Posts Tagged ‘Zaza Pachulia’

Report: Mavericks sign Dalembert

The Mavericks are still trying to fill in the big hole in the middle of their lineup caused by DeAndre Jordan’s reneging on a verbal free agent deal.

Dallas previously added 31-year-old center Zaza Pachulia in a trade with Milwaukee. Now the Mavs have signed Samuel Dalembert to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Dalembert played for coach Rick Carlisle two years ago in Dallas, and will get an opportunity to play a significant role at center for the Mavericks.

Dalembert will join Zaza Pachulia, acquired in a deal with Milwaukee, as part of the Mavericks’ center rotation.

Dallas lost Tyson Chandler to Phoenix in free agency and was unable to persuade the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to honor his verbal commitment in free agency and sign with the Mavericks.

Dalembert, 34, is fighting to reclaim his professional standing in the NBA and a return to the Mavericks could have a strong mutual benefit if he takes advantage of the opportunity.

Dalembert returns to the Mavericks, where he played 80 games in the 2013-14 season before Dallas sent him to New York as part of the Tyson Chandler trade. He averaged 6.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Mavericks.

Meanwhile ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting the Mavericks are still not done adding big bodies. He says they still have interest in free agent center JaVale McGee and are closing in on a three-year contract with Salah Mejri of Tunisia, who has played for Real Madrid in Spain.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Mavericks?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ postseason ouster

> How does his change of heart affect the Mavericks, their offseason moves and the upcoming season? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This is potentially devastating to Dallas, which won 50 games last season and now will be doing well not to lose 50. The options left among available big men are limited – Amar’e Stoudemire‘s name has come up, but he’s strictly a limited-minutes guy at this point, and neither Kevin Seraphin nor Josh Smith is a center, for those suggesting them. Owner Mark Cuban‘s “David Robinson year” remark might actually play out, and that’s tough to imagine for Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle and a few others. I am looking forward, though, to seeing Dallas sign Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley to 1-day contracts for the first Clippers-Mavericks meeting this season. Just to dish out reminders to Jordan and a couple of his teammate-rescuers that this episode won’t soon be forgotten.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Mavericks are burnt toast for the 2015-16 season, another waste of one of Dirk Nowitzki’s last years and that’s the worst part of the flip-flop. Dallas is in the lottery, up to its 10-gallon hat. But I’m going on the record here as saying Mark Cuban will be thankful this happened in a couple of years. While Jordan is worth the price to the Clippers to keep him as the third wheel with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he would have been badly exposed as Cuban’s so-called “franchise player” down the line. It was a bad joke to even mention him in the same breath as Shaquille O’Neal. I think Jordan might even have realized that himself and ran from that burden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s a brutal outcome for the Mavs. It’s not like DeAndre Jordan turned them down and they implemented the fallback plan. By the time he had finished mishandling the situation at historical levels, they were scrambling for the fallback plan to the fallback plan. The Dallas front office began the offseason with a clear plan, executed it with precision… and then got it fell apart through no fault of anyone there. If Wesley Matthews comes back strong, the Mavericks will be around .500, respectable but not in the playoffs. And they will have a lot of people rooting for them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I think there’s a silver lining to losing DeAndre. I always thought the Mavericks with him were nothing special … maybe a No. 6 or 7 team in the West. This way, they can get a jump on rebuilding and stash their millions for next summer and plan to transition from the Dirk Nowitzki era.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas is where the Clippers were 24 hours ago. They have a strong starting lineup, with a huge hole at center. Unlike the Clippers, they have a lot of cap space. But while there are a lot of centers still available, they’re all back-up quality. So I could see them trading for Chris Andersen or Zaza Pachulia. As they stand, they’re in the 8-10 range in the Western Conference, with the health and recovery of Wes Matthews still being a big question.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is the strange part for me — I didn’t think adding DeAndre was a gamechanger for the Mavericks. Sure, he would help shore up the middle. But without an elite point guard feeding him, I don’t know that he would have been a consistent force for the Mavericks on both ends of the floor. The Mavericks certainly don’t have any options comparable to DJ now, and that’s a potentially devastating blow for a franchise that is contemplating the dreaded rebuild. I don’t like the idea of Dirk Nowitzki on a lottery team in his twilight years, but in the absence of some miraculous move between now and training camp, that’s the predicament these guys could be in this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Mavericks are going to miss the playoffs, and they may lose their draft pick to the Celtics (unless it lands among the top seven) by way of the Rondo trade. The silver lining will emerge one year from now if they can turn Jordan’s absence into a superior free agent in 2016. But this interim season is going to be a long one for a team that figures to have no identity at either end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Without DeAndre, I’m not sure that they do rank among the West hierarchy. The Western Conference is so stacked, and if you’re looking for playoff teams that might drop out of the picture to make room for teams like Oklahoma City, Phoenix or Utah, I’d look directly at Portland (after losing LaMarcus Aldridge) and Dallas. Losing Monta Ellis will hurt, and while Wesley Matthews should be a nice addition, he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles. Jordan could have given them a nice frontline alongside Dirk and Chandler Parsons. Now they need Dirk to play like MVP Dirk. And I’m not sure that player still exists.

