Spurs close out school, season for Clippers with clean sweep

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For the Spurs, it was another step toward their goal — they wanted plenty of rest before they take on the Thunder next series (sorry Lakers fans), now will get a week (rumors are the Western Conference Finals start May 28).

For the Clippers, this was school — Chris Paul does not want to admit it, but teams learn how to win in the NBA. They run into a wall in the playoffs, learn what they need to improve (or sometimes what kind of players to add) and then next season take the next step.

Sunday night was the end of this school year for the Clippers, the Spurs swept them out of the second round of the playoffs in the closest game of this series by far, 102-99. The win advances the Spurs to the Western Conference finals, where they will take on the Thunder, unless you believe in Lakers miracles (Thunder lead that series heading home for Game 5 Monday). No starting date for the next round has been set.

Winning is a process in the NBA, one the Spurs have down and the Clippers are figuring out.

“Just learning, just watching that team maneuver,” L.A. guard Randy Foye said. “And understanding how they execute game plans, and what they do is definitely something you can take from it…

“Just watching guys like (Manu Ginobili), just watching guys like (Tony Parker), just watching how they maneuver, how they continue to attack — they’re down 1, they’re down 10, they’re up 10 they just continue to keep the pressure on and keep the defense on their heels. Tim Duncan does that, too. That is something I will definitely take from this.”

The Clippers seemed to be learning and improving in this series. In Game 4 their offense seemed to attack the Spurs defense the best it had in any of the games. But then, when it got to the end of the game, the Spurs were able to get a couple stops. The Clippers struggled all series to get stops, with Tim Duncan scoring 21, Tony Parker 17 and the Spurs as a team shooting 52.8 percent on the night.

Clippers had the expected rush to start the game, but by five minutes in the relentless Spurs had started to grind them down. At one point in the first half the Spurs led by 12 and were shooting 53 percent to the Clippers 33 percent. The crowd at Staples sounded like it was a Tuesday night February, not a playoff game.

But Los Angeles made a push behind some entertaining play by Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams, and it was just 51-47 San Antonio at the half.

Then the third quarter saw the kind of scrap, fight, and stepping up of their game the Clippers are going to need in future years. They did it behind their stars — Chris Paul had nine points in the third, Blake added 10 and had three dunks in a row. The Clippers were attacking again, Bledsoe was putting on a show again on his way to 18.

Los Angeles was up 92-88 with 4:54 left in the game Reggie Evans checked in for DeAndre Jordan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately called for hack-a-Reggie — intention fouls to send him to the free throw line. It worked, just like it did Saturday — Evans missed both free throws and Vinny Del Negro had to call a timeout to get him out of the game for a decent free throw shooter. When the Clippers needed a three with 1.7 seconds left, the Clippers didn’t have a time out to use to set up a play or advance the ball.

“It worked. It worked,” said Manu Ginobili. “In Game 3 it was huge, today it was less times, we did it only twice, but they had to make changes, they had to call a time out and it really helped us.”

The Clippers hung in until the end, down 1 with :11 seconds to go Paul drove the lane but he lost control on what appeared to be a kickout pass, with the Spurs Danny Green draped all over him. It was a turnover and it was the ballgame.

To a man the Spurs talked about wanting the rest that is coming their way now. They know their next series will be a physical challenge beyond what they have yet seen.

The Clippers were taken to school, but like any education what really matters is how they apply it next time around.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.