Steve Nash, Alvin Gentry defend decision to rest Suns’ stars

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The Suns aren’t a team that’s stacked with talent; Steve Nash has said so himself at multiple times this season, going as far back as training camp last December. And given the team’s sub-.500 position in the standings, it certainly can’t afford to play games without its best offensive creator in Nash, and its best defender in Grant Hill. Yet Phoenix did exactly that on Tuesday in Denver, and did so on purpose.

Nash and Hill were late scratches against the Nuggets, and not surprisingly, the Suns dropped their second straight on the road by a margin of 17 points. Fans wondered if Phoenix was justified in sitting its two best players by choice — an action that equates to a virtual forfeit given the overall talent on this roster. But head coach Alvin Gentry defended the decision before the Suns lost their third straight on Wednesday, saying that preventing injury, and not solely resting his older players for the sake of comfort, was the reason why.

“I don’t think we have that luxury of resting guys,” Gentry said. “I mean, Grant and Steve sat out [Tuesday night in Denver] because they were a little banged up. I think you have to be smart enough to realize that, do you stick ’em out there and risk them actually getting hurt, where now they miss multiple games? Or do you just sit ’em out for a game? And I just thought that it was smart on our part, after talking with the trainers and everything, that we just sit them out for the game. Because I do think that when you’re playing three games in three days, or in our case four games in five days, there’s a chance that if there’s something just a wee bit wrong that it could end up being something that becomes even more so. I just didn’t think it was worth the risk.”

Nash was on the same page, and said that you’ve got to be careful with the schedule being what it is, while using the Achilles’ injury to Chauncey Billups as an example of what could go wrong if the proper precautions aren’t put in place.

“Honestly, you’ve got to be smart sometimes,” he said. “You see what happened to Chauncey Billups; you never know when something like that can happen. Usually injuries like that can come when there’s a cumulative effect of fatigue and something happens. The schedule’s been insane before this three-in-a-row; I think your ego wants to play, but at the same time, you’ve got to think of the big picture.”

Both Nash and Hill looked refreshed and played well in their team’s loss to Atlanta on Wednesday: Nash finished the first quarter with seven points and five assists, and Hill had nine points and two rebounds in the game’s opening period. Still, the Suns fell to the Hawks, losing for the third time in as many nights.

So, while the rest may be a necessity in Gentry’s eyes to prevent long-term injury, fans are going to continue to wonder if a team struggling to stay relevant isn’t just needlessly surrendering games — wins that the Suns desperately need to have to remain in the playoff hunt — by voluntarily sitting its two best players.

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.