Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

Morning Shootaround — May 11

VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 10

Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on | Clippers hack their way to cusp of history | Wall unlikely to play in Game 4 | Vultures circling Warriors

No. 1: Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on — Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been reduced to a injury unit Big 1.5. Even LeBron is hobbled right now with a sore ankle he turned in Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. Love is gone for the postseason after shoulder surgery. But Irving is dealing with more than just a sore left ankle. He’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, a gusty but dangerous move for the young point guard in the midst of his first ever playoff experience. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is hurting more than he is letting on.

He’s dealing with more than just the right foot strain that was made public by coach David Blatt on Friday, even though the injury occurred almost three weeks ago in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

After the huge Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls to even the series, I asked him directly in the media scrum to address if there’s anything wrong with his left leg, and he paused briefly, before responding “Nah. Nah, there’s nothing wrong.”

As soon as the media contingent dissipated, Irving said, “Chris, you’re very observant.”

Irving’s left leg has been wrapped in dynamic taping, which is elastic that helps support the structure of the body. The pain is believed to be caused due to overcompensating. Upon exiting the arena last night with a grimacing expression plastered to his face, Irving walked gingerly and limped extremely noticeably.

However, it wasn’t his right foot that he was favoring. He was very cautious with each step not to place weight on his left leg. The Cavaliers are calling it a “sore left leg,” for the time being.

Irving is guarded when it comes to not revealing injuries and their extent, not wanting to give the opponent any sort of an advantage. He said “that’s Basketball 101.”

He’s laboring out there. The speed, the acceleration, the first step isn’t there. He’s giving it all he has, and has no plans of letting his team down. He’s in it until the very end.

“I’d rather will it out and give it a chance, than sitting back and watching my brothers compete without me,” Irving said.

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ Game 4 win

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Morning shootaround — May 9

VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

Rose back in bloom | Rivers runs through Rockets | Caution with Wall | Rockets embarrassed

No. 1: Rose shot overcomes the thorns of comeback — How many hours in an empty gym or vacant rehab facility, with only his thoughts and his drive to accompany him, went into that shot? How many times did he push past the notion that something like this might never happen again? How much pain and misery did Derrick Rose let go of with that buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take down the Cavaliers on Friday night? Our man Steve Aschburner was there to describe the very special moment:

Your second thought was, how many times has Derrick Rose made that shot over the past three years — in an empty gym, maybe with a kid rebounding for him, as he shot and shot and shot alone, the crowd and the clock and the stakes conjured only in his imagination on another lonely day of rehab from his three knee surgeries?

As dazzling as Rose’s shot was in winning Game 3 of the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cavs Friday night at United Center, his back story — this guy, having this moment, in this building, this way — pushed it exponentially along the “special” scale.

Racing as he did to the right along the 3-point arc in search of space, getting just enough from Taj Gibson’s pick on Iman Shumpert and launching just over the fingertips of Tristan Thompson, high and deep and banking in off the glass, Rose’s game-winner to beat the horn, 99-96, would grab a spot among the NBA’s 2015 postseason highlights even if he were, say, Aaron Brooks.

Factor in his season-snuffing injuries in 2012 and 2013, though, and the close call he and the Bulls got with his third, less serious knee trauma this season, Rose’s shot to win and put Chicago up 2-1 in the series that continues Sunday felt a little like closure.

Leaping into Joakim Noah’s arms, detonating the sea of red 22,000 strong in United Center, doing it all against a familiar foil in LeBron James and his latest crew, it would have been a clichéd ending, too Hollywood, had it happened in a Game 7. But for a Game 3, with so much more basketball to play, both teams revving up, it was a opportune time for the Bulls and their fans to pause and reflect a little on Rose’s long, tortuous road back.

“Everybody in this locker room knows how much pain he was in,” said Gibson, who had hit possibly the two biggest free throws of his life with 23.5 seconds left for a short-lived 96-93 lead.

“Through all the years, going through the ups and downs. And how frustrating it has been for him. I’m just extremely happy for him. I’ve known he was capable of making big-time shots. I’m just happy he’s back out there with a lot of confidence, wanting the ball late.”


