First Cup: Tuesday
April, 8, 2014
By Nick Borges
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: It might be time for TMZ to swoop in. Better yet, it might make for a new reality series. The Cavaliers are on the verge of being eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race. One more Atlanta victory in its last six games will end the Cavs’ run. Yet the Cavs were more intent on showing what bosom buddies Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are. They also wanted to deny a claim by Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon there is any kind of a rift between the two guards. The Cavs propped up Irving and Waiters in front of the media on April 7 after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, just to promote an aura of unity. Waiters said he was friends with Irving long before he came to the Cavs. They crossed paths in the AAU circuit.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant didn’t just downplay his 25-point scoring streak after moving past Michael Jordan for sole possession of third place on the all-time list. He flat out dismissed it. “I don’t really care about it,” Durant said after his 38 points and 11 rebounds Sunday at Phoenix. “I wish it was over.” Durant has scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. Wilt Chamberlain owns the single-season record at 80 games in the 1961-62 season. Oscar Robertson is second with 46 straight 25-point nights in the 1963-64 season. Durant might wish the streak was over — if you’re buying that— but opponents could have a tougher time than you might think in stopping it.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns were sucker-punched before this season's opening bell and counted out. At midseason, they were knocked down, but not out, by Eric Bledsoe's knee surgery. With five games remaining, they are still standing with unwavering belief in the locker room and a more plausible backing outside of it. With their best back-to-back wins of the season this weekend, over Portland and Oklahoma City, the Suns kept control of their fate. "We know that time is running down and we just can't fail," Suns guard Gerald Green said. "It's all or nothing right now. We don't have a month left to try and make up. We've only got a few games left. It's either win or go home for us." The Suns' playoff picture seems to have been whittled to a three-team race for the final two spots in the Western Conference. The Suns are in the eighth and final playoff slot at 46-31, a half-game behind Dallas (47-31) and a game ahead of Memphis (45-32) with round-robin scheduling ahead when each of the three teams faces each other over the season's final five nights, starting Saturday. No team in the 16-team playoff era has failed to make it to the postseason with 49 wins (Golden State was left out at 48-34 in 2008).
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: As the Pistons prepare to ride out the last two weeks of the regular season, the sun might be setting on Pistons president Joe Dumars’ reign with the only franchise he’s known. Dumars has told multiple sources within the NBA that he plans to resign — possibly as soon as this week — after a busy offseason that included the signings of high-priced free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and led to an underachieving 2013-14 season. The Pistons, who many experts picked to return to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, are 28-49 and out of playoff contention. Pistons owner Tom Gores had expected before the season that the team would return to the playoffs. Gores fired Dumars’ hand-picked coach, Maurice Cheeks, after just 50 games, making it one of the top-five quickest firings in the last 20 years. After Dumars tried to save Cheeks’ job, according to an NBA source. It became clear the two sides, bound together by circumstance, were headed for divorce.
- Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: For better or worse, the Atlanta Hawks are playoff-bound. They lead the ninth-place Knicks by two games with six to play, and the Hawks have the edge in the pertinent tiebreaker (conference record) and the easier schedule. The bad part of this is that the Hawks, by qualifying for postseason, won’t participate in the draft lottery and will be matched against the conference’s No. 1 seed. At the moment, Miami holds first place in the East. If the Hawks get outrageously lucky, the Indiana Pacers will reclaim No. 1. Having Indiana as a Round 1 opponent would definitely qualify as better. The Pacers have fallen apart in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a good team fall apart. They have suffered no major injuries. They have the same starting five as the team that took Miami to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals last spring. They were the NBA’s best for much of this regular season. They’re awful now.
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks woke up Tuesday morning with their magic number for clinching a playoff berth at three. Any combination of three wins or three Memphis losses and they are in the party. So the question is: whom do they want as their dance partner? It might not matter whom they have their eyes on. The way things are looking now, the most likely scenario is that they should start preparing for Oklahoma City. While much can change in the final nine days of the season — “We’ve got four more one-game seasons,” coach Rick Carlisle said — if the Mavericks take care of their business, they will likely be visiting the Thunder in a No. 2 vs. No. 7 series when the playoffs open in 11 days. “First of all, we want to make it,” Dirk Nowitzki said Monday.
- The Associated Press: Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said his team's focus shouldn't be whether they're playing the Indiana Pacers or Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA playoffs. He said that's “wasted energy” and his players will be better served using the final five regular season games to improve. Players seemed to echo Clifford's sentiment after Monday's practice — at least partially. Guard Gerald Henderson said it's only natural to take a glance at the standings and project who and where the Bobcats might end up playing in two weeks. ... Center Al Jefferson, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday, made it clear the Bobcats still have goals in mind heading down the stretch. “We still feel like we have a chance to move up” in the standings, Jefferson said. “We don't want to get to the playoffs and get swept. We want to make some noise in the playoffs.”
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: “Have to make the right moves,” said Charles Oakley. “Can’t just count on young kids.” Ujiri’s balancing act will be to spend money wisely and on the right type of complementary player, and that’s always a crapshoot. Depending on the outcome and timing of the Lowry situation and decisions on the likes of restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons, the general manager could have about $10 million to spend in free agency this summer and about three times that much in the summer of 2015. It’s impossible to predict whether he can build on this magical year and turn the Raptors into a legitimate, consistent Eastern Conference contender — but right now, the pieces seem in place to answer Oakley’s question in the negative.
- Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Brett Brown didn’t know a lot about analytics until he became coach of the 76ers in August. “I was so curious when I got hooked up to Sam (Hinkie),” said Brown after Monday’s practice. While he’s learned a great deal from GM Hinkie and the team’s analytics/advanced statistics department, the 53-year-old Brown said there’s a traditional side of him that can still be skeptical. So in team meetings that include Hinkie hire Lance Pearson, who has a Ph.D in Cognitive and Neural Systems from Boston University, Brown will ask all kinds of questions. For example, analytics proponents stress the importance of getting as many offensive possessions as possible. So while the rebuilding Sixers, who possess the NBA’s second-worst record of 17-60, lead the league in possessions, Brown also wants to know what kind of shots they’re getting and if a poor 3-point shooter takes the jumper. Then, “you’ve got the wrong guy shooting,” Brown said he’s presented to Pearson. “So why is that so good? And this efficient shot chart. Why is that so good? “I’m always inquisitive and challenging and try to take everything that you know and digest it and beat it up so we can get more polished and I can get better.” Some of the players have been closely involved with analytics for the first time in their careers.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame made official Monday what has been known for days: Alonzo Mourning will be among those inducted in the 2014 class, in a ceremony scheduled for August in Springfield, Mass. Mourning becomes the second Heat player to be inducted into the Hall, joining Gary Payton. “I’m humbled and I’m truly honored,” Mourning said. “I’m very, very grateful. ... If my life ended today, I’ve lived a storybook life.” Mourning credited his family, Heat president Pat Riley and former Georgetown coach John Thompson, “who helped contribute so much to my life, not just as an athlete, but as a person. Big John taught me more about life than he did about basketball.” Mourning said it “would only be fitting” if two people – presumably Riley and Thompson – are part of presenting him during his induction, adding it would be difficult to pick one over the other. “You don’t play because you have intentions to go into the Hall of Fame,” Mourning said on a conference call Monday.