Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

Morning Shootaround — May 5



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat and Nets dismiss regular season series | Westbrook-Paul on center stage | Beal, Wizards prefer underdog role | Jackson’s future with Warriors no easy call | Portland’s Matthews keeps chip on shoulder … always

No. 1: Both sides dismiss regular season sweep by Nets in playoff matchup with Heat —  A 4-0 regular season sweep of the Miami Heat sounds good, until you realize that no one — not the Heat nor the Brooklyn Nets team that owned them (technically and at least on paper) during the regular season — believes it matters. Now that their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup is upon us, leaning on what happened between these two in the immediate past doesn’t seem like such a smart decision. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald sets the table:

Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.

Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.

“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in the postseason.

Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”

The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Paul Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward.

One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear whether Spoelstra will do that.

Chris Bosh will have to match up with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who [Spoelstra] will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever [Spoelstra] wants to do.”

Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”

Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size-wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”

He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”

(more…)

Wall managing to move Wizards ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Sans Nene, Wizards roll to 3-1 lead over Bulls

WASHINGTON — Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal hit the shots. John Wall hit the open man.

Trevor Booker and Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster ran the floor. John Wall ran the show.

Funny thing is, Wall was far more flashy and flamboyant, far more noticeable on Friday in Game 3 — double crossover dribbles that left defenders cross-eyed, one-handed slam dunks on breakaways, even a missed layup following a 360-degree spin that might have been the most breathtaking move of the night.

Of course, the Wizards lost Game 3 and they needed a different Wall on Sunday, one who was less soloist standing apart from the orchestra and more conductor standing in front of it.

No-no Nene. No-no problem, because Wall managed the way the Wizards played at both ends of the floor the way a surgeon manages an operating room.

“That’s a good word,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s exact word I just used in there with the team. I think this series he’s managed the game.

“He understands who needs the ball, where the need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself and then, the most important thing for us against this team, is taking care of the ball. When we have six turnovers for the game and two in the second half, if we can get a shot every time down the floor, I’ll be really pleased with where we are at in the game.”

Where the Wizards are at following their 98-89 win in Game 4 is holding onto a 3-1 lead over the Bulls and on the cusp of their first playoff series win since in nine years. In fact, Washington as a franchise has not held a 3-1 lead in any series since the 1978 Eastern Conference finals over San Antonio when the Bullets went on to win their only NBA championship.

Let’s not get too far ahead in the hyperbole since the Wizards have not yet even closed out Chicago. But the majestic learning curve is evident for the 23-year-old point guard in his fourth professional season getting his first taste of the playoffs.

This was a day full of emotion and import for the Wizards and they treated it from the start almost like it was a Game 7 with no margin for error.

“It was a must-win for us,” said Gortat. “Because if we lost this game, it means that winning the first two on the road in Chicago meant nothing.”

The were playing without their rolling ball of thunder power forward Nene, who got himself suspending for head-butting and trying to twist Jimmy Butler’s head like a grape off the stem on Friday night.

It was a game and an atmosphere so big that 57-year-old team owner Ted Leonsis got into the act by wearing a Nene jersey at courtside. It was a situation and a loss to their lineup so big that the Wizards had to make up for it by making all the small plays.

There was Gortat, scrapping, battling, hustling to keep balls alive off the glass even when he couldn’t make layups. There was Ariza doing everything he could to be disruptive at the defensive end when he wasn’t filling up the bucket for 30 points. There was veteran Andre Miller spotting Webster sealing off a smaller defender D.J. Augustin and finding him with a perfect lob pass. There was Drew Gordon slapping a sure dunk out of the hands of the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer. There was Booker making a desperate fourth quarter save by leaping over the end line and heaving the ball back over his head to Wall. There was Wall jumping into passing lanes for steals and deflections.

This is the way it often happens with the young prodigies, who have talent oozing out of their pores, but have to harness it for the sake of the team. In four NBA seasons, we have seen what Wall can do. Now he is learning what and how he must do it if his team is going to advance. It’s why a young Isiah Thomas used to go to the NBA Finals as a spectator to mine the nuggets of how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird became champions. It’s all a process.

“John is learning what we are playing for and understanding now what we are playing about,” said the veteran center Gortat. “You can’t trip in the playoffs too many times.

