Dirk Nowitzki, Grant Hill

Phoenix 96, Dallas 94: Suns come back from double-digit defict to take down Mavericks

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A few weeks ago, any talk involving the Phoenix Suns and the word “playoffs” would have seemed completely ridiculous — and maybe, to a certain extent, it still is. But the Suns have shown they possess the necessary grit and fight that is evident in postseason teams, battling back from double-digit deficits in their last four home victories, most recently in a crucial 96-94 win over the Mavericks on Thursday.

It was maybe the Suns’ best victory of the season.

After leading for three quarters the night before in Oklahoma City against a Thunder team which possesses the league’s best record, Phoenix fell apart in the fourth, and lost a game the players felt they had played well enough to win. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said before Thursday’s game against Dallas that he wanted to be careful not to get into moral victory territory in discussing the positives against OKC.

The victory was real on this night, and was one that was earned over the defending champs.

“As a team we sort of collectively came out and willed a victory,” Grant Hill said afterward. “We probably should have won the game last night (against the Thunder), we played well and just didn’t do good job there in the fourth quarter of maintaining the lead.

“I think it showed a lot tonight that we didn’t quit, we didn’t fold, and we managed to figure out a way to get the win.”

Phoenix trailed early, thanks to Vince Carter torching his former team for 13 first-half points, which led all scorers at the break and helped get the Mavs out to a nine-point lead at intermission. Hill, who always guards the other team’s best player and held Dirk Nowitzki to just six points through two quarters, was assigned to Carter to start the second half.

Hill’s defense slowed Carter considerably in the second half, but more importantly, the Suns to a man played as hard as they have all season during a stretch that ran from late in the third quarter through more than halfway into the fourth, where Phoenix put together a monstrous 30-8 run that turned an 11-point deficit into a lead of the same margin with just over five minutes to play.

There were defensive stops that lead to transition baskets, open pull-up jumpers, or wide-open threes. There was Jared Dudley’s 12-point third quarter. There was Shannon Brown’s monster putback slam dunk that blew the roof off of the US Airways Center,  and pushed the Suns lead to double digits four and a half minutes into the fourth.

There was Hakim Warrick’s inspired play off the bench, bringing energy, athleticism, and easy points at the free throw line to a second unit that has struggled to keep things stable all season long. Warrick has only gotten his chances in spurts, and hasn’t played the 17 minutes he did against Dallas in a game since the end of January, while receiving 13 DNP-CDs since.

But it wasn’t by any means a cruise to the finish line for Phoenix. Dallas is a deep and experienced team, and was able to close the gap to just two, while gaining possession with 14 seconds left after fouling Hill, who missed two free throws. After getting the ball to Nowitzki initially, the Suns had a foul to give and used it. When the Mavs inbounded the ball next, Rodrigue Beaubois was the one who got the clutch shot opportunities, first missing a floater at the rim that went in and out, then missing an 18-foot jumper with just a couple of seconds remaining that left the victory in the hands of the Suns.

Rick Carlisle was questioned as to why Beaubois was even in the game, when normally Jason Terry would be the one on the floor ready to produce should the ball not find its way into the hands of Nowitzki.

“Coach’s decision,” Carlisle said, repeating it twice more when pressed for details.

“You’re not always going to get your star players a shot at the end because they attract so much attention,” Carlisle said. “And that’s one of the reasons Roddy got so open.”

Most teams will happily take their chances with Beaubois at the end of games, given the number of capable alternatives on the Mavs’ roster. But the game wasn’t won or lost on the final possession. The Suns won it with their desire, and maybe, with their sense of urgency. Steve Nash said afterward that the team placed a significant amount of emphasis on winning this game, specifically due to the fact that Phoenix is running out of opportunities to make up the ground that it needs to in the conference standings.

“We couldn’t lose both these and stay in the playoff picture,” Nash said, referring to the game on Wednesday in Oklahoma City that was already lost. “It’s an early crunch time for us. We’ve got to keep crawling back to that eight, nine, ten spot and try to give ourselves a chance to sneak in there.”

Phoenix has won six of its last eight, with four of those wins coming against teams that the Suns are chasing in the standings. The next three are at home as well, and are also against playoff hopefuls or contenders.

The Suns aren’t ready to talk playoffs just yet. But they are playing with a desperation that seems to be working, and are going out there each night like their season is on the line. With this critical stretch of home games ahead against teams they need to outrun in the race to the postseason, it probably is.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Derek Fisher is out, but is real change coming to Knicks?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    New York Knicks President Phil Jackson watches his team play against the Toronto Raptors as head coach Derek Fisher talks with Pablo Prigioni #9 at Madison Square Garden on October 13, 2014 in New York City. The Raptors defeated the Knicks 81-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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My thought of the day: If a 71-year-old white-as-white-can-be guy doesn’t get or like the Super Bowl halftime show, then you’ve done it right. He’s not the future of anything. (Not that I have much use for Coldplay.) Now, on with Monday’s NBA news.

