guessed for the next couple of days.

Budenholzer, the 2014-15 Coach of the Year, is now in a similar position after leaving DeMarre Carroll off the floor for the final possession of Game 3 of the conference semifinals on Saturday. The 6-8 Carroll, the Hawks’ best perimeter defender, was on the bench as Paul Pierce hit the game-winner over 6-1 Dennis Schroder.

After the game, Carroll seemed to insinuate that it was his call to keep him on the bench, saying that Budenholzer did put him in the game, but “I didn’t feel comfortable, as far as physically.”

After practice on Sunday, though, Carroll changed his tune.

“Me and coach, we discussed the situation,” Carroll said, “we discussed the sub, and we felt that was the best group at the time, because they had come all the way back. And due that I didn’t play in a quarter and a half, we felt that was the best group to give us the best shot to get that stop.”

The group that was on the floor:

  • Schroder, who was initially guarding Will Bynum.
  • Shelvin Mack, guarding Ramon Sessions.
  • Kent Bazemore, guarding Bradley Beal.
  • Kyle Korver, initially guarding Pierce.
  • Mike Muscala, guarding Marcin Gortat.

That was the group (for the most part) that brought the Hawks back from 21 points down to tie the game with 14.1 seconds on the clock. But that wasn’t necessarily the best group to defend the Wizards for those final 14.1 seconds.

Budenholzer confirmed Sunday that Carroll is the Hawks’ best wing defender.

“But considering he hadn’t played the entire fourth quarter,” Budenholzer said, “then there’s lots of things that go into making decisions. So you evaluate, you listen, and you make a decision. That’s what coaches do.”

Carroll was, basically, out of the game since the 1:57 mark of the third quarter. But the strange thing is that he was on the floor for the Wizards’ previous possession.

After Schroder hit two free throws to pull the Hawks within a point with 23.8 seconds left, the Wizards called timeout and Budenholzer put Carroll in the game against a small Wizards lineup (Otto Porter in Gortat’s place).

That possession lasted less than two seconds, as Schroder immediately fouled Bynum. And after Muscala tied the game, it was Carroll that Budenholzer chose to sit when he needed a bigger guy to defend Gortat.

Seemingly, Carroll could have been out there instead of Mack or Korver, or even Schroder for that matter, because Carroll has the ability to stay in front of the Washington guards.

As for how his team – the unit he had out there – defended the final possession, Budenholzer has no complaints. When Bynum set a screen for Pierce, Schroder switched onto the ball. Though Pierce needed help from the glass, it didn’t hurt that he was shooting over a guy that’s six inches shorter than he is.

“There was a very good screen set,” Budenholzer said. “Considering the screen and the separation, it was a good read and a good decision. And I thought the individual defense was good. The help, the contest from Kent Bazemore was good. And Paul Pierce hit a tough shot.”

Asked if, given another chance, he would have fought harder for the opportunity to be on the floor, Carroll answered, “no comment.”

While the Wizards might have another big, last-minute offensive possession in this series, it probably won’t come with the same circumstances, where the Hawks’ third string was responsible for giving their team a chance to win. So Budenholzer probably won’t face the same decision he faced on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean he’ll escape the second-guessing.

Wall officially out for Game 3


VIDEO: GameTime: How the John Wall injury will affect the Wizards

WASHINGTON — To no one’s surprise, the Washington Wizards will be without point guard John Wall in Game 3 of their conference semifinals series against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). Wizards coach Randy Wittman did not elaborate on Wall’s condition or his status for the rest of the series.

Wall injured his left hand and wrist in the second quarter of Game 1 on Sunday. He finished that game, but missed Game 2 on Tuesday, because of the swelling and pain. A day later, further exams revealed five non-displaced fractures.

On Friday, Wall said that he’d need to be able to dribble with his left hand to be able to play again. Ramon Sessions (21 points and four assists in Game 2) will start in his place again.

Including Tuesday’s loss, the Wizards are 1-3 without Wall this season. In the playoffs, they’ve scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and just 95.5 with him off the floor.

“I’m not going to put somebody on the floor that’s John,” Wittman said. “We just got to be who we are. We got to play within ourselves. We got to all play aggressive. We [need] ball movement more.

“John makes a lot of plays. The ball’s in his hands a lot. Now, the ball can’t stick. We got to either attack, [take a] shot, or the ball’s got to move.”

Wizards will wait and see with Wall


VIDEO: GameTime: Latest on John Wall’s health status

WASHINGTON — Though it seems doubtful he will play, neither John Wall nor his coach would rule the point guard out of Game 3 of the Washington Wizards’ conference semifinals series against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Wall did not practice on Friday and hasn’t tried dribbling with his fractured left hand since before Game 2 in Atlanta on Tuesday. The swelling in his hand has gone down some, but it’s still a long way from looking normal.

“It’s moving better,” Wall said, “but there’s still pain there.”

So Wall and Wizards coach Randy Wittman will wait and see if anything is different on Saturday. And they seem to be keeping the door open for Wall to return at any point. Wall doesn’t want to hear anything that says, “7-10 days” or “2-4 weeks.”

“I don’t want no timetable, he said. “I’m just taking it day by day.”

And Wall couldn’t even tell you where the five fractures are in his hand and wrist.

“When [the doctor] started talking about that, I just put my head down,” he said. “I didn’t want to hear no more, to be honest with you.”