“Hopefully the playoff situation will teach these guys — John and Bradley — something and next year in the regular season they are going to perform like that every game. Because it really shows what they’re made of. These two guys are extremely talented, extremely competitive and hopefully they will play like that every game.

“I see the difference. John especially is learning what it means to lead. There are many nights when we will need him to score and do all of those great things. But every night we need him to be in charge.”

Managing to move ahead.

No-no Nene, but Wizards still confident

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nene suspended for one game after head-butt

WASHINGTON — It’s one thing to stand toe-to-toe against the raw physicality of the Bulls in the playoffs.

It’s a whole different challenge when you’re missing your big toe.

But with power forward Nene suspended by the NBA for head-butting and grabbing Jimmy Butler around the neck with both hands on Friday night, coach Randy Wittman says the Wizards are still on solid footing.

“We’re more than capable with who we have on this team,” he said a short time before the suspension was announced. “That’s just it. It could happen to anybody. … Somebody could come in sick and somebody’s gotta step up. That’s cliche, I know, but that’s the way it is.”

The Wizards had already completed their Saturday practice when the suspension was made official by Rod Thorn, NBA president, basketball operations.

Nene was unavailable for comment.

The incident occurred with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter of Chicago’s 100-97 win in Game 3, which sliced the Washington lead in the series to 2-1.

After scoring on a fast-break layup, Nene turned to run back up the court and lifted his left arm to clip Butler with a chicken wing as he ran by. Butler objected verbally and reached out with his right hand to give Nene a shove in the side.

As the two players stepped toward each other, the 6-foot-11 Nene leaned down and pressed his head against Butler’s. Then Nene clasped both of his hands around Butler’s neck.

When asked if he thought anything he saw merited a suspension, Wittman replied: “No, I don’t.”

Regardless, the Wizards have to play without their big man, who is averaging 17 points, 6.3 rebounds per game and has done an outstanding job of negating the play in the paint by the Bulls’ Joakim Noah.

The Wizards do have plenty experience playing without Nene as he missed 29 games during the regular season. Washington was 1-6 without him when Nene was shelved for two games with a strained left calf and five games with a sore right foot early in the season. But they were a more successful 12-10 without Nene in the lineup when he suffered a sprained left knee.

“Obviously, it’s gonna be a huge loss for us,” said center Marcin Gortat. “We played without Nene over the 82 games and the situation is totally different then. But we’ll see. We’ll see.

“You gotta bring it. You gotta bring it. There’s an opportunity for me to play bigger role. The inside offense is gonna go through me. I just gotta perform. I gotta be on top of my game.”

Wittman said the last thing he wants his team to do is react to the Game 3 incident by taking the edge off their game and backing down from Chicago’s rough-and-tumble style.

“I told our players, you can be confrontational and do it in a way that doesn’t cost you an ejection,” Wittman said. “We’ve seen it the first two games and nobody’s been thrown out. It’s a matter of making sure in those situations that you keep your composure. It gets physical out there. There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and talking and … it’s a fine line of crossing the line that gets you to the point of ejection or not.

“We just gotta make sure we keep our composure in that area. I don’t want them stepping back at all from a physicality standpoint. Not at all. It just reaches a line and we got to know where that line is.”

Gortat nodded his head in agreement.

“X’s and O’s are one thing,” he said. “At the end of the day physicality is the will of winning the basketball game. … There’s a time to do X’s and O’s and a time to fight and scrap and just play the way they play us. Unfortunately, things went wrong for us.”

The Wizards did manage to duck the double-whammy of losing Gortat as well. Video replays showed the center, who was out of the game at the time, leaving the bench and stepping slightly onto the court when the scuffle broke out.

According to NBA rules, any player who leaves the bench area during a fight on the court is subject to suspension.

“It’s not like I was running and yelling and screaming,” Gortat said. “I was just standing there and had no idea what was going on. At some point actually I realized I was on the court, I started taking steps back because I was like, ‘I don’t think I supposed to be here.’ So I started walking back. I was just shocked what was going on on the court at that time.”

Backup forward Trevor Booker started 45 games this season, many of them when Nene was injured. He was one of the closest players to Nene and Butler when they locked up.

“I didn’t know how far it would go. Unfortunately it went too far where he got ejected,” Booker said. “Somebody else has got to step up. He’s a big piece, but we got some games without him that we won.

“We lost focus, but we’ll get it back tomorrow. You got to do what you got to do.”

