First Cup: Friday

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
4:53
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: It was the pop heard around the Western Conference, the exploding of Wesley Matthews' left ankle changing a playoff race and exposing a team and a fan base to even more sorrow. The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut. How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers? Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I've watched Greg Oden's knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher. And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat. Matthews is that type of player. He doesn't just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team. He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West. ... The Blazers lost more than a good player. They lost their pulse. He is the closest friend on the team to LaMarcus Aldridge. His locker is next to Nicolas Batum, and he often offers consolation or advice to the up-and-down Batum. He will still undoubtedly be around the team as he rehabilitates, but there's no way it will be the same. A pop in a noisy arena. And just like that, everything changes.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Nobody’s done it yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time until an opposing coach employs the intentional foul on Rajon Rondo. The point guard is shooting only 28 percent (7 for 25) from the free throw line since joining Dallas. The positive thing is he doesn’t shoot many of them, given that deplorable shooting percentage. Carlisle said he’s confident in Rondo’s shooting and expects him to get more trips to the stripe the rest of the season. “In my mind, it’s just a matter of getting there,” Carlisle said. “If he’s getting to the line, that means he’s really aggressive and that’s always a positive for us.” Asked why he feels like Rondo will improve his percentage, Carlisle said: “The work he’s put in. He consistently makes them at practice.”
  • Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune: "There's nothing that he's not doing," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before his team rallied for a remarkable 108-105 victory Thursday night. "He's play-making, he's scoring, he's getting to the free throw line, he's rebounding. His speed is very difficult to deal with. And you never can guard those guys individually." Indeed, the Bulls threw Tony Snell at Westbrook. And Doug McDermott (don't laugh). And E'Twaun Moore. Thibodeau said the Bulls wanted to make Westbrook "work for his points," and they did. But he still got lots of 'em. Try 43 points on 14-for-32 shooting, to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. But in the end, the Bulls won the game — and protected the statue. Westbrook entered with four consecutive triple-doubles — the most since Jordan recorded seven straight in 1989. (The only other players in NBA history with four straight: Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Maurice Stokes.) ... Said Gasol: "I saw E'Twaun wide open and I gave it to him. It was just the right basketball play. He had a great look and made a hell of a shot." It was not the first game-winning shot of Moore's life, "but this was probably the best one," he said. "We practice the play," he added, "but the outcome is not always like that."
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: For years, the Thunder’s last-second inbounds plays have been a running joke in the Twitterverse. OKC typically struggles to produce any kind of decent look out of them. But, in truth, most teams rarely get better than a deep contested jumper in late-clock situations. It’s tough to draw something up against a highly tuned-in defense — which typically has its best defensive lineup on the floor — when they’re aware a shot must go up within moments of the inbound. And sometimes the gift of a transcendent playmaker can also become a curse in situations like this. If everyone knows the ball is going to Russell Westbrook, the Bulls can treat it as such. They can double-team and hound and force him into a bad spot. That’s what they did Thursday night and it burned the Thunder. But despite those tough obstacles, either Scott Brooks has to design something better or the OKC players have to execute better than what we saw in Chicago.
  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Before evolving into a team with the NBA’s best record — and I still can’t type that without my fingers going into spasms — the Hawks were punchline central. But it seemed appropriate Thursday that when a statue honoring Dominique Wilkins was unveiled, one of the league’s greatest icons took a little shot at the franchise for not fulfilling embracing the part of its history long worth celebrating. “This is a change agent for the franchise,” Julius Erving said. “This is something that will open the door for Pete Maravich, Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, Dan Roundfield, as well as the alumni who live in this city. Because a lot of those people live in this city. I think the organization might have neglected them. They took them for granted.” He’s right. We tend to live in the moment in sports. And when there are so many bad moments in a franchise, so many bumbling general managers and polarizing players, we forget the times created by individuals that are worth bottling and putting on a shelf to occasionally admire. Or in this, casting in bronze. Erving, a close friend of Wilkins and the last speaker before the guest of honor stepped on stage at star-filled luncheon at Philips Arena, said the Hawks, “have to take more of a family approach. Just because your family gets a little older or maybe moves out of the house doesn’t mean they stop being your family. If you don’t pay attention to history, it will come back and bite you.”
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Though Anthony Davis moved ahead of former New Orleans forward David West on Wednesday night for most career blocks in Pelicans' franchise history with 437, coach Monty Williams said it wasn't like he passed former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell. When asked Thursday about Davis' franchise-record achievement in only his third season in the NBA after achieving eight blocks against the Detroit Pistons, Williams said he looked at the franchise leader's list vaguely. "David West was the leader, so it wasn't like he passed Bill Russell," Williams said. "D-West won't like me saying that. But it's not like he passed Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or David Robinson or (Hakeem) Olajawon. Everybody knows how I feel about D. West. But I think it does say a lot about his (Davis') abilities. That's what he's been his whole life. He's been a shot blocker since he grew to be 6-10. That's what he does."
  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The league was dominated by centers such as Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning and David Robinson. Nowadays, players like them have gone the way of cassette tapes. "Yea, those were the good years," Hassan Whiteside said. "Those days are pretty much dying." Enter Whiteside. He's 7 feet. He's 265 pounds. And he's proving a true center can still dominate today's game. Whiteside, a former project who was out of the league, continues to impress the new generation with an old-school approach. Big guys dunk. They block shots. They own the paint. "He's a big," guard Dwyane Wade said. "You throw it down to him in the post — jump hook in some way is coming. He protects the basket. He rebounds the ball like the bigs back in the day, so he is a throwback." Whiteside is something the league hasn't seen in quite some time. Center today is more a finesse position, where a player's value is determined by how well he plays on the perimeter. A higher premium is placed on the inside-out game rather protecting the rim … or trying to tear it down at every chance on the offensive end. "I think he just needed time to develop," said Olajuwon.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Friday’s game in Orlando will be Jason Thompson’s 519th as a King, a record for the Sacramento era. Peja Stojakovic will be second with 518, followed by Mitch Richmond with 517. Thompson would prefer a big deal not be made of the milestone, but the team will acknowledge him when the Kings return from their eight-game trip, March 16 against Atlanta.
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: One reason you won’t see Kevin Garnett play more than he has so far since coming back to the Wolves is because he has a knee problem. The joint is worn out from 20 years of NBA play and it isn’t really an injury that can be operated on.
  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Lost amid the turnovers, alley-oop passes, blown leads and a disappointing overtime loss was Chris Paul’s record night. The Clippers point guard moved to 17th on the all-time assist list, slipping past retired Charlotte point guard Muggsy Bogues, with his 12 assists against Portland on Wednesday. While the landmark didn’t generate any headlines, Paul did acknowledge the moment on Twitter, saying, “Honored to pass my friend and mentor @therealmuggsy on this list!! If you would’ve told me this 12 yrs ago when you were working me out and letting me speak at your camps I wouldn’t have believed it Muggs.”

