First Cup: Tuesday
April, 2, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In the aftermath of another heartbreaker, there was nothing more the Spurs could do but make the best of it. Monday’s 92-90 loss to Memphis essentially ended with a Mike Conley layup with 0.6 seconds left, the Grizzlies’ point guard doing to the Spurs what Miami’s Chris Bosh and Houston’s James Harden had done in the span of eight days before. Namely, rip their guts out. It was the Spurs’ sixth consecutive game to come down to the final play of regulation and the third they had lost in the middle of a white-knuckle race for the Western Conference’s top playoff seed. “If they have the character I know they have, this is all going in the computer,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “It will make them smarter and make them make the right decisions come playoff time, hopefully.” By now, forgive the Spurs if they are all “learning experienced” out. Monday at FedEx Forum, they very nearly did to the Grizzlies what Miami had done to them in San Antonio the night before, when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sat and the Heat won anyway. This time, Popovich kept All-Star forward Tim Duncan and small forward Kawhi Leonard at home to rest sore left knees, along with sixth man Manu Ginobili, who is out for as many as four weeks with a strained right hamstring.
- David Barron of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden sat out a second consecutive game as coach Kevin McHale said his primary goal for the All-Star guard was for him to be at maximum efficiency as the playoffs approach. “I think it’s important that James tries to get this thing to the best level he can, considering that we’re short on time,” McHale said. “The longer you have something that bothers you, the more accustomed you get to it and the less you think it bothers you. But when you look at you play — actually stand way, way, way back — you analyze that ‘I’m not doing things the way I used to.’” Harden, who iced his foot twice and underwent treatment Monday morning, agreed it’s better to err on the side of caution. “Health is definitely more important,” he said. “When I’m not effective on the court and not playing to my best abilities, hopefully guys can keep winning and we can go the right way and I hope I can come back and help them out as well.”
- Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: At one point, the Clippers sat atop the Pacific Division with a 32-9 record on the heels of their 17-game win streak. Entering Monday's game against Indiana, the Clippers were 17-16 since that point. And after a month in which the Clippers went 7-7, it's obvious they're still trying to rediscover the formula that propelled them to their fast start. "We didn't finish a few games out," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said of the .500 record in March. "We had a couple of opportunities, but you have to be able to finish games out by getting stops or making plays but we missed a few opportunities, especially on the road. You've got to play better. You win games by playing at a high level consistently." The Clippers have been beset by injuries, even after it looked like they were ready to make a big run when Chauncey Billups returned in earnest from his Achilles' injury. But then a new series of bumps hit, particularly among key reserves Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford. "You can talk about injuries, you can talk about schedule, you can talk about all these things," Del Negro said. "Everyone goes through it, some more than others. At the end of the day, you have to win games."
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: That day is here. Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34 will join Chamberlain's No. 13, Abdul-Jabbar's No. 33 and the banner that honors Mikan's No. 99 in the upper reaches of Staples Center on Tuesday when the Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks. After winning three of his four titles with the Lakers during a 19-season career that ended in 2011, O'Neal doesn't need to fear his place in purple-and-gold lore anymore. Collectively, the Lakers' Biggest Four logged 11 most valuable player awards, 18 championships and 51 All-Star game selections over their careers. Fifteen of those titles came with the Lakers. "It's not surprising the success the Lakers have had," said Hall of Fame guard Gail Goodrich, a member of the 1971-72 team that won the championship with Chamberlain and West, "because they've had great centers." The Lakers' luck in acquiring those centers, however, was nothing less than extraordinary.
- Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: If you ask Al Jefferson, the NBA forgot to dish out an award on Monday. Denver's George Karl and Miami's Erik Spoelstra earned coach of the month honors for March, while the Knicks' J.R. Smith and Big Al were named players of the week for their respective conferences. "They said Al Jefferson's player of the week," Jefferson said. "I think the Utah Jazz is the team of the week." Can a trophy maker along the Wasatch Front make that award happen? Continuing their red-hot play of late, the Jazz might be front-runners for team of the month honors based on their 112-102 blowout win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena. The victory pushed the Jazz's season-high winning streak to five games, the most consecutive wins they've strung together since the end of the 2011-12 season. The outcome also gave Utah (39-36) sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, putting the streaking squad a half-game above the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers (38-36). "We're just a team playing like we want to be in the playoffs," Jefferson said, "and that's the difference."
- Eric Koreen of the National Post: Jose Calderon is not done handing out assists for the Toronto Raptors. As of now, Calderon is acting as Landry Fields’ landlord. Fields has been living in the condo Calderon lived in during much of his Raptors tenure for the entire year. There are no immediate plans for Calderon to kick his old teammate out. The two will deal with it at the end of the year, Calderon said on Monday. So, that gave Calderon one less thing to worry about as he made his return to Toronto, playing his first game in the Air Canada Centre since the late-January trade that ended his seven-and-a-half-year tenure as a Raptor. Everything else — well, Calderon had a word for it. “It’s been weird since this morning, being in Toronto in a hotel,” Calderon said. “It’s just weird. It’s a weird feeling all around.” Yes, almost the entirety of Detroit Pistons’ 108-98 win was strange. But at least it was predictable. There was no doubt how the fans would react to the return of the franchise’s all-time assists leader. “I think obviously there’s a lot of emotion involved. I think this will be a little bit different than some of the other former Raptors,” said Pistons coach, and former Nets coach, Lawrence Frank. “I was around when Vince [Carter] came back, and [the same thing happened with] Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh. This will be, hopefully, the complete opposite.” It was.