Butler keeps his head to keep Bulls alive

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dunleavy leads Bulls to Game 3 win over Wizards

WASHINGTON — Give Jimmy Butler credit for keeping his head.

No small feat when a guy the size of Nene is trying to rip it off.

Another day in the playoffs, another night of pushing, shoving, elbowing and jersey pulling.

All that had changed from the first two games was the location to the nation’s capital, where the Wizards and Bulls resumed the impersonation of Republicans and Democrats playing down and dirty.

Then the lid blew off the pot.

Nene had just scored on a breakaway layup when he turned to run back up the floor on defense and happened to reach out with his left arm and clip Butler with a chicken wing.

Butler responded with a one-handed shove in the side and then things got interesting.

The 6-foot-11 Nene leaned in first to put his forehead squarely against Butler. Then he reached up and clamped his right hand around the back of Butler’s neck. Then with his left hand, he tried to take Butler down.

Nene was ejected with 8:28 left in in a two-point game, which left the Wizards vulnerable, Butler inspired and the Bulls quite suddenly empowered.

“Just two people wanting to win the game competing and I guess he gave me one of those and I didn’t like it,” Butler said. “So it is what it is.”

What it was in the immediate aftermath was a chance for Butler to take a handoff from Joakim Noah, run around a screen and bury a critical 3-pointer.

“Whoooo!” said Noah. “Jimmy, that was a big 3.”

Maybe if this wrestling match goes the distance, it will just get lost in the all the muck. But for now, how Butler handled the whole affair and the way he scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter was exactly what the Bulls needed to get themselves going to close out a game.

“I knew I had to [stay composed]. I didn’t want to get ejected like he did or nothing like that. But I can’t back down from anybody. That’s not in me. “I didn’t think it was that serious, but obviously he thought it was. I was just saying, ‘Watch all that.’ It was uncalled for. I’m not mad at him for him. He’s competitive. I respect the guy.”

Nene wanted to put it all behind him.

“You can’t control when you play physical, things get hot,” he said. “It’s over. The whole team is thinking about Game 4 and stepping up for real in a big series.

“It’s over. You need to move [on]. That’s what I’m doing. Now we need to come here [and] play the right way in Game 4 and forget about what happened.”

But what happened could have been the spark to restore the confidence back in the Bulls, who had let fourth quarter leads slip away in both of the home losses to open the series and none of them were really surprised that emotions boiled over.

“I think it was gonna happen eventually,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson. “How the battle is being played, every time down in the paint. I’m surprised it didn’t happen in the first two games. It’s playoff basketball. You got to be smart. You can’t put your hands on people.

“It gets chippy, but you gotta be smart. You can get ejected. You can get suspended for a game. You gotta keep your hands to yourself.”

There might be some cause for concern by the Wizards if the NBA office decides to take a further look at what happened. In these kinder and gentler times of the 21st century, a suspension of Nene is not something that can be entirely dismissed.

For the Bulls, what mattered is the first step back. They knew falling into a 3-0 hole would have sealed their fate.

“We got heart,” Gibson said. “We care. It doesn’t matter who believes in us. We believe in each other. We believe in what the locker room says. And the locker room says we have a chance. We’re going to fight to the last blow.”

But keep their heads like Jimmy Butler when it matters.

Deja vu: Bulls set to shock world again

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

WASHINGTON — The outside world might be shocked to see them down 0-2 after losing a pair of home games to open their first round playoff series.

But to the Bulls themselves, the view hasn’t changed.

“The mood is great. The mood is exciting. The mood is that guys just feel it’s an opportunity to go out there and shock the world basically,” said forward Taj Gibson after the team’s shoot around today at the Verizon Center.

“A lot of people just quit on us. That’s understandable. Our bandwagon’s always been like that since the beginning of the year. So what better than to play for each other? That’s what we’ve been doing all year. That’s what we’re going to continue to do tonight.”

Written off when former MVP and All-Star guard Derrick Rose went down again in November and just about shoved over the edge in February when forward Luol Deng was practically given away to Cleveland in January, the Bulls have been playing with a chip on their shoulder for so long that they’ve come to think of it as part their uniform.

They understand the precarious position they’ve put themselves in. The realize that a loss in Game 3 tonight (8 ET, ESPN) would all but seal their fate. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.

“We had a great shootaround,” Gibson said. “We understand what we need to do. We’re on the road now. We’re a good road team. Now it’s time to show it.

