Monday, March 18, 2013
First Cup: Monday
By Nick Borges
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Once again, it was Shane Battier’s turn to speak. The Heat’s forward delivered a rousing postgame speech in Toronto on Feb. 3 after the first game of the Heat’s winning streak and — by the request of his teammates — Battier was back in front of the team 42 days later on Sunday. In that time span, the Heat hasn’t lost a game. Miami’s 108-91 victory over the Raptors at Air Canada Centre extended the Heat’s winning streak to 22 games. For Battier and the Heat, the day was doubly significant. The victory tied the Heat with the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Battier was on that team, too. Naturally, he needed to say a few words. On Monday, the Heat can reach 23 victories in a row. A win in Boston and Miami can take aim at 1971-72 Lakers, who won 33 consecutive games. “Someone said speech but I wasn’t prepared to speak,” Battier said. “But you always have something in your back pocket. I got filled with the spirit.” Battier talked about enjoying what the team has accomplished but, “with anything, we have to leave it in past.”
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Ray Allen was a Celtic the last time Boston had a shot to end a 22-game streak. He just didn’t play a part in it. That one was held by the Rockets, who welcomed the Celtics to Houston exactly five years ago Monday — when Miami will visit Boston. Allen was sidelined at the time, though, when asked Sunday, he couldn’t recall the circumstance. Boston won that game, 94-74. “We talked about it, but we weren’t in the shadow of it, because they were out West,” Allen said. “It was almost like you looked up at the schedule and they had won 22 in a row.” Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are the only three players from that team who remain — Rondo is out for the season with a knee injury and Garnett may be limited, if he plays at all, due to a sore hip. Still, Miami players spoke respectfully of a team they haven’t beaten in Boston, during the regular season, in five tries since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Heat.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Pau Gasol still remained in jovial spirits despite the news surrounding his return. The additional pain Gasol sensed in his right foot after playing a game of two-on-two Saturday will keep him sidelined when the Lakers play tonight in Phoenix, a benchmark the Lakers believed only days ago could happen. The Lakers then play Friday against Washington, leaving Gasol three more days to recover and possibly get in a practice. "I don't want to put any date," Gasol said, "so there are no disappointments or surprises." He hardly sounded upset about his delayed return after spending Sunday morning with foot specialist Kenneth Jung talking about his progress. "It was to be expected," said Gasol, who also has fought a cold circulating within the team in the past week. "As you raise the intensity in the amount of load you put on the foot, it's going to create a little soreness." Gasol, who has missed 19 games with his latest injury, will start in place of Earl Clark once his conditioning returns to normal. D'Antoni initially defended Gasol's bench role six games before his injury by arguing "we got to go small." What changed D'Antoni's sentiments? "Pau went up to another level with his play," D'Antoni said.
- Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant's sprained left ankle didn't feel strong enough for Bryant even to test it on the court Sunday before skipping the Lakers' game against Sacramento. Bryant is considered doubtful to play Monday in Phoenix, according to a Lakers spokesman. If Bryant doesn't play against the Suns, he will have three more days of rest and treatment before the Lakers play their next game Friday night against Washington. Two days after that is the Lakers' only multigame trip left this regular season: at Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Sacramento. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni had expected Bryant to test the ankle in the hours before the game vs. the Kings on Sunday night, but Bryant opted to save the effort given the minimal chance he would actually play vs. Sacramento, which was shorthanded without leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins (quadriceps). It was Bryant's first game of the season not playing. He played one quarter on the ankle in Indiana on Friday before telling Lakers coaches: "I can't go."
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: This is the Thunder’s 50th win of the season. That might not mean much to most, but those are the people who likely weren’t paying attention when this team was barely a cut above trash. Oklahoma City has now won at least 50 games in three of the past four seasons. And last year’s .712 winning percentage in the lock0ut-shortended 66-game season equates to 58 wins when extrapolated over 82 games. It’s become easy to just expect a team with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka to rack up 50-win campaigns for the next 10 years. Easy to neglect each passing season that topples that plateau. But those that have turned Oklahoma City into an NBA power haven’t forgotten where they came from. “We had 40 wins in two seasons, and now we have 50 wins almost every year,” Durant said, perfectly putting the achievement into its proper perspective even after claiming he couldn’t. “So that’s a blessing and shows how much we’ve grown as an organization. It’s great to be a part of. We really can’t take wins for granted because we went a few years without getting many.”
- Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: While college basketball teams around the country waited to find out where the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has them seeded, the Clippers know every game can determine their postseason fate. Sunday's 93-80 victory over the injury-riddled New York Knicks put the Clippers in control of one of the most coveted seeds in the Western Conference – at least for now. With 15 games remaining, the Clippers are one game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets for the third spot in the Western Conference. In addition to having home-court advantage in the first round, the third seed will almost certainly avoid facing a top-tier team in the first round. Grant Hill called the difference between being the No. 3 seed in the West and the No. 5, "huge." "It could come down to the last week," he said. "It's pretty tight right there" If the playoffs began today, the Clippers would face Golden State, avoiding the Grizzlies and Nuggets in the first round.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks proved two things Sunday night. They are at their best in an up-tempo style – even if they can’t match the opposition’s size. Oh, and the Nets hold no mental edge over them. The Hawks used a 13-4 run to start the fourth quarter and break open a close game en route to a 105-93 victory over the Nets at Barclays Center. The Hawks would push the lead to as many as 15 in the final period in a back-and-forth game where neither team led by more than six points through three quarters. The victory evens the season series, 2-2, between the Eastern Conference and possible playoff opponents. The Hawks (37-29) have won three straight games and snapped a five-game road losing streak. They outscored the Nets 34-20 in the fourth quarter. The Hawks started Al Horford at center, giving up on the idea of trying to match the size of Nets’ seven-footer Brook Lopez. … The Hawks have 16 games remaining in the regular season. “For us, this is good because we are starting to build some momentum which we need,” Horford said.
- Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Current Bucks general manager John Hammond was so encouraged by Ilyasova’s talents that he rewarded him with a guaranteed four-year, $31.6 million contract with a team option for a fifth season at $8.4 million. After a sluggish start to this season, when former Bucks coach Scott Skiles shuffled him in and out of the starting lineup while reducing his minutes, Ilyasova is thriving for the 32-32 Bucks, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While he is averaging 12.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for the season, Ilyasova has scored at least 19 points in eight of the last 13 games. That included a 29-point, 11-rebound outburst against Toronto and a 26-point, 17-rebound outing against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat Friday night. Jim Boylan, who promptly inserted Ilyasova into the starting lineup when he assumed the head coaching reins, is delighted with his young starting power forward. “Ersan has been really, really consistent with his scoring, his effort, his rebounding,” Boylan said.
- Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: For the first time in a month, both center Nikola Pekovic and forward Andrei Kirilenko were healthy enough to be back in the Timberwolves lineup Sunday against New Orleans at Target Center. And, for much of the first 47 minutes of the game, they struggled. They looked rusty, they looked a step slow. Quite often they looked tired. But then, of course, they won the game. In a 97-95, come-from-behind victory over a feisty bunch of Hornets, Pekovic’s offensive rebound and his two free throws gave the Wolves a one-point lead with 14.5 seconds left. And then Kirilenko sealed it with two blocks in the closing seconds. “I guess I was saving it for the final 14 seconds,” Kirilenko joked. It was, frankly, an improbable win, one that would have been impossible if not for Derrick Williams’ career-high 28 points. The Wolves were out-rebounded 41-27, with that total being their lowest of the season. The Hornets outscored the Wolves 58-46 in the paint and 20-10 on second-chance points. The Wolves struggled to slow Hornets center Robin Lopez (20 points, 11 rebounds) inside and Greivis Vasquez (24 points, five assists, seven rebounds) everywhere else. But all that mattered was the final minute.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: It would have been easy to have lost composure, gotten disheartened or even flat-out panicked. But with the opposing crowd of 18,219 buzzing and the Rockets charging in the teams' biggest game of the season, Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson appeared completely unaffected Sunday. "I might have been worried a year ago or maybe even a couple of months ago, but I've learned so much this season," Thompson said. "I've come to grips with not panicking." With things seemingly spiraling out of control for the Warriors, the steely second-year guard connected on two jumpers that were sandwiched around a Stephen Curry three-pointer to cool off the Rockets' run, and the Warriors went on to cruise to a 108-78 victory that kept them in sixth place.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: I’m a journalist, so I value transparency. We’re all predisposed to believe organizations should be as open and accountable as possible. So, naturally, I applauded in November when the NBA acknowledged after the fact that its referees blew an obvious call in a game between the Charlotte Bobcats and Toronto Raptors. A foul should have been called on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that would have given Andrea Bargnani free throws. Those free throws might have won a game the Raptors lost. Since then the league has issued similar “Mea Culpas,” most recently when it announced Thursday that a foul should have been called on Atlanta’s Dahntay Jones for planting his foot where Kobe Bryant would land after a jump shot. That was another end-of-game situation, and the lack of a call might have cost the Lakers a victory. I ran all this past a friend who used to be a coach at the pro level. I heard a counter-argument to my “all transparency is positive” position. I must admit there was merit to what I heard. The short version of this coach’s argument is, “If it’s too late to undo a mistake, then why harp on it publicly?” The slightly longer version is this: You invalidate one team’s victory without really making the loser feel better. You add to the paranoia about referees in a social media-driven time overdosed on snark.