How to keep your owner happy

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
4:06
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Part 2 of a series of conversations with Warriors GM Bob Myers.

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Does Carter-Williams need to shoot 3s?

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
12:44
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Does Michael Carter-Williams need to shoot 3s to become an elite point guard? David Thorpe on the recently traded rookie of the year.

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First Cup: Thursday

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
5:05
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: At some point, some point soon at this rate, we’re going to run out of ways to effectively put into words what Russell Westbrook is doing. In his latest act, which came on a frigid but otherwise ho-hum Wednesday night, against a ho-hum opponent, Westbrook erupted for 49 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a 123-118 overtime victory over Philadelphia inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. But it wasn’t just what Westbrook did in dominating the Sixers while leading his team to victory. It wasn’t just that he posted his fourth consecutive triple-double. It wasn’t even the monster numbers within that triple-double. This time, it was that Westbrook did all that just four days after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right cheekbone. Five days ago, the man had a dent the size of a nickel in his face. On Wednesday, had it not been for the protective mask Westbrook wore — a conventional clear one much to the chagrin of many — you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong. He returned from a one-game absence and pulverized Philly much like he did every other opponent he faced in February. Not even the mask could derail his dominance.
  • Jeff Faraudo of The Oakland Tribune: The Milwaukee Bucks went small against the Warriors on Wednesday night and paid for it. "Small ball is the way the league is going," coach Steve Kerr said. "It's good for us -- we're good at it." They certainly were in their return to Oracle Arena after a six-game, 11-day trip, using the smaller, more versatile lineup throughout most of the fourth quarter to forge a 102-93 victory over the Bucks in front of their 109th consecutive sellout. Kerr went to reserve Shaun Livingston at the point, moving Stephen Curry off the ball alongside Klay Thompson, and sliding Draymond Green to center. On his 25th birthday, Green had 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Warriors improved to 25-2 at home, 47-12 overall. They have won at least 47 games three straight years for the first time in franchise history.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When Jonas Valanciunas wrapped LeBron James around the neck and threw him to the ground in the third quarter, the home crowd cheered. When James elbowed Valanciunas away as the big man tried to help him up, the sellout crowd roared in delight. It seems to be open hunting season on the league’s best player. Now the question remains: Who on his team will do something about it? In a vacuum, the flagrant foul on James in this pivotal Eastern Conference swing game wouldn’t have been of great significance. But since it came three days after James Harden kicked the royal jewels, an alarming pattern is perhaps developing on both sides: teams going after James and no one on the Cavs doing anything about it. Harden’s punishment was a flagrant-1 and ultimately a one-game suspension. Valanciunas’ foul doesn’t rise near the level of a suspension, but no one retaliated in defense of the league’s best player. Part of the problem was the Cavs’ smaller lineup. With Timofey Mozgov on the bench and Kendrick Perkins out of the rotation entirely, Tristan Thompson was the only big on the floor at the time of the foul. Still, sooner or later the Cavs have to deliver a fastball to the opponents’ ribs.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: With a furious late-game rally, a barrage of incredible plays from Nicolas Batum and a little luck, the Trail Blazers continued their March momentum in dramatic fashion Wednesday night. The Blazers stunned the Los Angeles Clippers and a sellout Staples Center crowd, overcoming a 10-point deficit with less than three minutes left in regulation before gutting out a dramatic 98-93 victory that was both improbable and exhilarating. The Blazers closed the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run and outscored the Clippers -- who controlled the game for most of the second half -- 23-8 over the final seven minutes, 38 seconds, including overtime. It didn't matter that Damian Lillard didn't make a field goal in regulation. Or that the Blazers shot 39 percent and committed 16 turnovers. Or that Chris Paul scored a season-high 36 points and had 12 assists. The Blazers (40-19) did just enough to win their fourth consecutive game and inch up the Western Conference standings, moving to third place, percentage points ahead of the Houston Rockets (41-20).
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Though he is a pioneer in the practice of resting veteran players to minimize wear and tear Gregg Popovich has his limits.The notion of lengthening the NBA season to reduce the number of back-to-back games and the occasional four games-in-five nights scenarios was mulled by commissioner Adam Silver during his All-Star Weekend news conference. Included in the discussion: a pledge to consider all possibilities, even playing into July. The Spurs coach wants none of it. “I think the season is long enough,” Popovich said. “I will not come to work in July. If there’s a game in July, count me out?” Even for an NBA Finals game? “Count me out,” Popovich reiterated. “Count me out. Life is too short.”
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: If they weren’t already, the words “short fuse” might be in bold letters on Whiteside’s scouting report for the rest of the season. Whiteside said before the game that teams might target him after his incident with Phoenix Suns center Alex Len on Monday, but also added that it wouldn’t be anything different than his first few months back in the NBA. Whiteside was fined $15,000 by the NBA on Tuesday for tackling Len. Len initiated the altercation by slinging Whiteside to the ground. “I feel like they’ve been doing that since I got here, though, and just doing whatever they think they can do that refs won’t call to keep me from getting the rebound or finishing because my free throws are now where I want them to be at this moment,” Whiteside said. “I always hear coaches saying foul him.” Whiteside doesn’t plan on backing down from anyone but said he won’t be getting into any more fights. He did receive a technical foul on Wednesday for arguing with an official. “I’ll just walk away from it and hopefully let the ref see that the other guy is instigating it and not me,” Whiteside said.