“We can’t get in big holes. We can’t come out with a slow pace. We have to come out with a high energy and play good basketball.”

The Bulls’ attitude is that they can take the floor with a free and easy attitude with nothing to lose.

“I felt like it’s been like that for us all year,” said guard Jimmy Butler. “But it’s basketball and the better team’s gonna win. I think we got a great shot tonight. All of our guys are ready. So we’re gonna go and fight and get this win.”

Hang time podcast (episode 157) featuring Bradley Beal and Doc Rivers

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How’s that for crazy?

The first weekend of the NBA playoffs couldn’t have gone better for those of us who court postseason chaos the same way the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors relish a good in-game skirmish.

Five, count ‘em FIVE, road teams shocked the world in Game 1s and walked away having snatched home court advantage instantly in their respective first round series.

Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards knocked off the Chicago Bulls in Games 1 and 2 at the United Center, sending shock waves around the league. Few people saw these upsets coming from a team led by playoff rookies All-Star point guard John Wall and Beal, especially against a rugged and seasoned Bulls team.

Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers worked both sides of the line, losing Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors and then bouncing back to stroke the Warriors by 40 in Game 2. The Clippers are title contenders and had to show up the way they did in Game 2 to keep us believing.

We catch up with both Beal and Rivers on Episode 157 of the Webby Award-winning Hang Time Podcast, where we talk playoffs, playoffs and more playoffs. The Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets don’t escape our glare either, as both stumbled out of the playoff gates with home losses.

We also talk about the New York Knicks and their coaching search, which is well underway (per Knicks boss Phil Jackson) now that Mike Woodson and his staff have been relieved of their duties.

Dive in for more on Episode 157 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Bradley Beal and Doc Rivers …

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,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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: JPhil Jackson talks Steve Kerr and the Knicks coaching vacancy

All-Star Reserves Named Tonight On TNT


VIDEO: The Beat crew picks the East and West reserves

We all know that coaches are never swayed by sentimentality. What they do, by its very nature, is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of business.

NBA All-Star 2014Good thing, then, that a couple of golden oldies named Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are still producing like young pups.

The fate of the 37-year-old Duncan and 35-year-old Nowitzki are two of the biggest questions as the reserves for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight (7 ET) on TNT.

The results of the voting by the league’s 30 coaches will be revealed and discussed by Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith on a one-hour NBA Tip-Off special preceding a doubleheader that will have the Cavaliers at New York and the Clippers at Golden State.

Duncan, making a bid for a 15th All-Star Game,  is averaging 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots in leading the Spurs to the second-best record in the West. Nowitzki had a string of 11 All-Star appearances snapped a year ago due to lingering knee problems, but has the Mavericks back in the playoff hunt by averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

After no centers were voted into the starting lineup of either team by the fan balloting, it is expected that Dwight Howard of the Rockets and Roy Hibbert of the Pacers will be added by the coaches.

In the Eastern Conference, after Hibbert of the Pacers, Chris Bosh of the Heat, Joakim Noah of the Bulls, Paul Millsap of the Hawks and John Wall of the Wizards, the questions swirl around the two wild card slots. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Arron Afflalo and Joe Johnson are top candidates.

Along with the fates of Duncan and Nowitzki, the Western coaches will pick from a frontcourt group that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Serge Ibaka and DeMarcus Cousins. Do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum may be in the discussion, too. The backcourt is even more crowded. Still-injured guard Chris Paul could make it back in time for All-Star. But Kobe Bryant, elected a starter, is expected to miss the game. So coaches (and newly minted commissioner Adam Silver, who will name replacements for starters who can’t play) will pick from among Paul, James HardenDamian Lillard, Tony Parker, Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and maybe even Monta Ellis. 

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also aired live on ESPN Radio, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories and be broadcast in more than 40 languages.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No place for ‘Melo in LA? | KG and Pierce; the return | Wounded Wall will rise from USAB snub | Heat ready for season to crank up

No. 1: Lakers cool on recruiting ‘Melo? — Kobe Bryant has already declared himself out of the Carmelo Anthony recruiting sweepstakes, choosing the role of big brother instead.  He tried the recruiter hat with Dwight Howard last season and it didn’t work. But Bryant wasn’t the issue then and he’s not now for the Lakers. That responsibility belongs to Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers’ coach whose rough relationship with Howard (and now Anthony) could have a negative impact on the thinking of the coveted free agent. D’Antoni, who coached Anthony with the Knicks, is taking a similarly hands off approach where the soon-to-be free agent is concerned. Marc Berman of the New York Post explains (D’Antoni also offers up some support for his successor) :

When asked if he got a chance to see Anthony, D’Antoni said after the 110-103 loss, “I said hi to him. He said hi to me. What do you want us to be, pen pals or something? We’re fine.’’