No. 2: Austin Rivers lifts the whole Clippers family — On the night when all of Clippers Nation was holding its breath over the condition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul in his return to the lineup, it was his backup Austin Rivers who gave everyone at Staples Center reason to gasp. The kid who plays for his father grew up as a big-time playoff star by taking over the game in the third quarter as the Clippers blew out the Rockets to take a 2-1 series lead. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register says all the young guard got publicly was a brief hand-slap from father Doc, but all of his teammates wildly celebrated the big delivery and event:

A soldout crowd at Staples Center chanted his name after Rivers delivered a scintillating third quarter, helping the Clippers blow out Houston, 124-99, Friday night.

And all he got from his dad, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, was a brief hand-slap.

The Clippers lead the Rockets, 2-1, in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 4 Sunday night at Staples Center.

Rivers scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting in an 18-0 Clippers run to end the third quarter.

Paul, who recorded 12 points and seven assists in 23 minutes, turned to Doc Rivers and gave him permission to do the one thing he’s fought since acquiring his son in mid-January.

“This is one time you can be Dad and not just coach,” Paul said.

Doc Rivers didn’t listen, he stayed engaged in the game, calling Paul’s message almost “white noise.”

But he couldn’t ignore the chants; they were that loud. Jamal Crawford motioned for the crowd to say it louder – “Austin Rivers, clap clap clap clap.”

“That moment is priceless,” Crawford said.

Austin Rivers attacked the basket, drawing fouls and finishing through contact. He juked his way into space and hit step-back 3-pointers. He hit all seven of his shots inside the 3-point line, and behind it, he made half of his six attempts.

Rivers finished 10-for-13 for 25 points, a career playoff high. It’s the third time in these playoffs he’s scored 16 or more points – as many times as he did it during 41 games with the Clippers in the regular season.

“I had so much fun out there,” Austin Rivers said.

Rivers’ play helped the Clippers keep Paul from over-exerting himself in the second half in his return from a two-game absence from an injured left hamstring.

“Tonight, it was really important for one of the guards to have that night,” Doc Rivers said. “It really allowed CP to ease into it. “


No. 3: Wizards will wait and see on Wall — Though it seems quite unlikely that John Wall will be back in the lineup for Game 3 against the Hawks today, the Wizards will keep the door open right up to the opening tip for their All-Star point guard in Game 3 against the Hawks today. Wall tells our own John Schuhmann that he doesn’t want to hear any talk of missing the rest of the series and he’ll do what it takes to get back onto the court and contribute:

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.”


No. 4: Rockets lost their post along with game — It is one thing that get hit with the surprise tsunami that was Austin Rivers and to feel the energy of the Staples Center crowd. But when the Clippers turned up the heat in Game 3, the Rockets lost their poise and fell completely apart, according to coach Kevin McHale and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Rockets coach Kevin McHale could only feel sick.

While Rivers soared, the Rockets panicked. They launched early 3s. They did not get back defensively. They failed to pressure ball handlers at all as the Los Angeles offense that had been rolling from the start and for all but one half of the series’ three games pounded them for five minutes that took a close game and made it a spectacular rout.

“Well, we didn’t play much defense at that point,” McHale said. “They made a few shots on us, we had a couple turnovers during that stretch, and you know, they were running, we weren’t getting back, played very poorly during that stretch, needless to say.

“I mean, the game got completely loose at that point, and they were playing with a ton of confidence and we weren’t.”

Mostly, the Rockets did not play with much poise. They had recovered from the Clippers’ offensive assault through the first half to put together a 10-0 run to end the second quarter and begin the third, pulling them to within three. The Clippers recovered, but after a Corey Brewer 3-pointer with 3:50 left in the third quarter, the Rockets were down just five.

On the next possession, Josh Smith slammed into Blake Griffin for an offensive foul. He followed that with a missed layup and a missed 3. In the final 3:50 of the third quarter, the Rockets missed all seven of their shots, six coming from beyond the 3-point line off one or no passes, and three turnovers.

“We did not do a good job of handling all the pressure, all the things that came with that little bit of a run,” McHale said. “We just let go of the rope, and they piled on us.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol’s hamstring makes him a question for Game 4 in Chicago…LeBron James didn’t take kindly to what Joakim Noah had to say…Big decisions last summer could be what put the Warriors over the top…Could LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin swap places?  Really?…Deron Williams wouldn’t rule out a return to Utah…Good buddies Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan have put their friendship on hold while they beat each other up in playoff series…Raymond Felton is picking up his option in Dallas.

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

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

Hawks weigh rest versus rhythm

VIDEO: Will John Wall be ready for the Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?

ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards, All-Star point guard John Wall in particular, needs rest.

