Yankees legend Reggie Jackson talks clutch play, LeBron

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In some sense, the debate about clutch play in basketball’s statistical community — who is good in the clutch, how you define clutch, if clutch play really even exists — is a moot point.

Players and coaches believe it exists, therefore it does. You can argue that it doesn’t but there is at the very least a placebo effect there — decisions are made, plays are called, players get the ball because they are perceived as clutch or not. Players are labeled that way, fair or not.

When you think of the great “clutch” players in baseball, Reggie Jackson’s name comes up. As a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan I hate him for it — the three home runs in a World Series, the thrown hip to knock down a double play ball, all of it. But he is Mr. October.

He, like other athletes completely believe in clutch play. It colors their actions. And he provided his vision of clutch and the NBA while on The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami this week. I think his perceptions mirror that of many other athletes (and coaches not named Spoelstra):

“Kobe Bryant misses shots at the end of the game, but it’s not a poor effort or poor performance. I wanted to make sure I gave my team, the ownership, the fans, the manager, my teammates a good full effort at home plate. And if I succeeded, super. But I didn’t want to go up there and have check swings, take strike three down the middle, freeze up, look awkward — I wanted to have a good swing and give a real good effort…

“LeBron needs to get after it with all the skills and size that he’s got. He’s got every skill, every ability you can ask for. If you’re going to make up a player to be a great player — he’s bigger than Jordan, he’s bigger than Wade, he’s bigger than Kobe, he’s bigger than the great players. Unstoppable. And I’ve seen him unstoppable.

“So when I see him have poor efforts when it counts I’m shocked. Because personally think that it’s all in his head. He can do anything he wants. This guy makes threes from half-court. He can drive on anybody, he can get a rebound whenever he wants. He truly is a special athlete and anytime he has a poor effort, as he has in the postseason, it’s just because there is something in his head that is not working right. He’s not believing in himself enough.”

To him (and most every athlete) this is mental, not physical. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of whatever. It doesn’t matter to them, what matters is the perception of overcoming it.

“I was afraid to fail, and I think you’d hear that from some of the friends that I know — (Joe) Montana, Ronnie Lott, (Michael) Jordan, (Larry) Bird, Bill Russell. I know all those guys and we were all afraid to fail. So I aggressively went to succeed and I looked for an opportunity. I wanted to be part of the victory. Whether it’s a slide into second base that breaks up a double play, whether it’s a throw that hits the cutoff man, whether it’s advancing the runner to get into scoring position, let alone the base hit that drives him in or the home run that wins the game or the (pitcher) that strikes out 15. You want to be part of the victory, so I’d constantly look for a moment to be part of what we were doing as a team….

“The moment didn’t tense me up, I looked at the moment as an opportunity for success or the opportunity to be a hero… I cherished that chance….”

As I have said recently with LeBron, what he did in the All-Star game, against the Jazz and every game since is moot — until he succeeds on the biggest stage and wins a ring he will not be able to shake the perception. He will be a guy seen as failing on the big stage until he doesn’t. That’s how we are — Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t win the big game until he did. Same with Peyton Manning and many others. So it is with LeBron.

He can’t be seen as winning it all until he wins it all. It’s all about the playoffs. And the finals. He knows that as well as anyone.

Report: Stan Van Gundy to meet with Pistons’ owner next week

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After a disappointing 39-43 season that has the Pistons sitting at home watching the playoffs — even after trading for Blake Griffin mid-season, — the sense around the league is that coach and GM Stan Van Gundy is going to lose one if not both of those titles. He’s expected to no longer be the team’s president of basketball operations, whether he stays on to coach the team is another question.

The meeting where Van Gundy’s fate is decided will come next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN.

Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy have set a meeting for next week to discuss Van Gundy’s future with the franchise, league sources told ESPN.

The two had initially planned to sit down late this week, but the meeting was pushed back, leaving the Pistons organization to await word on how, if at all, the franchise’s structure could be altered.

Feuling the speculation on Van Gundy’s status is the fact that former super agent Arn Tellem works for the Pistons on the business side. He was brought in to help transition the franchise to the new building where it plays in downtown Detroit, but with that done the sense is Gores will give him a different job, running the basketball side.

If he loses his GM title, would Van Gundy stay on as coach?

Whoever sigs in the big chair has his work cut out for him. With that Griffin trade, the Pistons are basically capped out. Making changes to the current roster will not be easy.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.