  • Chris Tomasson for The Denver Post: The Nuggets have won as many games in two nights under Melvin Hunt as they had won in nearly two months with Brian Shaw. Shaw was fired as coach Tuesday after his team dropped 19-of-21 games. Since then, Hunt as interim coach is 2-0. The latest win was 100-85 over Minnesota on Wednesday night at the Target Center. Hunt has elicited life into a team that has scored 100 points or more in consecutive games after not having hit 100 in any of the previous six. "They quit on Brian Shaw and I thought they'd quit again," said Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett. "Quitter is a quitter." But the Nuggets were resilient for a second straight game, a night after having beaten Milwaukee 106-95 at the Pepsi Center. Forward Kenneth Faried led the way against the Timberwolves with 18 points and 14 rebounds and then admitted Denver might actually be more comfortable under Hunt than Shaw. "I think just Coach Mel knows us," Faried said of Hunt, who came to the Nuggets as an assistant in 2010 while Shaw was just in his second season with the team. "He's been around us a lot longer than Coach Shaw. ... And (assistant coach Patrick) Mutombo was here (since 2011). They just know our game and how we play off each other."
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Marc Gasol drove toward the baseline, stopped, elevated and connected on a shot from 10 feet with 0.1 seconds left and the Grizzlies left Toyota Center with a 102-100 victory over the Houston Rockets Wednesday night in Toyota Center. Gasol’s game-winner capped a 21-point performance in an important Western Conference matchup. Memphis entered the game with just a 1 -game lead over Houston in the standings. ... It was an important win for the Griz. The Griz had lost three of four, and played Tuesday without three key players. Randolph and Beno Udrih returned from an illness. Allen was back in the rotation after serving a one-game suspension for violating team policy.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has called himself the Hornets’ middle linebacker. That description sure applied tonight. The small forward played hellacious defense on Joe Johnson and grabbed 13 rebounds. Huge contribution. ... Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he’s taking a “sub-to-win” approach to the rest of the season. Tonight that meant starting Marvin Williams over Cody Zeller for a reason that wasn’t exactly about Williams or Zeller. The Nets go small with Johnson playing power forward. Clifford needed MKG to guard Johnson from tip-off and it’s wasn’t’ a good matchup to have Zeller guard Alan Anderson. Williams can guard small forwards. It was a sharp move. ... In his first two games back from a bruised knee reserve center Bismack Biyombo looked like a guy who missed a month. Wednesday he got back in the flow, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: After a couple of close calls, the Celtics became whole Wednesday with the return of forward/center Kelly Olynyk after an 18-game absence because of a sprained right ankle. Olynyk was hurt when he landed on the foot of then-Portland forward Thomas Robinson in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ last-second victory Jan. 22. After being projected to return soon after the All-Star break, Olynyk didn’t show signs of being ready to return until the past few days. “It was definitely a long time, but it was tough, I did some damage to it,” Olynyk said before Wednesday’s game. “I wanted to make sure it was good and I could come back and help.” Olynyk, who checked into the game at the 1:35 mark of the first quarter, played eight minutes in his first stint, missing his first three shots and committing two fouls. He didn’t play in the second half and finished with zero points and one rebound in 7 minutes. “I thought he was fine,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: If we have learned one thing about the New Orleans Pelicans through the first four months of this season it is this: there is no one on the roster with a more passionate, loyal or active fan base than Jimmer Fredette. In this new age of journalistic immediacy, Jimmer Nation takes to the comment stream before, during and after games, often bemoaning the fact that their man isn't getting the chance he needs to prove his worth or defending his honor against the swelling number which bash him. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the anti-Jimmers, those who antagonize the members of Jimmer nation, goading and gloating over any miss or miscue and generally disparaging his very existence on an NBA roster. The humble, unassuming subject of this ardent support and sometimes vitriolic opposition can merely offer a somewhat melancholy smile, grateful for the encouragement he receives from his fans for whom he would like to offer much more success.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When the ball and the feet stop moving on the Suns' offense, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek knows that T.J. Warren can change that. Being the only rookie left on the team after the other two were traded has left Warren busy with rookie chores, like chasing down shootaround balls kicked into the stands and putting teammates' shoes away. But Hornacek is giving him regular work in games too. "We all know he can put the ball in the basket but what it is with him is he's probably our only guy who cuts," Hornacek said. "Everyone else wants to stand around and wait for a kick out pass. T.J. is a guy who, when he sees an opening or his man turns his head, he'll cut. When he does cut, he has good hands to snag it and still finish." Warren was looking for towels for teammates Monday in Miami when Hornacek called on him and played him the entire fourth quarter.
  • David Woods of The Indianapolis Star: There are times to be restrained, and times not to be. For instance, coach Frank Vogel was not exulting in Wednesday's 105-82 victory over New York, even if it was the Indiana Pacers' ninth victory in 11 games. Granted, they beat the Knicks, who affirmed their status as the NBA's worst team. "I'm excited about how we're playing. But coming into tonight's game, we were 10th in the East," Vogel said. "So there's nothing to be complacent about or really proud of. We have a lot of work to do." On the other hand, he didn't want restraint when given a chance to exploit the Pacers' advantage. They led by 11 after one quarter, by 24 at halftime, by 30 in the fourth. The Pacers shot 60 percent in the first half and cleared the bench in the second. Vogel gave center Roy Hibbert the night off, and the Pacers' other starters didn't need to expend much energy, either.