He needs every second, every minute of every day between Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to rest that fractured left wrist and hand of his.

The Hawks, on the other hand, would just as soon get back to it as quickly as possible. The three days between games slows their momentum. They need to continue their rhythm more than they need three full days of rest between games.

It’s a delicate balance, managing the NBA playoff schedule, depending on which side of the good vibrations your team is on. For the Hawks, getting back on the winning track in Game 2 felt good. Taking a few days to cool off might not be to their benefit.

In fact, the quicker they get back to it, the better. Saturday’s 5 p.m. ET tipoff for Game 3 cannot get here fast enough.

“It feels good, physically it gives our bodies a rest,” Paul Millsap said of the break. “Mentally, we continue to prepare as a team and get better and either way I think it’s good for us.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said the time off allows he and his staff to lock in and tweak things and correct any areas where there has been noticeable slippage in his team’s performance. Jeff Teague‘s sore ankle also has time to rest, as does Al Horford‘s sore finger and whatever other bumps and bruises the Hawks are dealing with at this time.

“To have a couple of days to pay a little more attention to detail and pay attention to the purpose with which we do things, you feel like you can do it in practice and not be overtaxing,” Budenholzer said. “so hopefully, when we play on Saturday we’ll know much more. But hopefully, when you have a couple of extra days of practice it’s always a good thing.”

The grind of the quick turnaround from a Game 6 win over Brooklyn on a Friday night to a 1 p.m. tip Sunday for Game 1 against the Wizards, a game the Hawks lost, took its toll. So any natural break in the action between games can be used to the their advantage this time around.

“I think the break came for us at a good time,” Kyle Korver said. “We had a really quick turnaround between series. We had a really physical games here lately. I think we played the late game in New York. And I think I got to bed at 4:30 in the morning, came here and watched some film (on Saturday) and then played the early game on Sunday. And it’s been a couple of physical games in this series, so for us, for me and a lot of us, these couple of days in the middle have been great and you have to take advantage of them.”

The time off gives the Hawks a chance to recharge their batteries and the Wizards a chance to figure out how they proceed potentially without Wall in the mix. Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce and Ramon Sessions, who started in Wall’s place in Game 2, will all have to maintain an extremely high level of production to offset the absence of Wall, if he’s not cleared to play in Game 3 and or Game 4.

It doesn’t change any of the preparation plans for the Hawks, though. Wall’s status for the weekend is still being evaluated. The Hawks can’t wait. They leave for Washington tonight and will practice in Friday on site, readying themselves for a game Wizards team with or without their All-Star point guard in uniform.

“It was good to get back in the win column in this series,” Korver said. “We know we have to win one there (in Washington), so that’s our mindset.”

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


Pick one.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

VIDEO: Stephen Curry is your new KIA MVP

Wizards focused on here and now

VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards toppled the Hawks in Game 1

ATLANTA — John Wall‘s wrist and hand were wrapped tight, making sure to protect the offhand he fell hard on Sunday.

Bradley Beal‘s ankle looked fine. There didn’t appear to be any complications from the twist that looked much worse at the time than it ultimately turned out to be.

Whatever the issues were Sunday, both claimed Monday afternoon that the trials and tribulations endured during that Game 1 win over the Atlanta Hawks can officially be classified as the past. For the young stars of the Washington Wizards and the rest of their teammates, anything that is not on the to-do-list qualifies as the past. And these Wizards waste no time on what happened yesterday, last month or even last year.

Their focus is on what’s next, the here and now and that certainly includes Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Hawks. The Wizards are hungry for the opportunity to snatch another playoff road win and crank up the pressure on the No. 1-seeded Hawks when the series shifts locales from Philips Arena to Washington’s Verizon Center.

Being greedy is on the minds of the Wizards. Being hungry enough to take control of this series, blocking out whatever adversity there is and rising the magnitude of the moment is the focus. They did learn that from experience, from last year’s playoff run, the highs and lows.

The inconvenience of a sprained ankle or a swollen wrist … they are minor issues when you are focused on taking that next step the way the Wizards’ young guns are right now.

“I’ve sprained this ankle 30 times,” Beal said. “The swelling is never going away. It wasn’t that bad. I actually have to thank our trainers because I feel a lot better today.”

Grinding through Game 1 and the adversity that came with it shows the Wizards’ true colors, Beal said. Rallying from a 12-point deficit and holding the Hawks off to the end, it speaks volumes about the fabric of this group.

