The Extra Pass: King of the Hill and Monday’s recaps

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Everyone has their spot. A guy like Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, for example, has gone to his spot with such frequency over the years that he’s  been deemed the “mayor of the left block.” No matter the opponent or teammates, you know where to find him on a nightly basis.

LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t all that dissimilar. While it’s admittedly strange to see the Portland Trail Blazers atop the Northwest Division standings, ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder no less, Aldridge grounds everything by being so wonderfully predictable.

The consistency is alarming. Every time down, there’s LaMarcus Aldridge, on the left side of the floor about 15-feet out, ready to unleash one of his three moves that all counter each other and all seem to lead to the same result.

If Jefferson is the mayor of the left block, Aldridge is the emperor of mid-range.

During the 2012-13 season, Aldridge put up a whopping 753 mid-range field goal attempts. For the sake of context, the third most prolific mid-range shooter, Carmelo Anthony, put up 179 less attempts than Aldridge did from that range (10-23 feet).

After attempting 10.1 shots per game from the mid-range area last year, Aldridge has ramped that number up to 12.8 attempts per game this season. He’s not bashful.

This might be a huge problem if Aldridge was just prolific and not proficient, but that isn’t the case. Aldirdge  has made 65 of his attempts (46.1 percent) this year, which is twice as many as any other player in the league not named Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Smith, or Evan Turner.

It hasn’t been all Aldridge though, of course. Portland’s player movement and ball movement so far this season have been spectacular to watch, and second-year coach Terry Stotts deserves a ton of credit for turning this offense into a fine-tuned machine.

The early returns still feel a bit unusual, though. A big part of Portland’s production comes from places on the floor that don’t typically yield great results, which can certainly put opposing defenders into a bit of quandary. Forcing a player into shooting the most inefficient shot in basketball is a great thing against every other team, but what do you do when a guy like Aldridge is actively seeking out and knocking down that shot?

It’s not just Aldridge’s shot selection, either. Above the break threes are much more difficult to make than shorter corner threes, as the league shoots a higher percentage on those attempts from the corner. With that in mind, Damian Lillard is tied for first in makes above the break with Stephen Curry, while Wes Matthews is shooting a blistering 51.4 percent on his attempts from that same zone. Basically, the Blazers are excelling in the areas most teams try to avoid.

It’s working, though. Portland ranks third in offensive efficiency so far this season, even if they are just 22nd in made field goals in the restricted area and second in mid-range attempts. That’s typically a combination that leads to disaster offensively, and the Blazers are keeping company in those categories with some of the dregs of the league.

But it’s hard to argue with results, isn’t it? The Blazers are killing it offensively, even if it’s being done in a way that few others are travelling. It’s certainly unconventional, but perhaps that will make the Blazers a little tougher to knock off their spots than we might think.

D.J. Foster

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Trail Blazers 108, Nets 98: It was a tale of two halves for Brooklyn (well really one quarter and then a half). The first quarter of this game was ridiculous — the Blazers shot 72.2 percent and trailed by 9, 40-31. Kevin Garnett and 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, just scoring with easy over Aldridge, and as a team the Nets shot 73.7 percent. The Trail Blazers hung close thanks to the three ball. Then in the second half the Nets reverted to the stagnant isolation basketball they have played of late and they got in trouble for it — they scored 35 points on 22 percent shooting in the second half. Meanwhile the Blazers kept making plays and getting buckets, staring the third on a 21-8 run and never looking back. This game was a microcosm of two teams going in the opposite direction.

Bulls 86, Bobcats 81: The Bulls’ offense still has not found its groove — they shot 36 percent as a team in this one and Derrick Rose was 4-of-13 — but what the Bulls do maybe better than anyone is grind out wins when their offense is off. They held the Bobcats to 36.3 percent shooting, but say this for the Bobcats they are scrappy. Gerald Henderson had 10 of his 16 in the fourth including some key buckets to cut the Bulls lead to one. But with it all on the line Rose hit a driving lineup then Luol Deng hit a key three (he finished with a team-high 21). Not pretty, but Chicago will take the win.

