NBA Playoffs: Nuggets continue to ignore defense, fall behind 3-1 to the Jazz

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The Nuggets have all the talent in the world, but they have seemed determined to squander it in their first-round series with the Jazz. First of all, they continued to let the Jazz score at will on Sunday. The Jazz scored 54 points in the paint, and added 30 points on free throws. That’s 84 points the Jazz were able to get without having to make a jump shot. The Nuggets were no slouches themselves, scoring 80 of their 106 points via points in the paint and free throws. But in the end, the Nuggets didn’t play enough defense to hold their early lead, and lacked the composure to get back in the game when they fell behind. 

The game started out just like the Nuggets wanted it to. They went to Carmelo early and often in low isolation. He answered the call by scoring in every way imaginable. He made hard drives to get himself to the line. He hit open jumpers. He posted up. He crashed the boards and got put-backs. He hit turnarounds in the lane. The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and looked like they might be able to execute and keep the Utah crowd out of the game. 
Then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer let the Nuggets know they didn’t plan on letting the Nuggets tie the series. The two combined to score nine points in two minutes to get the Jazz back in the game. and got the Utah crowd right back into the game. By the 3:00 mark of the first quarter, Utah had taken the lead. They didn’t give it back for the rest of the game.
Utah was able to get to front of the rim all game long against Denver. Boozer got whatever he wanted en route to 31 points on 13-19 shooting. There were ugly baskets. There were drives to the rim from the free-throw line. There were post-ups. There were put-backs. Deron Williams was consistently able to feed Boozer and the rest of the Jazz with bullet passes that led to layups from the three-point arc. Everything worked, and for the second straight game an undersized power forward tore the Nuggets’ interior D apart. 
Denver never threatened the lead because they were never able to string together stops. On top of that, they weren’t getting good shots, and Carmelo was the only reliable offensive option — the Nuggets only managed 13 assists on 37 field goals. For a high-octane team like the Nuggets to succeed, they have to be comfortable playing from behind. When the Nuggets got behind in Salt Lake, they alternated between panic and dejection. Now they find themselves in a 3-1 hole. 
The Jazz were also get production out of their wing players, while the Nuggets struggled to get anyone not named Anthony going from the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews scored 39 points on 26 shots; meanwhile, Billups/Smith/Lawson combined to go 12-32 from the floor. Billups’ struggles were particularly damning, as he never got his shot going, took control of the offense, or did anything to slow the Jazz down on defense. 
Deron Williams had a (relatively) quiet 24 points and 13 assists, but there was no mistaking that the game belonged to him. He set up his teammates with great looks, and whenever the Jazz needed a basket Williams got it. He’s carried the Jazz all series, and he’s making a strong case for himself as one of the absolute best players in the league. Thanks to him, the Jazz are on the verge of knocking off a team considered the #2 team in the West for most of the year, and are looking like a threat to any team they face in the next two rounds. (If the Lakers make it through, do you think Derek Fisher is looking forward to guarding this guy? Russell Westbrook has been tough enough.) 
The Nuggets have a great chance to turn this into a series with a win in Denver, and have the talent to compete for a title. However, they’re going to have to buckle down on both ends of the floor if they want to make a serious title run anytime soon. 

Larry Bird: Kevin McHale won’t coach Pacers

Larry Bird
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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1. Kevin McHale withdrew from the Kings’ coaching search.

2. The Pacers fired Frank Vogel.

Will McHale reunite with former Celtics teammate Larry Bird in Indiana?

“I would not do that to Kevin, have him to work for me,”Bird said at a press conference today. “That’s just not fair. I respect the man too much, and we’ve been through too many battles together to bring him in here and be my coach. I would love for him to be my coach, but it ain’t going to happen, because our relationship.”

It would have been compelling to watch Bird and McHale work together, but I’m not convinced McHale is the best coach available – though that’s not the only concern.

After all, Bird just ousted someone who might be a better coach than any replacement.