“Heat and passion,” Beal said, “that’s all it was. We didn’t give up. We know Atlanta’s a great team. They’ve given us trouble all year during the regular season, we expected them to go on runs and make big plays, but we stayed poised. And that’s a growing thing for us over the past couple of seasons. It shows how mature we are and how we can handle pressure situations down the stretch.”

From the mouth of the Wizards’ 21-year-old leading scorer to the ears of many of his more experienced teammates. The Wizards might not admit to focusing on the past, but they have no doubt learned from it. The opportunity that slipped through their fingers during the 2014 East semifinals won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“The main thing is you try to get one, you really try to get two on the road,” Wall said. “Most important is you try to get the first game, I feel like that’s the key game. You try to put yourself in a good position and now we have an opportunity to try and get another one and go home up 2-0. We know it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be tougher than what it was (in Game 1). Those guys are probably not going to miss as many shots as they did in the fourth quarter. But I feel like we can play better, we didn’t play our best game.”

The learning curve, real and recognized or not, has been steep.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman acknowledged as much Monday, praising his team for their continued focus. That’s a trait the Wizards haven’t been noted for in the past but one that is rapidly becoming a part of them.

“Focus, we don’t lose focus, through good times and bad,” Wittman said of what has sustained his team. “Just stay focused and fight through it, that’s the resiliency they’ve shown. I think they see it. You always say it, it’s a long game. You look up at the clock and say ‘how many minutes are left in this game.’ And just stay with it and work ourselves back to a point where we are still in it. that’s what it all is, if you’re not focused now, something’s wrong.”

The Wizards had plenty of time to focus on the Hawks. Sweeping the higher seed Toronto Raptors lit a fire for them. The Wizards’ appetite for more grew as they waited for the Hawks to finish off the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series.

There are no secrets between the Wizards and Hawks. They’ve seen more than enough of each other to know that this is a fair fight, that this will be a challenge, even with home court advantage in their favor now, than what they faced against the Raptors.

“It’s huge, huge,” Beal said of Game 2. “We always say it, each game gets tougher and tougher. But we’re ready for it. We’re expecting for them to come out and hit us, but we’re going to hit them first. And we’re going to continue to do the same things we did last game, and improve in some areas because it wasn’t perfect. So we’ve got a lot to improve upon. But we like where we’re at right now.”

Bumps and bruises included.

Morning Shootaround — May 4

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning Shootaround — April 27

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 26


Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max | Austin Rivers saves Clippers season | Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season | Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep

No. 1: Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max — The New Orleans Pelicans have a summer to-do-list that starts and ends with taking care of Anthony Davis. The Pelicans’ immediate future rests on making sure Davis is a part of the organization for years to come and that means signing him to a max deal. Marc Stein of has more:

League sources say that the Pels will be as aggressive as possible on July 1 in presenting Davis with a five-year maximum contract that makes him New Orleans’ designated player.

Given that the 22-year-old was voted to start in February’s All-Star Game and will likely earn All-NBA first-team status when voting results are announced in coming days, Davis would be in line to start his max deal at 30 percent of the league’s salary cap as opposed to a mere 25 percent as long as he earns just one of those same honors next season — or if he is named the 2015-16 MVP.

Based on the league’s most recent cap projections, Davis will thus be presented with a five-year pact that will eventually top $30 million annually and could exceed $140 million in total value in a deal that kicks in beginning in 2016-17 and run through his 28th birthday.

Can he really turn down those sort of riches and that level of security in the name of flexibility?

Would he turn that down when he’s clearly comfortable in New Orleans and, by all accounts, highly engaged as the young leader of his team?

Hard to see Davis resisting such lucrative insulation, though he certainly does have the option of signing a shorter extension to keep his free-agent future more open.


No. 2: Austin Rivers saves Clippers season — He was supposed to be a bit player in this series, a footnote at best. But make no mistake, with their season on the brink in Game 4 in San Antonio, Austin Rivers stepped up and helped save the Los Angeles Clippers. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports explains how Austin Rivers brought tears to his father’s eyes:

When Doc Rivers walked into the locker room, the scene stopped him. Chris Paul called on the Clippers to congratulate the young guard responsible for saving the season and present him the game ball. Everyone clapped. Everyone let out a long, loud cheer for Austin Rivers.

“For a moment, for a half second maybe, I became a dad in there,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports later on Sunday at the AT&T Center. The tears welled in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away and stiffened in the concrete corridor.