The Hawks and Wizards have had three days off since Game 2, but now play every other day through Game 6 (if necessary), with Game 7 in Atlanta scheduled for May 18.

“We just got to go, basically, 24 hours at a time here,” Wittman said.

The five fractures are in Wall’s non-shooting hand, but Wall needs that hand to get where he needs to go and make plays.

“I can’t do anything if I can’t dribble,” he said. “You got to be able to dribble. If not, it’s basically just taping my hand behind my back and saying, ‘play with one hand.’ It’s not happening in this league.”

Even if the swelling and pain go away, the Wizards will have to determine if Wall is risking more damage to his hand and wrist if he plays. The point guard believes that decision would be up to him.

“If the pain goes away and I can dribble and do those things again,” Wall said, “it’s all up to me. Do I feel like it’s a risk to hurt my hand even more down the road, or do I feel like I can take the risk to play? … and how competitive I am. If I’m able to do those things, dribble, do what I want to do, and be myself, then there’s a great percentage I will play. But if I can’t be myself, there’s no point in going out there.”

Wittman, who took umbrage with a Washington Post report that said Wall clashed with team doctors about the initial diagnosis of no fractures, doesn’t want his player sacrificing his future for this series.

“The doctors make that decision if there’s a risk,” Wittman said. “We’re not going to put the kid at risk. That won’t happen. I guarantee you that. If the doctor says there’s a risk of hurting it worse, then he’s not playing. I won’t let that happen.”

The Wizards will cross that bridge if they come to it. For now, they’re preparing to play Game 3 without their best player, though there won’t be any final decision on that until Saturday.

Morning shootaround — May 8


VIDEO: What can we expect in Game 3 of Cavs-Bulls?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Impact of losing Wall | McHale to Clippers: ‘Quit hacking us’ | Blatt glad to have Smith back in mix

No. 1: How losing Wall would affect Wizards — The Washington Wizards got some potentially awful news yesterday when the team announced star point guard John Wall has “five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.” That news not only hurts Wall and Wizards fans, but if he misses the rest of the playoffs, the news may be a fatal blow to Washington’s hopes of a long postseason run. Our John Schuhmann digs into exactly how much Wall matters to the Wizards’ playoff efforts:

Wall has been one of the best player’s of the postseason thus far, averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 assists. With the Wizards playing small more than they did in the regular season, Wall has taken advantage of the extra space and sliced up the Toronto and Atlanta defenses. Though they scored less than a point per possession on Tuesday, the Wizards have been the most improved offensive team from the regular season to the playoffs by a wide margin.

In five playoff games, Wall has created 30.8 points per game via assists, 12 more than any other player in the postseason. His teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent off his passes.

Having earned a split in Atlanta, a healthy Wizards team would have a good shot at getting to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But assuming Wall is out, they’re in trouble.

In the regular season, Washington was 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the floor than with him off. In the playoffs, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes with Wall on the floor and just 96.0 in 102 minutes with him off the floor.

Ramon Sessions is a decent back-up and helped narrow that on-off gap after arriving in a deadline-day trade. But he doesn’t have the quickness, size or decision-making skills that Wall does. And he’s not nearly as good a defender either.

The Wizards will likely have to make due without their most important player, asking more of Bradley Bealoffensively. They couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, but they were within five points of the Hawks with less than six minutes to go in Game 2. And they’re not about to say that their season is over.

“All of us have to step up a little bit more,” Wizards coach Randy Wittmansaid after practice Thursday. “John’s, no question, a big part of our team. But that doesn’t limit what this team can continue to do.”

“By no means do we feel like this series is over or our goals change,” Paul Pierceadded. “We’re going to continue to go out there, reach for our goals, and continue to fight each and every night. We did a good job at cutting this series to 1-1, to get home-court advantage. So it’s up to everybody to rally around one another, use some motivation, and try to win these games, especially for John.”


VIDEO: Digging into the affect John Wall has on the Wizards’ offense

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Morning shootaround — May 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

“Trust,” said coach Doc Rivers.

“Stay confident,” said center DeAndre Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Blake Griffin powers the Clippers’ Game 1 victory

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Numbers preview: Hawks-Wizards


VIDEO: Arena Link: Al Horford speaks about the Hawks’ Game 6 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For much of the season, the Atlanta Hawks were the best team in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin. Then they were on cruise control over the final month of the season and in the first few games of the first round.

But the Hawks may have rediscovered their mojo as they closed out the Brooklyn Nets in six games. The offense had the ball movement and player movement that made it so successful in the regular season, and the defense locked a surprisingly feisty Nets team down in Game 6.

The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, seemingly changed identities once the playoffs began. They played small, spread the floor and shot 3-pointers against the Toronto Raptors, stunning their opponent and anyone who had watched them all season.

Their new-found offensive success gives them some hope for a trip to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But the Hawks, though they haven’t been to the next round since 1970, are not the Raptors … on either end of the floor.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Hawks-Wizards, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Beat Brooklyn in six games.
Pace: 96.0 (7)
OffRtg: 103.6 (9)
DefRtg: 99.1 (5)
NetRtg: +4.5 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks first-round notes:

Washington Wizards (46-36)

Beat Toronto in four games.
Pace: 96.9 (3)
OffRtg: 112.5 (1)
DefRtg: 95.4 (2)
NetRtg: +17.0 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards first-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 98.6
ATL OffRtg: 109.1 (3rd vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.1 (16th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes: