Indiana Pacers' Hibbert and Hill react during Game 7 of their NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff against the Miami Heat in Miami

Pacers learn painful lessons on path to much bigger wins

28 Comments

That the Pacers were in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a young team — one that had to adapt on the fly to losing their leading scorer from last year Danny Granger just days before the season started — is more than just a bright sign for the future.

Monday night sucked for Pacers fans, but they have to know the next few years will not. This is a good team.

Through adversity teams grow — and Indiana has grown into one of the NBA’s best teams. Next season their core will be back , their defense will improve with familiarity and they will grow from this experience.

“We’ve gone through a lot, with Danny being out from the beginning of the season,” Roy Hibbert said in his televised post game interview. “David (West), Paul (George) and George (Hill) really stepped up and we won a lot of games. They matured, we finished strong toward the end of the season and we had one heck of a run.

“It’s unfortunate we lost, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Teams need to learn to win in the NBA (even Michael Jordan had to get his head handed to him three straight years by the Pistons before he and his teammates learned what it took to win it all). Monday night was one of those lessons, about reaching another level when it is all on the line. These lessons are a punch to the gut, but the best teams grow from them. Miami didn’t fully adopt the small-ball style that got them a title last year and back to the finals this year until Chris Bosh went down against the Pacers in the playoffs last year. Then they did it out of necessity.

Injuries can help a team define who they really need to be. That seemed to happen to the Pacers this season.

The loss of Granger meant Paul George got thrust into a bigger role as the ball handler and primary scorer — and he thrived, putting together his best season as a pro and becoming the league’s Most Improved Player. Then the playoffs became his national coming out party — a guy who played his college ball in little-watched Fresno and his professional ball in small market Indiana burst on the national scene. LeBron James was praising him. He looked like a future MVP.

George Hill took another step forward as the versatile if untraditional point guard. Roy Hibbert struggled early in the season — a combination of a wrist injury and self-imposed pressure after getting a max contract — but by the end of the season and certainly through the playoffs he looked like a center deserving a max deal.

David West is a pro’s pro that gives this team steady professionalism, not to mention steady points and rebounds. He’s a free agent but said after the game he can’t imagine himself anywhere else, and the Pacers plan to bring him back.

There are certainly questions for the Pacers this summer.

West is a free agent and while both sides are saying all the right things a deal still needs to be worked out (and other teams will try to poach him). George is eligible for an extension for his rookie deal and you can expect a four-year max (which would not kick in until the season after next).

But if the Pacers are paying Hibbert and George and West, can they continue to pay Danny Granger and stay under the tax line?

Also, the Pacers need to find depth — in the playoffs their starting five (Hill, George, Lance Stephenson, West, Hibbert) played 415 minutes and were an average of +14.6 per 48 minutes. But their bench lineups were a disaster and so none played more than 35 minutes all postseason. This is really two years in a row the lack of depth has been an issue in Indiana — they need to find some quality depth. Guys coach Frank Vogel can put out on the court and not instantly feel like he needs a single-malt scotch to calm his nerves.

But the core of a contender is there, and that is the hard part to put together. And it’s a young core, one that will just get better and better the more they play together.

Which should make Pacers fans very happy. And the rest of the East very nervous.

Cory Joseph scores career-high 33 as Raptors beat Nets (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) DeMar DeRozan‘s double-double and Cory Joseph‘s career night propelled the Toronto Raptors past the free-falling Brooklyn Nets.

DeRozan had 36 points and 11 rebounds, and Joseph set a personal high by scoring 33 on Tuesday night in Toronto’s 119-109 victory over Brooklyn.

After shooting 3 for 14 in the first half, DeRozan found his stroke and finished 13 for 28.

“I just kept playing the same way,” he said. “You know, getting good looks and just going out there and I know it’s going to come, it’s just more so being patient, not really worrying about the misses.”

Toronto won its fourth straight game and extended Brooklyn’s losing streak to 11 in a row.

Joseph started in place of Kyle Lowry, given the night off to rest.

“Kyle provides a lot of scoring for us,” Joseph said. “I knew that slot would be missing today, so I took it upon myself to be more aggressive, try to be aggressive and take what the defense gives me. They were giving up a lot of layups and short floaters, so that’s what I was taking and so I happened to be making them.”

Terrence Ross added 15 points for the Raptors, who opened the game with an 11-0 run but fell behind after the first quarter.

Still, the Nets have not won since Dec. 26.

“You’ve got to keep going,” center Brook Lopez said. “We have a young group and we’re learning a lot on the fly, so you’ve got to just stay positive. We’re doing a lot well, just has not translated in the win column. I think we’re definitely going to break through soon. We’ve just got to give ourselves a chance every night.”

Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece.

Toronto took a 92-85 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the third period, equaling LeVert’s total in the quarter.

Lopez and Joseph each scored 14 in the second.

After the 11-0 spurt by the Raptors at the start, Brooklyn rallied to take a 29-26 lead at the end of the first quarter.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey was asked what his expectations are for this season after losing in the Eastern Conference finals last year. “We always want to advance. I’m not going to put a level on where we’ve got to get to or anything like that. Our thing is to continue to get better. We can’t just try to get as many wins as we can and hope it works in the playoffs,” he said. … Joseph started for the first time since April 8, 2016. … Lucas Nogueria experienced blurred vision and was checked for a concussion in the locker room after being hit in the head during the first quarter. He did not return. . Patrick Patterson (sore left knee), Jared Sullinger (left foot surgery) and Delon Wright (right shoulder surgery) were out.

Nets: Coach Kenny Atkinson discussed what he’s seen from veteran Quincy Acy, who is nearing the end of a 10-day contract. “Love his energy. Love his pop, his aggressiveness and how competitive he is. We’ll talk about it after the game with our group. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in his limited minutes,” Atkinson said. … Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) was out.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Nets: Visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

Watch Wesley Matthews hit the game-winner as Mavericks beat Bulls

Leave a comment

Wesley Matthews is a tough guy, and perhaps Tuesday night’s game-winning shot over the Chicago Bulls will see the Dallas Mavericks guard back to his old form.

Matthews, who tore his achilles in March of 2015 and has scarcely looked like the same player since, took it to Chicago with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds left.

It was a good thing too, as Jimmy Butler had come down the play before to give the Bulls a two-point lead.

After Matthews hit the trey, Dwyane Wade would go on to miss a 21-foot jumper for the win as Dallas beat Chicago, 99-98.

Meanwhile, Matthews does appear to be on the verge of a mini-resurgence. In the last three games — all wins for Dallas — the former Portland Trail Blazer has averaged 16 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Perhaps more importantly, Matthews has scored in bulk from 3-point range while shooting an eye-popping 53.4 percent from deep.

The Mavericks aren’t very good, but Matthews getting better is the first step into at least giving teams like Chicago a hassle on their home court like they did on Tuesday.

Minnesota Timberwolves kick in more money to renovate Target Center

Flip Saunders, Glen Taylor
AP
Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor is kicking another $9-12 million into the Target Center renovation project.

The Timberwolves announced the additional funds on Tuesday. The team says the new money will be used to get new seats, railings for the lower bowl, a new skyway off of the backside of the arena and a more improved Wi-Fi platform.

Taylor says the new money is geared toward making sure the project to refurbish the dated arena in downtown Minneapolis is as effective as possible. It will push the total cost of the project to between $138-141 million.

Renovations are underway and the city-owned building is scheduled to close this summer so the project can be completed in time for the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.

John Wall, Bradley Beal and defense keying Wizards’ 12-game home streak

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 04: John Wall #2 celebrates after Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards hit a three point shot against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter of the Wizards 95-92 win at Verizon Center on November 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

WASHINGTON (AP) The same fans who John Wall once joked get more excited for a free chicken sandwich when an opponent misses two free throws than a victory are now being treated to something even better: A winning streak.

Wall and the Washington Wizards have won 12 in a row at home heading into the midpoint of the NBA season and haven’t lost at Verizon Center since Dec. 6. Better starts and improved defense and bench play have sparked this run, pushed Washington to fifth place in the Eastern Conference and made home feel pretty sweet.

“We like playing on our home floor, there’s no question we have a comfort level,” coach Scott Brooks said. “The baskets, everything seems to be good for us. I think our guys are comfortable, they like playing here. We want to make this a special place. Crowd’s been great. We just got to continue to give them something that they can be proud of.”

Brooks tells his players that Wizards fans don’t expect perfection but want 48 minutes of great effort. After a disappointing .500 season last year depressed turnout, this retooled team plays a more exciting, up-and-down brand of basketball that’s worth watching.

The Wizards have eclipsed 100 points in 17 of their past 20 games with Wall on pace to set a career high in points and steals. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal is also on the way to a career-high scoring season, but he points to the other end of the floor as the reason for Washington’s success and home winning streak.

“In terms of us, it’s just been our defense and just us getting after it and playing with energy,” Beal said. “It makes everything easier on offense when we get out and run. That way we don’t necessarily have to call plays all the time, we just get out and flow, and it works. In order to do so, we have to play defense and defend, and we can’t do that if we’re always taking the ball out.”

Brooks wanted the Wizards to become a defensive-minded team that could score instead of an offensive team that defended when it felt like it. Second-year guard Kelly Oubre showed that progress with on-ball defense by locking down the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on Monday and said that aspect of the game is better now with more familiarity of scouting reports.

Beyond starters Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, the second unit led by Oubre, rookie Tomas Satoransky, Trey Burke and Jason Smith is coming along.

“Guys know their roles now,” Oubre said. “We’re a solid defensive team. We’re getting better. … We have a good home-court advantage coming on now. We got 12 in a row? We’ve got to keep that rolling, man. These fans want to see wins. We’re here to give it to them.”

Wall took some heat last year for suggesting that the free fast-food chicken sandwich fans get if an opponent misses both free throws in the fourth quarter generates the most excitement. It’s oftentimes the loudest cheer of the night, but not lately thanks to the Wizards winning.

He definitely notices a difference.

“We start to win, we go to the starting lineup, the gym is kind of packed more than empty and not getting packed later on,” Wall said. “There is a lot of excitement, and it’s great to know that when they call our names they are cheering for us. It’s something we can use as an advantage.”

After the finale of this home stand Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards play five of their next six games on the road. Their challenge now is to adapt the home winning recipe to winning in less-friendly confines.

“We have to now view it the same way, respect our opponent no matter who it is and just come out with energy knowing that the crowd is against us, nobody’s there to cheer for us,” Beal said. “It’s us against everybody. Just having that same mindset in our approach to the game is probably all we need to do.”