- Brendan Savage of MLive.com: Forward Jason Maxiell might have played his final game for the Detroit Pistons after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a detached retina. Maxiell, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and might not return to the Pistons, is expected to make a full recovery. "It's very disappointing," coach Lawrence Frank said. "You feel horrible for Jason. You hate to see any of your guys get injured, especially where their season is over. "The positives are the surgery went very well. He won't be able to resume any basketball activities for two months but the good thing is it's not career threatening. He'll be able to get back and get back to playing basketball." … Maxiell, 30, has spent his entire eight-year NBA career with the Pistons since they made him their first-round pick (26th overall) out of Cincinnati in 2005. He became the player with the longest Pistons' tenure when Tayshaun Prince was traded to Memphis in January. He has started 175 of 523 career games for the Pistons, averaging 6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks.
- Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Cavaliers aren’t the kind of opponent likely to inspire the Hawks to find the the “playoff mode” coach Larry Drew is seeking as the regular season draws to a close. That was the concern for Drew after he said his team “played as if we can turn it on at any point” during a lackluster victory against Orlando Saturday. It took a while for the Hawks to find their form against the struggling Cavaliers, but they eventually did enough to secire a 102-94 victory Monday at Philips Arena. “We want to get back to just grinding defensive possessions out,” Drew said. “I thought we did a little better job tonight (but) not what I was hoping. I thought we had some breakdowns tonight. As we wind this thing down we need to get back to where we not focus on our offense as much as our defense. That got us into a little bit of trouble tonight.” … Hawks forward Kyle Korver extended his streak of consecutive games with a made 3-pointer to 68 games to tie Reggie Miller for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time list. Dennis Scott is fourth all-time with 78 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer made.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said he's glad his team is playing teams in contention for the playoffs. "The great thing about playing the Bucks tonight is they have the playoff fever," Dunlap said. "Every possession presents itself with an intensity that is good for our young guys to understand." Charlotte scored 60 points in the first half but only 42 in the second half as the Bucks won their 10th consecutive home game against the Bobcats. The Bucks and Bobcats met twice early in the season, with Charlotte prevailing at home, 102-98, on Nov. 19 and the Bucks winning at home, 108-93, on Dec. 7. Charlotte started 7-5, matching its total of victories last season. But it has won just 10 more times since that promising start. "Youth, is one," Dunlap said. "And two is you have them in a concentrated period of the training camp and you come right into the season. There's a bit of fizz there in terms of clarity.”
- Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Nikola Pekovic had 29 points and Dante Cunningham added 19 points off the bench to lead the Timberwolves to a 110-100 victory over Boston on Monday night, April 1, at Target Center. The victory left Wolves coach Rick Adelman two wins shy of his career 1,000th victory. Adelman, in his 22nd season as an NBA coach, is 998-702. The win also snapped the Wolves' 11-game losing streak to Boston. Avery Bradley led Boston with 19 points. The Wolves took advantage of a depleted Celtics team that played without Kevin Garnett (ankle) and Paul Pierce (personal reasons). Both remained in Boston. This was a game the Wolves were supposed to control and they did. Pekovic returned from missing one game with a sprained left ankle and his presence made a huge difference inside. Without Garnett, the Celtics had virtually no inside answer for Pekovic.
- Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: Jeff Green’s resurgence coincided with the point at which Rajon Rondo suffered his injury, but Doc Rivers said he isn’t sure if that’s a coincidence or not. “Because with the whole heart thing and sitting out a year, you don’t know if this is progression from sitting out a year or if this is just him getting better as a player and getting more confident,” Rivers said. From the start of the season to Jan. 25, the day Rondo was injured, Green, who sat out last season after undergoing open-heart surgery, was averaging 9.6 points. Since then, Green was averaging 16.3 points per game entering Monday night, when he scored 10.
- Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: Damian Lillard broke the NBA rookie record for most three-point makes in a season. His first three-pointer of the game, with 6:16 left in the first quarter, was the 167th of the season, breaking the record he had shared with Golden State's Stephen Curry, who set it during the 2009-10 season. Lillard finished 3 for 7 behind the arc and had 17 points.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Tristan Thompson is one of seven finalists for the prestigious J. Walter Kennedy Award, given annually by the Pro Basketball Writers Association to the player, coach or trainer who shows outstanding service and dedication to the community. Thompson created “Giving Thanks in Tristan’s Town” for Thanksgiving, purchasing turkeys and groceries for 150 families from Historic Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland. He helped distribute the meals along with game tickets. Thompson has also raised funds for Cavaliers Youth Fund and has been an advocate for pediatric epilepsy because his younger brother has epilepsy. He has worked on behalf of the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center and is active in filling requests with the Cavs’ community service department. He has helped with events at the Children’s Rehab Hospital, Harvest for Hunger food drive and participated in the filming of a Valentine’s Day video for women whose military husbands were deployed.