Nicolas Batum checks out, perks up

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
3:19
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
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LOS ANGELES -- Nicolas Batum tried something different during the All-Star break. He went down to a resort in Mexico and limited himself to only one hour of cell phone use every morning, then he turned it off for the rest of the day. He told his mother and his agent to call the hotel if they really needed to reach him.

That strict cell phone diet was a sign that Batum’s struggles this season -- in which his shooting percentage has plummeted to a career low and his scoring average is at its lowest since he was a rookie -- were mental as well as physical. Yes, he was drained from playing for France in international competition so many summers, and yes he has been bothered by wrist and knee injuries this season. But listen to what he said the time off meant to him:

“The All-Star break was a big thing for me. I just relaxed and refreshed my mind,” Batum said. “I’m feeling good now. I’m happy to be back and kind of get my rhythm back, my swag back a little bit.”

[+] EnlargeBatum
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsNicolas Batum had two indispensable 3-pointers in the win over the Clippers.
Swag isn’t something that can be surgically repaired. There’s no rehab program. Something was a little off in Batum and he knew it.

“Nobody’s been harder on Nic than Nic,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s wanted to play well. He’s put a lot of pressure on himself.”

Batum averaged 8.9 points and shot 37 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3-pointers before the All-Star break. In the six games since his phone break, he’s averaging 11.8 points and shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers, 50 percent overall. That includes his 20 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in Portland’s comeback win against the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

He took opportunistic shots. He found LaMarcus Aldridge on lobs off the pick-and-roll. He took over defensive duties on Chris Paul after Paul had his way with Damian Lillard and did a good job of forcing Paul left instead of his preferred right. He was, as he put it, “that all-around player like I used to be.”

At age 26, Batum is too young to be telling back-in-the-day stories. But he did find himself watching video of last season, when he put up numbers more in line with his career averages, when he was that more aggressive player.


The Trail Blazers are a different team with the Batum of the past -- and the post-All-Star present. They’re more dangerous, should be taken more seriously. He's a double-digit scorer and 40 percent shooter in their victories; he averages 7 points and makes only a third of his shots in their losses. They’re not going to go deep into the playoffs without a couple of podium games from Batum.