To trade for his son, Rivers had to make a case on the move’s merits to a dubious basketball community. He’s had to live with the criticism. They’ve had to live with it together. They had Sunday together, too.

Austin Rivers had his finest moment in the NBA on Sunday, scoring 16 points, delivering defense, deflections and a 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to bring this best-of-seven series 2-2 back to Staples Center. He made deft drives to the basket, fearless finishes to stun the Spurs.

For nine years, Doc Rivers coached and lived in Boston. For most of that time, his wife and children stayed in Orlando. Austin completed middle school and high school, spent a year at Duke and moved onto the NBA. Father and son were separated a long time, often coming and going in moments Doc had flown down and stolen an off-night for a high school game or an ACC game on Tobacco Road.

“Listen, we haven’t been together a lot,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “In a lot of ways, I am his coach.”

More coach than father, he’s trying to say. It’s an honest admission, and it comes tinged with a touch of sadness. Nevertheless, Austin Rivers has had to find his own way with these Clippers, earn his own respect. This was a beginning on Sunday, nothing more, nothing less.


No. 3: Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season — It’s all about Kobe Bryant next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with a monster free agent summer on tap, the Lakers’ focus will be on Kobe. Lakers boss Jeanie Buss insists the 2015-16 season will be a celebration of one of the franchise’s and NBA’s all-time greats and his 20 years with the franchise. Sean Highkin of has the details:

It’s been more or less known without anybody outright saying it for a while that next year will be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. His contract is up in 2016, which will put his career at 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, and the last three have ended with injuries.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss seems to know the end of the Kobe era is coming, if you go by her comments on a Sunday morning Bleacher Report radio interview:

Bryant has said that he doesn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour when he hangs it up, but it seems pretty obvious that it’s coming. And for the impact he’s had on the NBA and the sport worldwide, he deserves to take a victory lap regardless of what the Lakers do next season.


No. 4: Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep — The Portland Trail Blazers insist they will not go away quietly. They will not be swept out of these playoffs without a fight. Their season is on the line tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies and they vow to fight until the very end. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

A little more than nine weeks ago, the Trail Blazers‘ practice court was brimming with confidence and gusto.

They had just made a splash at the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Arron Afflalo to strengthen their bench and add depth for what figured to be a long and successful playoff run. Pundits universally lauded the move. San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich hailed it as a “great addition.” The Blazers boldly pronounced they were poised to contend for an NBA Championship.

Oh how things have changed.

On Sunday afternoon, that confidence and gusto had been replaced with disappointment and dejection. The Memphis Grizzlies have pummeled the Blazers in their best-of-seven Western Conference playoffs series, using muscle, moxie and better talent to build a 3-0 lead. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

And that history hovered over the Blazers like a thick fog Sunday at the practice facility in Tualatin, where they gathered for what could be their final practice of the season. No one said the season was done. Everyone promised to show heart and fight and claw until the final buzzer sounds at the end of Game 4, which is scheduled for 7:30 Monday night at the Moda Center.

But there was no escaping the daunting challenging in front of them. And there was no masking the inevitable gloom that comes with the reality the season is all but over.

“Right now, we’re at the point where we have to just have some heart and have some pride,” Damian Lillard said.

The Blazers spouted off the usual array of clichés, promising to take the series “one game at a time” and “only think about tomorrow’s game.” But history is impossible to ignore. And when the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics on Sunday, they became the 112th team in 112 chances to win a series after building a 3-0 lead.

“You can’t think about it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “You just have to go game-by-game. If you try to think about, ‘Oh, we’re down 0-3 and let’s try to win the series,’ I think that’s when you think about the history. But if you just go game-by-game, just focus on getting Game 4, then anything’s possible.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s summer pursuit of Kevin Love will no doubt be complicated after the “bush league” play from Kelly Olynyk … Knocked down and out, gutsy Jae Crowder embodied toughness of Celtics this season … The Hawks are still a bit salty after their poor shooting effort in a Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn NetsSteals could help the Bucks steal another playoff win if the Chicago Bulls aren’t more careful with the ball … Kevin Love‘s absence in Cleveland with that shoulder dislocation will depend on his personal injury history


Morning shootaround — April 25

VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”


No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.


No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.


No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.


No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

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

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

Morning Shootaround — April 18

VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry


Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21

VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA


Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”


No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update


No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.


No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night

VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento