First Cup: Monday
March, 31, 2014
By Nick Borges
- Erik Gundersen of The Columbian: The Portland Trail Blazers had been thoroughly manhandled by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first two meetings between the two teams. Behind 28 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, their bench and 15 points from a flu-ridden Wesley Matthews, the Blazers were able to get rolling early and held on for a 105-98 win at the Moda Center on Sunday. “Man, it hit me like 7 last night,” Matthews said of the flu while a small bottle of Pepto Bismol was nearly empty in his locker. “I didn’t even warm-up, I was getting an IV for like an hour and 45 minutes. They hit me with four liters of saline to go out here and play this game.” Grizzlies coach David Joerger stressed the importance of slowing down Matthews and Portland’s other complimentary scorers before the game. Matthews scored seven of his 15 points in the first quarter. For Aldridge, who said he came back before he was 100 percent from his back contusion, it’s somewhat reflective of the urgency the team has but also just Matthews being the ultra-competitive guy that he is.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The Thunder has never been known for its ball security. With a talented risk-taker at point guard and a few other consistent attackers, OKC’s style of play lends itself to batches of turnovers. But of late, the Thunder – who entered play on Sunday averaging 15.3 turnovers per game, third most in the NBA – has been better. In four of the past five games, OKC has committed 14 or fewer turnovers, including 13 in the win over Utah on Sunday. “It’s been good,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s important that we take care of the basketball. The only bad turnover game in the past five came against Dallas, an overtime loss that included 21 turnovers for the Thunder and eight from Russell Westbrook. “Every now and then it sneaks up on us and hurts us, but it’s something that we work on,” Brooks said.
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers have a dilemma with D'Antoni, who coached the Suns for five successful seasons. They still owe him $4million next season and don't want to look like a franchise with a coaching turnstile. But Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol don't support his small-ball offense and Lakers fans don't support him, period. So the team will decide fairly quickly after the April 16 regular-season finale — pay him to not coach the team, just like Mike Brown, or try to make it work next season. ... Nash sat out another game, which is no longer surprising for a player who appeared in only 12 this season. For financial reasons, the Lakers currently plan to keep him next season, The Times has learned, eating the remainder of his contract ($9.7 million) in one swoop instead of waiving him and spreading the money out over three years. It would give them more money to spend in the summers of 2015 and 2016, when they figure to be active players in the free-agent market amid such possible names as Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. ... They also plan to keep Marshall, the 13th selection in the 2012 draft, whom they signed as a free agent a little more than three months ago. He averages 8.9 assists, but his shooting accuracy has dropped every month: 57.1% in four December games, 43.5% in January, 39.8% in February and 33.7% in March. The key for Marshall, 22, is his relatively inexpensive non-guaranteed contract — $915,243 next season in a league in which the average salary is about $5.5 million.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: It’s down to one. With Atlanta in freefall, the Knicks are lucky to be alive. And so they are very much, closing to one game of the final playoff spot with a 89-84 upset victory in a surprising defensive struggle over the Warriors at Oracle Arena, when they shut down Stephen Curry twice in the final 30 seconds. The Knicks used rare gritty defense and a 15-0 run late in the second quarter to keep their postseason dreams alive. They had lost 10 of their last 11 games in Oakland before rising to the challenge — and bottling up Curry on the final possession. “Our defense finally stepped up,’’ coach Mike Woodson said. The Knicks moved to 2-2 on their five-game West Coast trip. With eight games left, the Knicks finish up the Western trip Monday in Utah. The Hawks face the Sixers. “If we head home, get [Monday] night, it will be a great road trip,’’ Carmelo Anthony said. “We control our own destiny. I just hope we win and bring the same mindset and focus into Utah.’’
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: In his first season removed from Butler University, which he led to consecutive runner-up finishes, Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted how six Bulls have played in NCAA championship games. And Stevens saved special praise for the only one who won two titles. "How often do you have a guy that's even mentioned as an MVP candidate that averages what he averages point-wise?" Stevens said of Joakim Noah and his 12.4 points-per-game average. "I think that tells you what Noah has meant to this team since (Derrick) Rose has been out and (Luol) Deng got traded. They haven't skipped a beat." Noah, of course, won't win the award headed to either Kevin Durant or LeBron James. But coach Tom Thibodeau agrees he deserves consideration, likely in the form of third-place votes. "It depends on how you define it," Thibodeau said.
- Barbara Barker of Newsday: Kevin Garnett could be back in the Nets' lineup as early as Saturday. The team announced Sunday that he has targeted one of three games from April 5-9 for his comeback. The Nets also announced that forward Andrei Kirilenko is targeting the middle of the week for his return, meaning he could face the Knicks on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Garnett, who has been suffering from back spasms, missed his 16th straight game Sunday night. He hopes to return Saturday against Philadelphia, April 8 at Miami or April 9 at Orlando. Garnett originally hurt his back Feb. 27 in Denver. The Nets, however, have managed to adjust in his absence and are 12-4 without Garnett. Still, Nets coach Jason Kidd said Garnett's impact on the team, both on and off the court, can't be underestimated. Garnett, 37, initially struggled after joining the Nets this season, but since Jan. 1, he is shooting 57 percent and has been the team's emotional leader on defense.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: It has been exactly two weeks since Kyrie Irving strained his left biceps in a game against the Clippers in Los Angeles. After an MRI on March 17 confirmed the injury, the Cavs said he would be reevaluated in two weeks. That evaluation began on Sunday and likely will continue on Monday but it's unclear at this point when any sort of update will be issued. Irving told reporters last week he was hopeful he'd be able to play on the upcoming trip to Orlando and Atlanta.
- Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: The 98-93 win is the team’s 20th road victory this year — most in franchise history. Another day, another reminder of how freakishly awful the Raptors have been for most of 20 years. They may still be a little hard to love, but they are impossible to ignore. It is a function of great teams that they generate narratives. They can’t help but make stories. This team has begun to display those symptoms. All that’s left now is winning in the post-season. The bros sensed that. The Amway Center is one of the few left in sports where fans can gather near the locker rooms. As we left, they were still there, waiting for Valanciunas. He was still sitting in front of his locker, trying to figure out when it got weird.