Apparently it took some time when he didn’t communicate with others for Batum to find himself. He liked what he saw in the old video, he realizes that player hasn’t vanished.

“I was OK last year,” Batum concluded. “I’m good now.”

If the Blazers are going deep into the playoffs, they’ll probably be better off if calls to Batum’s phone go straight to voice mail.

GM secrets with Warriors' Bob Myers

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
6:27
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Part 1 of a series of conversations with Warriors GM Bob Myers.

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TrueHoop TV Live

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
12:36
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
We're video chatting at 2 p.m. ET ...

The war on analytics

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
12:30
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Why do people get so angry about analytics in the NBA? We discuss with Tom Haberstroh and Amin Elhassan.

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First Cup: Wednesday

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
4:39
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Perhaps the Rockets enjoyed their double-digit lead a little too much. And now the Hawks can enjoy the fact they’ve clinched a playoff berth. Former Hawk Josh Smith hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and raised a finger to his mouth to quiet the Philips Arena crowd. It was one of two straight long-distance shots to give the Rockets a 15-point lead with 10:32 remaining. The Hawks called time out. Smith and another former Hawk Jason Terry used the break to further incite the crowd. Oops. The Hawks responded with a 32-8 run to end the game and steal a 104-96 victory Tuesday night. According to the NBA and Elias Sports Bureau, the victory clinched a playoff spot for the Hawks, their eighth straight trip to the postseason. “It was chippy and that was what really got us going,” DeMarre Carroll said. “If they were quiet and just did what they did, they wouldn’t have woke up Jeff Teague, they wouldn’t have woke up myself, they wouldn’t have woke up Paul (Millsap). I think that’s when it got chippy and Josh Smith was doing all this.”
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said before Tuesday’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers that rookie P.J. Hairston would again be inactive. Hairston was deactivated for Sunday’s road game against the Orlando Magic. Two sources confirmed Hairston missed a weight-training session Sunday before that game. Clifford said Hairston, a first-round pick and former North Carolina star, has fallen behind both Jeff Taylor and Troy Daniels in the rotation among shooting guards and small forwards. Clifford said that could easily change over the remainder of the season, but that would involve Hairston applying himself better as an NBA player. “P.J., to me, has the chance to be a very good player,” Clifford said. “His approach has to be where he is constantly learning what the NBA game is about. He’s hasn’t done that well. He hasn’t been terrible, nor has he done as well as I would like.”
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: The Nuggets are so inept they even botched the no-brainer firing of coach Brian Shaw. So consider the stumbling, bumbling actions of the NBA's lamest organization on a cold and gray Tuesday as fair warning to Mike D'Antoni, Chauncey Billups, Mark Jackson or anybody else with past ties to the Nuggets who might be crazy enough to believe he could lead Denver back to respectability. Only a fool would apply for this coaching vacancy. The Nuggets have a problem with a lack of professionalism. It starts at the top, with franchise president Josh Kroenke, and trickles down with an annoying drip, drip, drip to the locker room, where a brown cardboard box labeled "Phones" sits on a stool every game night, because irresponsible players developed a nasty habit of caring more about text messages than the final score. At approximately 9:30 in the morning, Nuggets management surprised Shaw with the news his services would no longer be needed after a mere 20 months and 141 often-miserable games on the job. Hey, why halt a downward spiral to a more desirable spot in the NBA draft lottery? It made no sense. Then, showing a complete lack of responsibility, neither Kroenke nor general manager Tim Connelly bothered to explain Shaw's dismissal until 6:32 p.m., when Connelly belatedly uttered a brief statement and took questions for less than three minutes.
  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: On Tuesday, the Nuggets got rid of their Josh McDaniels, a young disciple of a legendary coach who proved to be in over his head with his first head coaching job. And so, with coach Brian Shaw out the door, I began to think of veteran coaches who could instill discipline and change the culture at the Pepsi Center, a John Fox type, if you will. Perhaps Mike D'Antoni, who actually once coached the Nuggets before finding fame in Phoenix with his offense more NASCAR than basketball. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered. Is Chauncey the answer? The whole thing would be a fairy tale — Denver native Chauncey Billups, a Colorado legend and former Nuggets all-star, hired to coach and, really, save the franchise. Yes, Billups has been retired for like 37 minutes. Still, it just makes so much sense. His passion, presence and credibility are what this organization desperately needs. ... I can't see someone like Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson allowing himself to let Chauncey down. Would the Nuggets hire Billups? It'd be a gamble. But here's thinking he's the man who could revitalize his hometown team.
  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Grizzlies pride themselves on toughness and unrelenting defense, on grit 'n' grind. All those hallmarks were on display Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz, prompting Memphis coach Dave Joerger to offer praise for his team after the game. "I thought that was the hardest we've played," he told reporters. That might tell you a thing or two about the state of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz kicked off their four-game road trip by out-battling Memphis, 93-82, at the FedExForum, led by 21 points apiece from Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors and a 15-point, 24-rebound night from center Rudy Gobert. With the victory, the Jazz (23-35) claimed their first three-game winning streak of the season. "You know how I feel about all that, streaks one way or another," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "We could lose three in a row and I don't want to feel like the sky is falling. But I feel like what we're doing right now is playing good basketball." Make that really good when it comes to D-ing up.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Several times this season, Joakim Noah has referred to Nikola Mirotic as the Bulls' X-factor. Mirotic's secret is out. And with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson out injured, Mirotic is looking like one of the go-to closers. The rookie scored eight of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' 97-92 victory over the Wizards on Tuesday night at the United Center. Repeatedly, Mirotic recognized his matchup, taking larger defenders to the perimeter and smaller defenders to the post.Not only did Mirotic post back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in his young NBA career, he now has scored 24 fourth-quarter points since Butler joined Rose and Gibson on the sidelines. "Niko's a stud," Noah said. "Floor spacing is very important in this league. Niko can do that very well." With Gibson still in a walking boot, Rose out four to six weeks after knee surgery and Butler out three to six weeks with a grade 2/3 ulnar ligament sprain and small bone impaction injury in his left elbow, Mirotic's role will be important.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Vlade Divac was always coming back. His return was about as predictable as climate change. Though he began and ended his NBA career with the Lakers, his true colors were always purple and black. His finest seasons, his favorite teams, and except for the crushing conference finals in 2002, his best times involved his Kings. The only issue was this: How do you squeeze a 7-foot-1 global basketball icon, humanitarian extraordinaire, beloved Kings figure and his outsized personality into a box? You don’t. You punt, you flop, you run with him. Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive suddenly seems to have all the right answers. He is starting to play like a veteran. He hires George Karl, and weeks later, crafts a position that accommodates Divac’s unique and expansive abilities. Officially, Divac rejoins the Kings as vice president of basketball and franchise operations. Unofficially, Vlade will be all over the map. ...So about squeezing a 7-foot-1 icon into a box? Why would anyone want to? Divac is an anomaly in this business, that one size who fits all. Endorse the move and embrace the man. In Sacramento, in his old flopping ground, Divac is almost larger than life.
  • Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group: Once upon a time David Blatt eyed the final box score following a preseason game. He was asked what jumped out to him, responding with some frustration about the number of three-pointers the Cavs took that October night. That was a sign of things to come. Layups and threes is what it's about for the Cavs. Going into Tuesday's contest, they were averaging the second-most triples since Jan. 15, a night they beat the Lakers. Averaging a shade more than 30 per game, the Cavs trailed only Houston, a team averaging 33.8 in that span. Prior to that date, the Cavs averaged only 23.9 three-point attempts, which was 10th in the league. The difference, according to Blatt is roster adjustments. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert provide much more spacing. James Jones is getting minutes instead of Shawn Marion. Of course, Kevin Love continues to drift to the line as well. Then there's the return of James, who attracts so much attention the defense is often forced to leave one of the outside shooters.