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Bulls count Mirotic in for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – From the OK-so-he’s-not-Willis-Reed-but… department, Chicago reserve forward Nikola Mirotic was a surprise addition to the Bulls’ active roster for Game 4 Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 rookie from Montenegro, had missed Game 3 Thursday with a bruised left knee and quadriceps strain after a skirmish while on the floor with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia in Game 2 on Monday night. On Friday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Mirotic still had done no running since the injury. But the 24-year-old got over to Bradley Center later in the day and showed marked improvement in his mobility.

“Actually he felt a lot better [Friday] too,” Thibodeau said before Game 4. “If he wasn’t good enough, he wouldn’t be playing. He was able to play 1-on-1 and stuff yesterday.”

Mirotic worked through some warm-up/rehab drills before the game and appeared to move fine. He was one of two Bulls players to appear in all 82 games in the regular season. His averages through the series’ first two games against the Bucks – 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in about 18 minutes – were a drop-off from the numbers he posted after March 1 (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

With the Bulls up 3-0 in the series, some observers assumed Mirotic might be held out longer to recuperate for a likely role in the conference semifinals. Being active didn’t guarantee he would play in Game 4, though Thibodeau said he’d have no trouble finding minutes for the valuable “stretch 4″ forward.

“We’ll go back to our old rotation,” the Bulls coach said. “There’s enough for everybody.”

Bulls’ Mirotic likely out for Game 3


CHICAGO – Still hobbled by a left knee and quadriceps injury suffered Monday against Milwaukee, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic has been ruled out of Game 3 when his team faces the Bucks again Thursday in their Eastern Conference their first-round series.

Mirotic did some light shooting and was limping better after the Bulls’ practice Wednesday – an encouraging sign in general but not enough to count him in for the next game. The Bulls sounded ready to proceed without the 6-foot-10 reserve from Montenegro, who picked up votes for both the NBA’s top rookie and Sixth Man awards.

“He adds a lot of versatility to our frontcourt,” Pau Gasol said. “The floor is gonna be more open when he’s out there because of his shooting ability. I’m sure we’re gonna miss some of his stuff. But at the same time, Taj [Gibson] is going to get a little more minutes. He needs to get going. We’re going to work with what we have, like we have been doing all season long.”

Mirotic, 24, averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in Games 1 and 2, a dip from his regular-season numbers and definitely from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. He suffered a strained quadriceps and a knee bruise during a tussle with Milwaukee center Zaza Pachulia late in a more physical Game 2, with Pachulia falling back onto Mirotic’s left leg.

Mirotic was one of two Bulls player to appear in all 82 regular-season games (Aaron Brooks was the other). He tied with Brooks for the team high in 3-point field goal attempts, while also ranking third in rebounds.

“It will be an adjustment,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “He’s a unique player, so can’t really duplicate exactly what he does, but we’ve got guys that can fill in and hopefully hold down the fort.”