Thunder 115, Nuggets 113: Ty Lawson was dishing and scoring (he finished with 29 points) and Denver was finally clicking, up on the Thunder by 9 entering the fourth quarter… then Oklahoma City started its run. Russell Westbrook had 11 of his 30 in the fourth quarter and Kevin Durant had 13 of his 38 in the final frame as they led OKC back to take the lead then they held on for the win. And I mean hung on, Denver had a chance with 2.7 seconds left but ran an odd lob play for Timofey Mozgov. Brian Shaw is still learning, too.

Mavericks 97, Sixers 94: From their 8-0 run to open the game Philadelphia led most of the first three quarters. Evan Turner led the way with 26 points on the night and Tony Wroten had 19 (Michael Carter-Williams is still out injured). The Sixers was scrapping, they shot just 38.4 percent but they got the offensive rebound on 29.5 percent of their misses. Still, a 14-4 run late in the third gave Dallas the lead and they held on the rest of the way. Monta Ellis had 24; Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion had 20 a piece.

Warriors 98, Jazz 87: It was a night when the shots were not falling for Golden State, especially in the second half (they shot 31.4 percent), and they were vulnerable… but they were playing the Jazz who were shooting no better (39.5 percent for the game). Golden State put up 37 in the second quarter and was up 23 at the half. It was only close at the end of the game because the end of the Warriors’ bench gave up the lead and Mark Jackson had to put his starters back in. Except for Stephen Curry, who had a Jazz player fall on his head and could have a concussion when Marvin Williams fell on his head.

Grizzlies 106, Clippers 102: Memphis is getting back to their style — call it “grit and grind” or whatever you wish — but it is physical and other teams find it hard to play against. The Clippers did — Memphis imposed their style and will on this game and the Clippers could not win that way. Even if Tony Allen did get ejected for kicking Chris Paul in the face. Memphis led most of the way and every time the Clippers threatened the Grizzlies would make a little run (one 8-0 and another 9-2 both in the fourth quarter). Zach Randolph was a beast with 26 points and 15. Marc Gasol is just a joy to watch play because everything he does is smart and he almost had a triple-double with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Chris Paul had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Celtics G Isaiah Thomas visits specialist, surgery undecided

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CLEVELAND (AP) Boston Celtics star guard Isaiah Thomas has visited one hip specialist and plans to see others.

Thomas, who is done for the season with a right hip injury he sustained in March and aggravated in the playoffs, told Celtics coach Brad Stevens that he intends to get “one or two more opinions” before a course of action is set. It’s possible Thomas could undergo surgery on his hip. The Celtics have described Thomas’ condition as a tear in his hip.

Stevens reiterated before Game 4 that Thomas will not play again this season, even if the Celtics push the defending champion Cavaliers beyond five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason on Saturday, ending his inspiring playoff run following the tragic death of his younger sister.

Stevens said Thomas told him he’s still sore and there is still significant inflammation in his hip.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

J.R. Smith takes daughter Dakota, born premature, home from NICU for first time (PHOTO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith‘s daughter Dakota received some good news on Tuesday. The 5-month-old Dakota had spent her entire life at the NICU at a local hospital, but before the Cavaliers took on the Boston Celtics Smith was able to take Dakota home for the first time.

The news came amid some good news as of late, including Smith and wife Shirley buying flowers for all the NICU mothers for Mother’s Day.

Smith shared the good news with fans on his Instagram.

Via Instagram:

Hopefully this means progress for the Smith family for what no doubt is a tough road ahead.

Cleveland and Boston square off for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Manu Ginobili’s uncertain future has Spurs fans feeling anxious

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Manu Ginobili was swept away by the emotions of a sold-out home crowd serenading him with chants of “Manu, Manu” and rising as one for a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the Western Conference Finals.

Spurs fans were saying goodbye, but did not want to let go of the star who helped San Antonio win four of its five NBA Championships with his dynamic play.

“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yea, I don’t have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. … When it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit.”

The emotional outpouring led Ginobili to make a startling revelation to friend and teammate Patty Mills as they sat on the bench.

He had no idea what all the fuss was about.

“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” Ginobili said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It’s getting harder and harder, but I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.”

San Antonio’s highly passionate fan base does not want Ginobili to retire. The fans simply wanted to show their appreciation because they are unsure if their beloved star will return next season. The Spurs also aren’t sure.

“If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.”

Ginobili’s uncertain future is one of many questions the Spurs are awaiting answers on this offseason.

San Antonio’s season came to an abrupt end when they were swept by Golden State in the conference finals. The Warriors became the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0 after defeating the Spurs 122-108 on Monday night in Game 4.

Still, San Antonio’s first season in 20 years without franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was a success. The Spurs captured their second straight Southwest Division title and earned their 20th straight playoff appearance.

“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective,” Popovich said. “For the first year without Timmy’s leadership and a lot of new players, these guys got it together to win 61 games and just got better and better as the playoffs proceeded and we were basically on a pretty good roll starting Game 1 at Golden State. Some bad fortune which happens to all of us at some point in our lives and we don’t get to be the last team standing. But when I think about what they accomplished, they deserve a lot of credit.”

The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 85 points in the series after Kawhi Leonard suffered a sprained ankle in Game 1 with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 78-55.

Leonard will be fine after some rest and rehabilitation. Forward David Lee is also expected to return after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Game 3 against the Warriors. Tony Parker is expected to be out at least eight months after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the West semifinals.

Healing LaMarcus Aldridge‘s psyche could be trickier. The 6-foot-11 forward struggled in the postseason, especially against Golden State. Aldridge was twice held to eight points in the conference finals, including a 7-for-17 effort in Game 4.

Popovich isn’t worried.

“Not having Tony and Kawhi, it takes away our two best creators,” Popovich said. “They create a lot for our team. If one of the other scorers is left on his own like L.A. and he gets doubled and the playoffs get more physical, then you have to find scoring elsewhere and we had a problem doing that.”

The Spurs do not have any existing cap space to add players, but do have eight potential free agents that could impact that.

Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon all have player options while Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons are unrestricted free agents. Keeping Simmons may be difficult after his star turn in the playoffs, especially once Leonard went down.

“We value all the guys that are going to be free agents,” Popovich said. “R.C. and I will sit down and put together a plan and priorities and that sort of thing, it’s no different than any other year.”

Ginobili is a free agent, but is expected to return to the Spurs if he does not retire.

The question is, does he want to.

The 39-year-old rebounded from four straight scoreless games against Memphis in the opening round to provide San Antonio with a needed boost. He finished with 15 points in a frenzied 32 minutes in Game 4 against Golden State.

“I do feel like I can still play, but that’s not way is going to make me retire or not,” Ginobili said. “It’s about how I feel.”

Unsure of what that decision is, Popovich made sure Ginobili understood what he has meant to the Spurs and their fans. Ginobili started and was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining to huge applause.

“I’m really happy we did what we did last night for him,” Popovich said. “I think he really was moved by it. He deserved it and it worked out wonderfully.”

 

Report: Knicks would like to revisit Ricky Rubio trade talks, eyeing free agents such as P.J. Tucker

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The Knicks need a whole lot of things this summer — starting with someone who would give them anything of value for Carmelo Anthony (they may well strike out there) — but at the top of the list should be getting players who can defend. That’s the end of the floor where they had the biggest issues last season (they were 25th in the league).

One way to do that, revisit the Ricky Rubio trade discussions they had near the trade deadline. Ian Begley of ESPN said some in the Knicks camp hope to do that.

Some in the organization were hopeful after the trade deadline that they could revisit their attempts to acquire Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason, per sources. It’s unclear if that interest remains, but Rubio would fit the mold of a two-way contributor.

Rubio found his shot after the All-Star break and played some of the best basketball of his career during that stretch. Combine that with the fact Kris Dunn struggled mightily as a rookie, and it’s hard to see why Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves would want to move the only quality point guard on their roster. If they do, the price will be too steep for the Knicks to afford.

On the free agent side, they reportedly have an interest in physical defender P.J. Tucker, among others.

The club has preliminary interest in veteran free agent P.J. Tucker, per league sources. Jeff Hornacek coached Tucker in Phoenix and praised him last season as a strong locker-room leader and intense defender. Tucker shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, including a 40 percent clip after being traded to the Toronto Raptors.

New York has also shown preliminary interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward and free-agent-to-be Dante Cunningham, per sources.

Tucker is an interesting fit, but he’s going to have other suitors as well.

Whatever Phil Jackson and the front office do this summer, they need to do it better than the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah signings of last summer. There is some pressure on Jackson to get things right this time around.