1) Derek Fisher out in New York, but does that mean real change is coming? 
Phil Jackson decided that the coach he hired with zero coaching experience whatsoever maybe couldn’t coach after all, and Monday the New York Knicks fired Derek Fisher. This was not necessarily a bad move, Fisher was a better coach this season than last — he was learning on the job — but still had a long, long way to go to be good. He’s not a great Xs and Os guy, and also had said that he shouldn’t have to motivate professional athletes — if you’re a coach who isn’t a great tactician or motivator, what exactly are you doing? Fisher was brought in to establish a culture then undercut himself with things such as the bizarre Matt Barnes incident. Him being out is not the worst thing for the Knicks.

But is the next coach going to be a real change?

Early reports have Phil Jackson sticking with his guys — Luke Walton is the guy at the top of the list, with Brian Shaw next in line, according to early reports. Both, at least, have NBA coaching experience, but Walton has only guided an already-built championship team that knew its roles, while Shaw lost the Denver locker room fast. This fits a pattern, Jackson has stacked the Knicks organization with his guys and now is saying that running the triangle remains an important part of the criteria for the next coach. That’s limiting. (There is still a debate as to how well a full-time triangle team, in the style Jackson likes to run that offense, can thrive in today’s NBA.) Someone from outside his coaching family — Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek — could provide a different view of things, a counterbalance, a new perspective that the best organizations welcome. Internal debate and differing ideas are a good thing if managed well. Golden State does that beautifully. If Jackson just hires a better version of Fisher, is that real change? Is that doing the franchise justice? Walton will have options as a coach once the Warriors’ season ends, likely in June, we’ll see if Jackson will wait that long for him. Or if he wants to go East.

2) Joe Johnson calls bank on Nets game winner. Mike Malone has Denver playing everyone tough lately (that’s how a coach builds a culture, Knicks), having beat the Bulls and Raptors recently, and on the second night of a back-to-back, it looked like they would sweep New York and topple the Nets as well. But Joe Johnson‘s hard sprint from the low block to out past the arc left Danilo Gallinari a step behind, and that gave Johnson room to drain the game winner — which owner Mikhail Prokhorov loved.

3) Bulls struggles continue, they get thumped by Hornets. Derrick Rose was a last-minute scratch for Chicago due to “general body soreness.” The rest of the team apparently felt the same way. Charlotte — a team playing with urgency as they try to climb back into the playoffs — put up 38 points in the first quarter and easily disposed of Chicago 108-91. The Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games and continue to struggle on the defensive end (without Joakim Noah now) while never finding their identity on the offensive end of the court.

Chicago is now the seven seed in the West and just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. There are a lot of things that have gotten the Bulls to this point, but the dominoes started to fall last summer when John Paxson and Gar Forman made their move. There is still time for the Bulls to turn things around, it’s just hard to envision this group doing it.

4) Andre Drummond from three-quarter court? Sure He has Stephen Curry range. Andre Drummond is in the Dunk Contest All-Star Saturday night, but apparently he should have been in the Three Point Contest as well.

5) Allen Crabbe (or Gerald Henderson) tip-in forces OT, where Trail Blazers pull away from Grizzlies for the win. After what had been a smart, gutty game by both teams —one Marc Gasol had to leave after 11 minutes with a foot sprain —  which had the back-and-forth feel of a playoff game at times, the Portland Trail Blazers were down two with time for one last shot. Everyone in the building knew it was going to be a Damian Lillard isolation. Including Memphis. Lillard got off his shot, but it bounced off the rim — right to C.J. McCollum, who had 21 points on the night, but he missed, and then came the tip. Officially Allen Crabbe was credited with the bucket, but maybe Gerald Henderson got it. Portland didn’t care, they just wanted to get to OT, and they did.

Overtime opened with six straight McCollum points before the Grizzlies even scored, and that was the ballgame.

Vucevic leads Magic comeback for 117-110 OT win over Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — A big comeback gave the Orlando Magic their second win over the Hawks in two days and renewed belief they can stage a similar rally in their season.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and Orlando rallied from 20 points down to beat Atlanta 117-110 in overtime on Monday night.

The Magic beat the Hawks 96-94 on Sunday on a last-second 18-footer by Vucevic. The 7-foot center was the difference again on Monday night, when he had 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thanks to a 2-12 record in January, Orlando is tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The wins over the Hawks provide hope for a turnaround.

“It’s big. It’s really big for us,” said Victor Oladipo.

Added Elfrid Payton, who had 20 points, “It’s definitely a step forward.”

Orlando trailed by 20 in the opening period and by 18 in the third. It took its first lead at 96-94 on Mario Hezonja‘s 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining in regulation.