D’Antoni was short in his praise of Anthony’s 62-point Friday record-setter and wanted no part of a question regarding Anthony’s future.

“I watched clips, it looked like he was making baskets,’’ D’Antoni said. “He’s got that ability. If he’d played the whole game he probably would’ve had about 80. Obviously scoring talent he does not lack.’’

D’Antoni, however, thought Anthony never bought into the spread-the-wealth, speed-ball attack that earned him the offensive genius label in Phoenix. It seems farfetched Anthony, a free agent this summer, and D’Antoni would make the perfect marriage in Los Angeles. But you never say never.

Asked about Anthony’s free-agent future, D’Antoni demurred: “I’m good. I just want to drink my water and watch a little basketball.’’

D’Antoni defended Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who has been on shaky ground. Woodson replaced D’Antoni late in the 2011-12 season. Fans that year chanted “We Want Wood-son.” Now they chant “Fi-re Wood-son.’’

“Woody does a great job,’’ D’Antoni said. “They’ve had injuries, it’s a tough league, and some years it doesn’t go well. [But] they have a lot more basketball to play, and they win two or three in a row they’ll be in second place in the East, so they’ll be fine. It’s a great organization, I enjoyed my four years here, but you’ve got to win. Everything is going to be questioned. It should be.’’

***

No. 2: Celtics honor KG and Pierce in their return — Credit Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for keeping their composure during an emotional return to Boston Sunday. They held it together during an intense and relentless stream of praise from the fans and folks in TD Garden and around the city of Boston. Not every city maintains the bond with its former sports superstars. And now KG and Pierce understand what it must have been like for the Boston sports heroes that came (and left) before them. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com has more from the emotional return for two-thirds of Boston’s Big 3:

Suggesting his return to Boston was tougher than his first trip back to Minnesota, where he started his NBA odyssey, Garnett detailed his ride on an emotional roller coaster while back at TD Garden on Sunday. But he stressed that, even without Gino, the video tribute and the fans’ reaction exceeded even his wildest expectations for coming back.

“This was over the top,” Garnett said. Later he added, “What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn’t put it into words.

“Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat. I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”

Boston fans delivered an extended standing ovation when Garnett and Pierce were the final two Nets players announced during pregame introductions. With 2:25 to play in the first quarter, the arena hushed in anticipation of what was about to come.

Then came a roar at the mere sight of a green No. 5 flashed on the screen. Garnett’s tribute opened with a clip from “SportsCenter” detailing the trade that delivered him to Boston from the Timberwolves. After a clip of the Big Three holding up their jerseys at Garnett’s introduction, highlights from his Boston tenure rolled, including his bloodied head during a game against the Lakers in 2011, his in-game pushups versus Miami from 2012, and a wild montage of chest pounds and emphatic fist pumps. The video closed with Garnett kneeling to kiss the parquet floor and him screaming, “Anything is possible!” after the Celtics’ Game 6 victory over the Lakers delivered Banner 17 in 2008.

As the crowd delivered another standing ovation, the camera cut to a banner with retired jersey numbers with a couple open spots at the bottom — spots that eventually will house Garnett’s No. 5 and Pierce’s No. 34. But Garnett was already back in the huddle at that point, barking at teammates while trying to power through his emotions.

The cameras cut back to Garnett as play resumed on the court and, after a couple of deep breaths, Garnett smiled and appeared to tell teammates he had been on the verge of losing it.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Garnett pledged to keep his focus on the game and he lived up to that promise. The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming a 12-point deficit to three, and had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to play. With Rondo dribbling in a late-clock situation, Garnett cheated off his man to double the ball and managed to intercept a pass intended for Brandon Bass.

The 37-year-old Garnett, 18-plus years of NBA mileage on his tires, had 70 feet to cover, but he outraced Jeff Green and Chris Johnson before delivering a layup that essentially sealed Brooklyn’s 85-79 triumph, capping a perfect trip back to Boston.