Morey on Barkley, Harden for MVP, more

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
2:53
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey makes his pitch for James Harden as MVP and Charles Barkley as 2016 Sloan Conference headliner.

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Rajon Rondo a bad fit in Dallas?

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
12:39
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
So far the Rajon Rondo trade has not worked out well for the Mavs, and this should come as no surprise, according to Amin Elhassan and Tom Haberstroh.video

$1M at stake in The Basketball Tournament

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
10:40
AM ET
By Matt Walks
ESPN.com
Archive
The Basketball Tournament winners Kyle Brasseur for ESPNBoston.com The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni emerged victorious in last year's final of The Basketball Tournament.
Have you ever wanted to raise the stakes of your pickup game? How's $1 million sound?

For the second year in a row, The Basketball Tournament is offering a massive purse to anyone -- former NBA pros, everyday joes and schoolyard legends -- with the skill to take the TBT title.

Entry is free, but teams must qualify by recruiting at least 100 votes online. This year, there's an incentive to vote as well. The winning team's fan group will split 5 percent of the prize -- $50,000. Registration runs from April 1 through June 1.

The 96 teams selected for the winner-take-all, single-elimination bracket will compete regionally in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. The defending champion Notre Dame Fighting Alumni will draw a lower-seeded Chicago entrant live on ESPNU on July 23. The bracket then winds down to the quarterfinals, which will be televised by ESPN.

The $1 million championship game will be held Aug. 2 in New York City and shown live on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET.

The prize pool is double what it was last year, when the Fighting Alumni beat Team Barstool 72-68 in the title game behind former All-Big East players Russell Carter, Torin Francis and Chris Thomas.

Barstool, led by Ross Burns, Dave Portnoy and Dan Katz, also rostered former Clipper Dahntay Jones. Here's a deeper look at that team:

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More wheeling and dealing in the NBA?

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
8:48
AM ET
By Andy Larsen
ESPN.com
Archive
In a Saturday session of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Rockets GM Daryl Morey revealed that he’s brought the idea of “contingency clauses” in trades to NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

In explaining the idea, Morey used the James Harden deal as an example: “If that Harden trade had [a clause saying], ‘If he becomes an All-Star, you have to send another first-round pick, or if he fails, we get back a pick,’ I think that would really grease a lot of deals.”