Frank Vogel out as Pacers coach

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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After leaving Frank Vogel hanging for a few days – something he explicitly said he hoped to avoid – Pacers president Larry Bird finally ousted the coach.

“It’s time for a new voice around here,” Bird said at a press conference today. “Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve done.”

Bird clarified that Vogel wasn’t fired, that his contract had expired and wasn’t being renewed.

Will there be a search now to replace Vogel? Kevin McHale has already been mentioned as a candidate, and he’d make sense. He played on Bird’s Celtics and learned an up-tempo system with the Rockets.

Vogel is now free to interview with the Rockets, and I think he’d be a home-run hire. Vogel’s defensive skills are badly needed in Houston, and perhaps the the Rockets’ institutional knowledge could fine-tune his offense.

Report: Rockets talking to Jeff Hornacek, Sam Cassell, Stephen Silas, Chris Finch

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek directs his players in the second half of an NBA exhibition basketball game against the Houston Rockets Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 95-92. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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There are the big names: Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt, Mike D’Antoni and Frank Vogel.

There’s the catchy name: Kenny Smith.

And there’s the eliminated name: J.B. Bickerstaff.

Expect many more names in the Rockets’ coaching search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Houston owner Les Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey met with Bickerstaff on Monday, as well as Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Houston assistant Chris Finch, league sources said.

Conversations with potential candidates are expected to include several prominent college coaches, sources said.

Among the NBA candidates with whom the Rockets are working to set up interviews are former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, league sources said. There could be 10-15 – perhaps even more – candidates interviewed in the process, league sources said.

Hornacek coached the Suns and looked pretty good doing so until this season, when he feuded with Markieff Morris, used too many strange lineups and saw the team quit on him. If he can explain this year’s troubles, he’d be a solid hire. But the Rockets have the best job available, so they can probably aim a little higher.

Cassell, like Smith, played for the Rockets. An intelligent player, Cassell has successfully transitioned to coaching, though I’m not sure he’s ready for a top job. He mentored John Wall with the Wizards before joining the Clippers. From afar, it’s just tough to judge his contributions to a loaded coaching staff in Los Angeles.

Stephen Silas broke into NBA coaching on his dad’s staffs with the Hornets (turned Pelicans) and Cavaliers. Paul Silas even let Stephen serve as head coach for games during the 2011-12 season. Between and after stints with his dad, Stephen has impressed at other stops around the league. Maybe someone who learned offense from Don Nelson and defense from Steve Clifford and gets along well with players would make a good head coach. The biggest question is how his rapport with players would translate to the head chair, but that’s a concern for any assistant.

Finch coached in Europe for more than a decade until the Rockets tabbed him to coach their D-League team. After a successful stint there, he moved to the bench in Houston. He’d be more of a daring hire at this point, but he could perhaps unite the Rockets’ front office and coaching staff better than anyone.

Reports: Kevin McHale withdraws from Kings coaching search, could join Pacers

Kevin McHale
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports wrote a few weeks ago about the Kings coaching search:

Kevin McHale is steadily gaining internal support, league sources told The Vertical. If Cousins truly is the future, the Kings have to hire a coach he will buy into, and McHale, a respected voice and one of the game’s all-time great post players, certainly seems like a good fit.

They won’t get him, of course

McHale indeed emerged as a candidate, and though it took him a little longer than other prominent former head coaches, McHale also came to the conclusion Mannix foresaw,

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This is part of the reason Sacramento talking to everybody. The Kings don’t know whom they can get.

An owner who has changed course too often in Vivek Ranadive, a general manager with too little experience in Vlade Divac, a top player who repeatedly feuds with coaches in DeMarcus Cousins – who’d want this job? Probably not someone who could get one of the NBA’s other 29 head-coaching gigs, and that might apply to McHale.

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

Frank Vogel is still twisting in the wind, but it seems unlikely the Pacers keep him.

There’d definitely be something intriguing about former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale teaming up in Indiana. McHale’s experience with the Rockets could help him install an up-tempo offense, too.