“It took me two days to get the layup up; I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still — put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup,” Garnett said. “Like Paul said, I’m glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions.

“It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation [and] the organization, man. You give yourself. People always say that players can be too loyal. I don’t believe that. A city like Boston is worth it and tonight’s the epitome of all that.”



VIDEO: Garnett and Pierce on their emotional return to Boston

***

No. 3: Wall will use USA Basketball snub as motivation — John Wall‘s Olympic dreams are fading. The Wizards point guard did not make the cut on USA Basketball’s roster for 2014-16, a 28-man that includes his backcourt mate Bradley Beal. Granted, Beal is a shooting guard and a specialist in one area that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can never have enough of for international competition. Wall, meanwhile, is one of the many talented point guard options the USAB brass had to choose from. The fallout from this snub, however, could very well work in the Wizards’ favor. Michael Lee of the Washington Post tries to make sense of it all:

Wall is the one of two American-born No. 1 overall picks in the past 11 years not to receive an invitation to Team USA. The other former top pick left out of the mix is Greg Oden, who is back in the NBA after missing the previous four seasons with chronic knee problems. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis were included.

“I been through it before. The main thing for me is try to be professional. I went out there and played. I did it the right way,” Wall said of his experiences with Team USA minicamp. “I just use it as more motivation. It’s nothing I could do. It’s nothing I can say, and I don’t want nobody to babysit me or try to make it work for me. They made their list, they made their decision and that’s what they’re happy with, and I just have to look past that. It’s more motivation because I didn’t make McDonald’s game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”

The Wizards gave Wall a five-year, $80 million maximum extension last summer, solidifying his standing as the foundation of the franchise’s efforts to get back to respectability. In his fourth season, Wall has been producing the best numbers of his career with averages of 20.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He finished a distant third in all-star fan balloting for Eastern Conference guards but is expected to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve with the Wizards positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Wall is having a better season than some of the point guards on the list, but despite his slow-but-steady improvement, he lacks the skill as a consistent shooter that is a necessity for international basketball. Beal, however, is a noted marksman who has connected on 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season and could be more of a threat with a shorter international three-point line.

Team USA only invited three other shooting guards in James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson but has been known to use two point guards on the floor at the same time.

“A lot of these guys can go either way. Like LeBron can play” point guard, Beal said with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter, so I just have to be able to come in and show what I’ve got. It’s totally different than the NBA.”

***

No. 4: Heat just getting started on the 2013-14 season? — So playtime is over now for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade came back for Sunday’s Finals rematch and win over the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Bosh made up for his woes against the Spurs during The Finals with a huge effort and the Heat looked energized and much more like the outfit that is chasing a third straight title and fourth straight trip to The Finals, where the Spurs could once again await them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com dissects the Heat’s season and where they stand going forward:

After weeks of clearly struggling with motivation, the Heat are about to have plenty of it put before them. Sunday’s strong 113-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs kicked off a stretch where the Heat will play teams with winning records in seven of 10 games. Not by accident, eight of their next 12 games are on national television.

More importantly, Sunday was also the first day the Heat had their full roster since the start of the season. Though they’re hardly alone in that distinction, with the league ravaged by injuries to stars, the Heat had a rather large variable in play because of the recent appearance that Greg Oden could end up being a factor at their weakest position.

The Heat have been rapped across the knuckles recently for what has been dubbed a “malaise” as they’ve swallowed nine losses against teams with losing records. What that fails to recognize is that the Heat were actually two games better this season through 43 games than they were last season. There were plenty of “what the?” games in the first few months last season as they struggled to get traction after winning the 2012 title.

It was last season in their 44th game when they truly got serious, after a losing road trip. It started Super Bowl weekend and they eventually reeled off 27 wins in a row and found a rhythm that carried them to another title.

It’s Super Bowl week again and the Heat have those several reasons to start getting serious, including a 2-4 road trip that ended grimly last week. Forget about another one of those crazy winning streaks (though the current one is at three and counting) but it wasn’t hard to miss how the Heat seemed to start to depress the gas against the Spurs.

Leading by 29 points at one point before the gap closed in garbage time, they delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and their first quality win of the new year. It wasn’t a sterling defensive performance — those have been particularly elusive for the Heat this season and what they are really looking for — but there was no missing their increased intensity.