Daryl Morey, James Harden
AP Photo/Pat SullivanDaryl Morey and the Rockets swung a deal with OKC for Harden in 2012.
According to Morey, “One thing that made the James Harden deal, or any big deal, hard is that you have fear on both sides.” Allowing contingency clauses in NBA trades might “allow teams to not operate out of fear” and lead to more transactions overall.

Morey continued, “I actually brought it up with the commissioner, and he thought it was interesting. There are some practical reasons why the league won’t allow that, though I think there might be a way to overcome them.”

Other American professional sports leagues have implemented versions of this idea: Major League Baseball allows trades for “players to be named later,” chosen months after a deal is completed from a predetermined list. And the NHL uses the term “future considerations,” where the exact draft pick relinquished as part of a trade is determined by the level of play of the player after the trade.

Said Warriors GM Bob Myers, a fellow Sloan panelist: “The NBA, more than any other league, is the most constricted.”

Perhaps adding contingency clauses to the NBA GM’s toolbox could help that.

First Cup: Tuesday

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
4:47
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: Thrilled that the blood clots found on his lungs are gone, the Nets' Mirza Teletovic opted to take a few moments Monday night to extend a hand in the direction of Heat star Chris Bosh. "I really want to use this opportunity to reach out to Chris Bosh and tell him he doesn't have to worry," Teletovic said in his first extended chat with the media since he was diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolus -- or multiple blood clots -- in the lungs Jan. 23, the same situation Bosh is dealing with. "He's going to get better and he's going to start working out pretty soon." Teletovic said he's been doing just that now that tests show his lungs are free of clots, something he said the doctors are about "80 percent'' certain he developed from a hip pointer he suffered against the Cavaliers on Dec. 8. He said he started working out three weeks ago and has been doing everything -- running, jumping, dunking -- except contact. That will happen once he's off blood thinners in July. He fully expects to play basketball next season, which excites him, given the severity of the situation initially.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors forward Harrison Barnes has enjoyed a bounce-back season after returning to the starting lineup. His disappearing act quietly comes before games. Barnes more often than not is absent when the public address announcer calls his name unlike the other four starters who high-five their teammates. He is usually missing during the playing of the national anthem while Warriors players and coaches stand shoulder to shoulder on the court. The reason according to Barnes is certainly nothing against the anthem or his teammates. “I just go to the bathroom, man,” he said, smiling. “It just always happens to be on the same time every game. Mother Nature, I can’t control that. Every once in a while you see me out there, but Mother Nature just calls. You’ve got to go to the bathroom.” And so in a season when the Warriors have laid waste on their opponents on their way to earning the NBA’s best record, Barnes’ quirk have led to pregame smirks.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Tempers had been simmering between Whiteside and Suns center Alex Len since the beginning of the game. The two players locked arms momentarily after the Heat’s first basket, a dunk by Whiteside on Len less than a minute into the game. The wayward elbows and hard fouls continued until the third quarter when Whiteside dunked on Len again. Whiteside’s elbow came down Len, and Len took offense, slinging Whiteside to the ground. Whiteside then went after Len’s legs and took the Suns center to the floor. Both players were ejected following a review. “I just retaliated,” Whiteside said. “I shouldn’t have retaliated. I should have just walked away, but when you’re in the Heat of the moment …After I came down on him, after I dunked on him, I guess he felt like my arm hit him in the face.” Whiteside finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. From the beginning of the game, the Heat’s guards made a point to get the Heat’s young center involved in the offense. That wasn’t the case Saturday in the team’s loss to the Hawks. “I’m starting to realize a lot more teams are being physical with me, and I’m down for it,” Whiteside said. “That’s what I lift weights for.”
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Goran Dragic said he was stung by the Suns front office casting him as a selfish player after he felt like he had been a team player for two stints of 2 seasons in Phoenix. The criticism from Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough and President of Basketball Operations President Lon Babby was prompted by Dragic's public expression of a desire to be traded and mistrust in Suns management. Dragic regretted how harshly his comment sounded before that day was over, even saying so on social media at the time, but he stood by the sentiment Monday. Just as McDonough and Babby took it personally to have Dragic question their trustworthiness, Dragic said it was difficult for him to be called selfish by them and was surprised by it. "Hard," Dragic said. "But at the same time, I know that's not true. A lot of people (former teammates, coaches and executives), they text me why they came like that out. That's their opinion. I cannot do nothing else. Everybody has their own opinion and it's, how you say, a free country. Everybody can speak freely."