Said coach Tom Thibodeau, who has shrugged off injuries as bad or worse than Mirotic’s over the past several seasons: “We’re prepared both ways. That’s the way we have to go into every game. He could play in the next one. It could be two games. I don’t know how many games. He said he feels a lot better today than he did yesterday, which is a good sign.”

Mirotic takes pounding (thigh, knee, head) as Bucks-Bulls series gets physical


VIDEO: Things get more than chippy between Nikola Mirotic and Zaza Pachulia

CHICAGO – As accustomed as the Chicago Bulls have grown with injuries, there’s a Monty Pythonesque “Black Knight” vibe to them sometimes, with even significant ailments and breakdowns getting the “it’s only a flesh wound” treatment.

That’s why the concern over valuable reserve forward Nikola Mirotic after the Bulls’ Game 2 victory over Milwaukee Monday night exceeded the measured tone of the team’s official postgame injury update.

Mirotic, limping considerably afterward both as he left the court and back in the locker room, had suffered a left quadriceps strain and was to be “re-evaluated in the morning.” But the 6-foot-10 rookie who blossomed deep into the season as Chicago’s sixth-man option also had a noticeable knot on his knee. There were worries, too, that he might have a concussion after his skirmish on the floor with 2:48 left to play with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia. The teams play again Thursday, with the Bulls holding a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two.

Mirotic didn’t talk with reporters and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had no further information when he met with the media afterwards. But teammate Pau Gasol did take stock of Mirotic’s hobbled state and didn’t appreciate Pachulia’s rugged work (and ejection) in a game that was much more physical than the series opener.

“Hopefully it won’t be anything serious,” Gasol said. “I think Zaza had a couple of bad plays, not basketball plays. He got penalized with technicals, but [the officials have] just got to protect players.”

Mirotic has averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in his first two playoff games. That’s a dip from his regular-season numbers, certainly from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. But Mirotic logged nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday, a sign of Thibodeau’s trust and the Bulls’ needs for his multiple skills in closing games.

Morning Shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

*** (more…)

Numbers preview: Bulls-Bucks


VIDEO: East Series Preview: Bulls – Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — There’s a lot of new blood at the top of the Eastern Conference. The teams that met in the conference finals each of the last two years failed to qualify for the postseason this year. And only one of the top six teams in the standings – Washington – won a playoff series last year.

The Milwaukee Bucks represent the new blood. They were in the postseason two years ago, but only one player – Ersan Ilyasova – remains from that roster. And the weakness of the Eastern Conference has allowed the Bucks to go from the worst record in the NBA to a No. 6 seed with 41 wins.

The Chicago Bulls were supposed to be one of the favorites in the East. But injuries and a drop-off on defense have resulted in a disappointing season. They have all their pieces back together for the postseason, but haven’t had the time to build much consistency on either end of the floor.

This promises to be the ugliest series of the first round. The two teams combined to score just 95 points per 100 possessions in their four regular season meetings.

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

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

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Pace: 95.4 (21)
OffRtg: 104.7 (10)
DefRtg: 101.5 (11)
NetRtg: +3.3 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Milwaukee: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

20150416_opp_mid-range

Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)

Pace: 96.5 (12)
OffRtg: 100.5 (25)
DefRtg: 99.3 (2)
NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bucks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Bulls won 3-1 (2-0 in Chicago).
Pace: 93.3
CHI OffRtg: 97.6 (17th vs. MIL)
MIL OffRtg: 91.8 (26th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch | Monroe denies trade rumors | Bucks win thriller but lose Parker | Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while

No. 1: Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee

Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.

“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”

That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.

D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.

“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”

Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.

D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.

Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.

Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.

“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”

***

No. 2: Monroe denies trade rumors — A day after a story in the Sporting News reported that he “badly” wanted to be traded by the Detroit Pistons, both Greg Monroe and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy strongly refuted the rumors that Monroe was on the block. As Vince Ellis writes in the Detroit Free-Press

“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”

Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.