“They came with their A-game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew unveils their Sunday Feast

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: We didn’t mean to snub Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers in an exciting Grammy night show which also served as a homecoming for the heir apparent of Oakland’s point guard legacy … Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is doing his due diligence to pump Dirk Nowitzki up as an All-Star reserve … New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is content to let his play do the talking for him … Nuggets point guard Nate Robinson is operating behind enemy lines this week as an unabashed fan of his hometown Seattle Seahawks

ICYMI of The Night: Between the highlights and the narration of Beau Estes, the Top 10 Plays is a must-watch and must-listen on a daily basis. Sunday’s Top 10 plays is no different. Watch the players shine and enjoy Beau’s soundtrack while you do it:


VIDEO: Check out Sunday’s Top 10 plays, the best highlights and delivery in the business

Rockets Marking Time, Not Progress


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew break down Dwight Howard’s play vs. OKC

HOUSTON — Cross that off their bucket lists.

Now the Rockets know what it’s like to step into an empty elevator shaft. Or out of a moving jet. Or off the roof of a tall building.

The last time anything went over an edge this fast, it was an anvil that wound up landing on the head of Wile E. Coyote.

The rootin’ tootin’, fastest-shootin’ bunch in the NBA filled up the hoop for a season-high 73 points in the first half Wednesday night against the Thunder. Then scored 19 in the second half.

For the anomaly inclined, it was the largest point disparity (54) between halves in league history.

Ordinarily to see such a rapid reversal from feast to famine, one has to go out for double cheeseburgers with one of those bony supermodels.

In the end, what we have is a clear line of demarcation between an honest-to-goodness Western Conference title contender and a team that just likes to flex in front of the mirror.

After a middling 5-5 record since Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery on Dec. 27 — including five losses in the span of eight games and three in their last four — the Thunder may have been tempted to write another one off after Houston’s dozen first-half 3-pointers.

Instead, coach Scott Brooks took them to the movies at halftime, showing video replays of the horror show defense that led to almost every single one of those 3-pointers.

Some were from gaps in the defense. Some were the result of switches. Some were just lazy. But no matter what, the Thunder decided they’d had enough.

“Hell yeah, it was a statement win,” crowed Westbrook above the through that had gathered around Kevin Durant after his 36-point game.

The kind that said even without one of the twin engines to their offense, Thunder have the know-how, the wherewithal and the grit not to simply throw up their hands and write another one off as a bad night.

“We just stuck with it,” Durant said.

It was also a statement about the Rockets in the 41st game of a season that hasn’t seen much difference or overall improvement from the 11th, 21st or 31st.

When the Rockets are raining 3-pointers and using the gaps created to also attack the basket, as they did in the first half, they are virtually unbeatable. But when the shots stop falling —  as they did in the second half — the Rockets can be unwatchable and don’t seem like a bunch that could navigate the marathon of a deep postseason run. Or even the first round of the playoffs.

It’s an act they’ve got memorized like the lines of a long-running Broadway play.

Coach Kevin McHale shakes his head and talks about the ball “sticking” in the offense and bemoaning the fact his team can’t play with consistent energy all game.

James Harden, the supposed closer who did not score a point in the second half, churlishly challenges the notion that anything at all went wrong except a couple of shots not falling.

Dwight Howard, after five-point second half, sits in front of his locker mumbling responses to questions, as if the whispering lets the outside world know that, by gosh, he’s taking this one seriously. That’s after another night of Howard reverting to form as the frustrated, stifled big man who can’t score and falls back into pushing, shoving and getting slapped with double technical fouls.

“We’ve got to play the right way if we want to win,” Howard said. “Once we figure it out, we’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t even a week ago when the Rockets blew a 25-point lead to the lowly Wizards, but had enough to fight back and win. The difference, of course, is that the thoroughly mediocre Wizards of the laughably horrid Eastern Conference are not in the same class as the Westbrook-less Thunder.

So while they have shown a propensity for often making a bunch of shots, the Rockets have not shown an inclination or an ability yet to reach for the next level of concentration and execution.

Whose fault is that? Howard’s? Harden’s? McHale’s?

“We’re good, Harden said. “We missed layups, a couple of errant turnovers that we could have converted in transition,” said Harden. “Just small things.”

Like that first step off the rooftop.


VIDEO: Is Dwight Howard still a great player in the NBA?

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

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