Orlando scored the first six points of overtime, including a jumper by Vucevic, who also had 13 rebounds. Kyle Korver‘s 3-pointer pulled the Hawks to 112-110, but Evan Fournier answered with a 3 for the Magic.

Al Horford led Atlanta with 27 points and Paul Millsap had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hawks were hot while building the big lead in the opening period, but Orlando’s defense kept playing hard.

“We got enough stops to win,” said Orlando coach Scott Skiles.

Millsap made one of two free throws to tie the score at 101 late in regulation. Millsap blocked a shot by Oladipo, leaving the Hawks with 1.2 seconds. Millsap took the inbounds pass, took a step back and sank a short jumper – but it came after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

“We lost our focus at times,” Horford said. ” … We’ve had this problem all year where we get up and we give up leads. It’s hard to take.”

Atlanta trailed 30-19 after the first quarter of Sunday’s 96-94 loss at Orlando. One day later, the Hawks flipped the script and led 30-18 after one period. They led 71-53 late in the third.

“When you’re up in the third quarter like that, we have to find a way to be better,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think we’ve got to be better late in games – myself, the players, everybody.”

Vucevic scored 12 points in the third period, including the last two baskets in an 11-0 run.

 

EVEN HARRY WAS HOT

Things went so well for the Hawks in the first half that even their mascot couldn’t miss. During a timeout, Harry the Hawk hit nothing but net on a half-court shot – with his back to the basket. Harry celebrated by dabbing on his way off the court.

TIP-INS

Magic: F Tobias Harris (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game. … Fournier had 16 points. Hezonja and Smith had 14 points each. Aaron Gordon had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore had 13 rebounds. … Tiago Splitter (right hip) missed his fifth straight game and is expected to rest through the All-Star break. … The Hawks assigned C Edy Tavares to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League. Tavares has averaged 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 10 D-League games this season.

 

Redick leads Clippers to 98-92 OT victory over 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 8: J.J. Redick #4 of the Los Angeles Clippers attempts a shot between Hollis Thompson #31 and Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers on February 8, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Clippers defeated the 76ers 98-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers struggled until it mattered most.

J.J. Redick had 23 points, including the tying 3-pointer late in regulation, and Jamal Crawford also scored 23 points to lead the short-handed Clippers to a 98-92 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

The Clippers overcame their largest deficit in a victory this season, coming back from 19 points down to win their 19th game in the last 23 overall and 12th in the last 14 on the road.

“It was ugly out there for most of the game,” said Chris Paul, who assisted on Redick’s shot. “Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what we did.”

Jerami Grant had 17 points to lead the 76ers, who were looking for their first winning streak of the season.

“These are games we should be winning,” Philadelphia’s Ish Smith said.

Philadelphia looked in good position to earn its ninth win of the season – and first over a team with a winning record – before Redick’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 10.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the game at 88. The 76ers had a chance to win it in regulation, but Jahlil Okafor‘s 18-foot jumper against the defense of DeAndre Jordan went long.

“I wish that Jahlil would have driven on DeAndre, but I give DeAndre some credit, too,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

The Clippers took control in overtime, scoring the first eight points in the extra session as Philadelphia missed 10 straight shots to end regulation and start OT.

“That was the best execution we had all game,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “And you look at each other like, `Where was that all game?”‘

Jordan had 12 points and 21 rebounds and Paul contributed 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers, who have won nine straight over Philadelphia.

Smith returned to the lineup after sitting out the 76ers’ 103-98 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday night with an ankle injury and had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Okafor added 14 points and nine rebounds.

Already without injured starters Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers, coach Doc Rivers chose to rest Paul Pierce against Philadelphia. Rivers is out 4-to-6 weeks after breaking his left hand last Wednesday while Griffin remains sidelined after breaking his hand during a fight with a member of the equipment staff.

Philadelphia led by 10 points at halftime and controlled most of the second half.

The 76ers were up 88-85 with possession of the ball with 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Smith missed a 15-foot jumper and Nerlens Noel couldn’t corral the rebound. Following a timeout, Paul found a wide-open Redick, who swished a tying 3.

“I’m not the one that makes the shot, but I feel like I make it because we execute,” Paul said.

ROLLING ALONG

The Clippers improved to 18-4 without Griffin, who first was sidelined with a partially torn left quadriceps muscle injured on Christmas.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Crawford has scored at least 20 points in the last five games, averaging 22 points over that span. … Los Angeles came back from a 17-point deficit in a 101-96 win over Detroit on Nov. 14. … The Clippers improved to 18-9 on road. … The Clippers defeated the 76ers 130-99 on Jan. 2 in Los Angeles. … Wesley Johnson made his sixth start of the season in place of Pierce and had seven points and nine rebounds.

76ers: Allen Iverson was in attendance. … F Richaun Holmes was available after sitting out the last two games with an ankle sprain but didn’t play. … Philadelphia last beat the Clippers on March 16, 2011.