  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Doc Rivers hasn’t seen Blake Griffin in a week, with the team making four stops on the road. But while the Clippers have been out on the road winning, their star has been back in Los Angeles working. According to a team official, Griffin has “ramped up” his workouts over the past two days. Rivers went further, saying Griffin’s given the team some reasons for optimism. “He's running, he's sweating, he’s going full-tilt now and that’s good,” Rivers said before Monday’s game. “(I’m) not sure what that means not being there. He’s working out and that's all we can hope for right now. It’s a good sign.” Rivers also said Griffin has begun shooting and a return Sunday against Golden State is possible, though that seems a little early. Griffin last played Feb. 6 at Toronto.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers was concerned about Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett's mental state when he held up the trade from Minnesota to Boston. The trade meant Garnett would go from a losing Wolves team to the Celtics, who had a chance to win the NBA title. "We had to do some convincing; I was amazed by that," said Rivers, who was coaching the Celtics at the time. "I was worried about him for a while, mentally, what's wrong with this guy?" Garnett finally acquiesced to the trade in 2007, and Rivers and Garnett won the NBA title in 2008, their first of six seasons together. The reason for Garnett's reluctance was allegiance to his current home. "It's almost nutty loyalty," Rivers said. "He held up the trade in Boston twice. The original one he blew up. All the sense for him basketball-wise, it was to come to Boston to have a chance (at a ring). Then the second time when we got Ray (Allen), and would have Paul (Pierce) and Kevin, he still held the trade up because he didn't want to feel like he was bailing on Minnesota." Rivers then understood once Garnett joined him in Boston. "Then you find when you get him, you get it," Rivers said.
  • Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star: Throw in a Raptors team that has been mired in its worst slump of the season, and sitting and watching becomes even harder. But the fiery point guard says he’s had to learn to think about the long game. In this case, the NBA post-season. For the second straight game, Lowry sat out as the Raptors played his hometown Philadelphia 76ers Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Against the woeful Sixers, it turns out they didn’t need him after all, as they snapped a five-game losing streak with a 114-103 victory. If left to his own devices, Lowry admitted, he probably would have been out on the court. “At the same time, you are getting older in your career and you’ve got bigger plans than to try to go out there and force and force something, especially when you have bumps and bruises, where you can take some time to get healthy, the long term is the plan, the long term for our season is really the goal in mind,” said Lowry.
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: JaVale McGee, we hardly knew thee. The 76ers waived McGee on Monday, 11 days after the team acquired him in a Feb. 19 trade for the Thunder's top-18 protected pick. McGee, a 6-foot-11 big man, averaged 3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 10.2 minutes in six games as a Sixer. The Sixers are responsible for the remainder of McGee's $11.25 million 2014-15 salary, as well as reportedly his entire $12 million next season. ... “The move was done more because it was the right thing to do, we felt, to give him the opportunity to go play with a playoff team,” Brett Brown said. “He was maligned. In my view, he was a hell of a teammate. He did nothing wrong. We're going to move on with younger guys.” Brown cited the “logjam” at power forward and wanting to take a longer look at recent signee Thomas Robinson and Turkey native Furkan Aldemir, who has two more guaranteed years at just under $6 million, as an additional reason McGee is no longer a Sixer.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mark Cuban weighed in for the first time since the Rajon Rondo-Rick Carlisle spat before Monday’s Dallas Mavericks game against New Orleans. The owner’s take: Nothing to see here. When asked if he thought the coach and point guard could coexist, Cuban said: “No question in my mind. When you have strong, smart guys, they bash heads and that’s not a bad thing. They’re communicating more. I don’t see it as a problem. “The best companies have people who are confident enough to yell at each other. My partners have had more knock-down, drag-out screaming matches. That doesn’t bother me at all.” Cuban said he believes Carlisle will devise ways to make the offense more efficient while still utilizing Rondo’s best assets. It just may take a little time.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Coach Monty Williams didn't make enough defensive adjustments to keep the Mavericks from driving to the basket for shots. Maybe, he should have tried some zone defenses or traps to force more jump shots. The Mavericks, however, spaced the floor and got their desired shots in the lane. The Pelicans looked fatigue from playing on Monday against Denver. Their guards couldn't stay in front of the Mavericks' guards and centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca were unable to provide enough effective rim protection.
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: On Monday, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw denied his players were referring to the remaining time this season when they broke a huddle chanting with "1, 2, 3, six weeks!" in Friday night's home game against Utah. The chant, reported first in Sunday's Denver Post, drew national attention in the past day. Shaw said he referenced the long home losing streak in practice last week. "I said, probably three or four days ago in practice, that we hadn't won a home game in six weeks," Shaw said. "Which dated back to Jan.14, against the Dallas Mavericks, was the last time we won a home game here, which was six weeks ago. So, the comment that the players made when they got together and said '1, 2, 3, six weeks!' was the players saying 'this is the end of the six weeks, we're going to get a win tonight on our home court and break the six-week losing spell on our home court.' Not six weeks that it's the end of the season. Now, coincidentally it does happen to be a little over six weeks from then, that it's the end of the season. But I think our players and the Denver Nuggets as a whole were misrepresented in how that was reported."

Mike D'Antoni on Suns' golden years

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
5:11
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
Former Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni sits down with his former employee, Amin Elhassan, to talk about playing in Italy, the Suns' golden years and how not to pronounce "bruschetta."

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