He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”

***

No. 3: Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.

“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.

Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.

“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.

“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”

Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.

Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”

“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.

“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”

***

No. 4: Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian

“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.

Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.

“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”

The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.

How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.

“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Pacers owner Herb Simon says he’d be fine with a trade to bring back Lance Stephenson, but it’s not his call … Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet sat courtside in Cleveland last night to see LeBron James play … Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan and the time he almost quit basketball for soccer … Mike Fratello will remain coach of the Ukraine National Team for at least a few more years … Darko Milicic will make his kickboxing debut later this week …

Proud Hawks keep playoff streak alive

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague talks about the Hawks clinching their playoff bid against the Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They did it with their best player sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle since Christmas, with a parade of journeymen and supposedly over the hill stars like Elton Brand filling in and playing huge minutes, with the likes of Pero Antic and Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and DeMarre Carroll playing vital roles.

Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, fantastic basically from start to the near finish of this regular season for the now playoff bound Atlanta Hawks, can probably walk around the city without being rushed by fans for autographs. Would you even know Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap if he walked up on you in street clothes?

Perhaps … but probably not.

Reserve guard Lou Williams, in and out of the regular rotation all season, is arguably the most recognizable face on the roster for locals, and that’s mostly because he played his high school ball in the area at South Gwinnett High.

These Hawks are the poster child for the anti-tanking movement, a motley crew if ever there was one, bound for a first round playoff matchup against either the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (the team they beat Saturday to secure their Eastern Conference-best seventh straight postseason trip) or the struggling Indiana Pacers.

Instead of accepting their fate after All-Star center Al Horford saw his season end the day after Christmas due to a torn pectoral muscle, the Hawks survived and advanced to yet another trip to the playoff line.

Williams, who scored 18 of the Hawks’ 29 fourth-quarter points, including the final 12 Atlanta points of the game, admitted that the opponent Saturday night did not matter. The outcome was the sole focus.

“It doesn’t make a difference (who the opponent was),” he said. “That was our second time beating them this year. We gave them an overtime run earlier this year. It’s a team we’ve played well against this season. It was just satisfying to get a win and be in the groove that we’re in.”

As stubborn as they are fearless, Mike Budenholzer‘s Hawks finished the season series with a 2-2 record against the Heat. They had the same mark against the Indiana Pacers, the team they’d face if the playoffs began today. Whoever earns that No. 1 seed will be dealing with a No. 8 seed just crazy enough to believe they can compete with the best.

They could have packed it in and headed for the lottery, like so many others. Their fans wouldn’t have blamed them. The prospect of a higher pick in the lottery and the wistfulness that comes with it make for an easy sell. What could be is always a powerful elixir when you know there is no hope for a championship.

The hard work and dedication it takes to earn a playoff berth, even in a year when the Eastern Conference is historically weak, shows a level of perseverance that the Hawks should be applauded for showing. They knocked the dysfunctional Knicks (and former Hawks coach Mike Woodson) out of the playoff mix, ending Carmelo Anthony‘s personal playoff streak at 10 seasons.

Budenholzer is working with a much different talent base than Woodson did when he started the Hawks’ playoff streak. Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia comprised the core group. Hawks boss Danny Ferry hasn’t had the time to build a comparable core group, yet.

They backdoored their way into the No. 8 seed in 2008 and promptly scared the life out of the top-seed and eventual champion Boston Celtics with an epic seven-game series that was as entertaining as it was intense, considering one team finished the regular season 66 wins and the other with 37. (It was arguably the Celtics’ toughest series during their championship run, seeing as how they only saw one more Game 7 — against Cleveland — during their march to the Larry O’Brien trophy.)

“I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving, and getting better each practice,” Budenholzer said after his team outlasted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat before a raucous home crowd Saturday night. “We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits. (Miami’s) habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”

The Hawks got exactly what they earned, which is at least four more games for this bunch to show that sometimes it’s hard to break a habit of winning your way into the playoffs.


VIDEO: Jeff Teague leads the way as the Hawks earn their seventh straight playoff bid