Jason Kidd making defensive changes, trying to shake up Nets

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It’s all on Jason Kidd now.

Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points per 100 possessions. You could see how bad the defense was when they gave up 113 points to a struggling Knicks team in an ugly loss at home Thursday night.

But in that Knicks game you could also start to see changes — Kidd trying to put his stamp on the defense that had been Frank’s purview. Kidd is trying mid-season to move the Nets to a more aggressive style of the Thibodeau-style defense that tries to take away drives with an extra defender on the strong side. They also changed up their pick-and-roll defense.

Kevin Garnett talked about it after the Thursday loss, speaking to The Brooklyn Game.

“We have a new system, we’re changing things on the fly,” Garnett explained at the podium following the blowout loss. “Jason’s putting in a lot of new stuff since Lawrence has left.”

Though Garnett didn’t go into detail, one change the Nets implemented in their film-only practice and pre-game shootaround was in the pick-and-roll, bringing the big man “up” slightly higher to contest the ballhandler at his point of attack. Both Kidd and forward Mirza Teletovic confirmed this after the game.

“(It’s) so the (guard doesn’t) snake around and get easy shots,” Teletovic explained about the schematic difference.

The Nets did pack the paint against the Knicks, a team that had shot 32 percent from three on the season coming into that game. But Knicks coach Mike Woodson had spent a lot of the last couple of his practices on getting and hitting better looks from three and the result Thursday was the Knicks hitting 16-of-27 from beyond the arc and running away with the game.

It’s an issue as the Nets have packed in their defense all season but have done a very poor job rotating out to contest spot up shooters, particularly from three. Opposing teams are getting 20.3 percent of their offensive opportunities on spot up shooters and those opponents are shooting 43.4 percent from three on catch-and-shoot opportunities (stats via Synergy Sports). Thursday night the Knicks got a lot of clean looks on jumpers as shots were not contested or the close out was late and half-hearted.

Give him this: Kidd is trying to do something with the pathetic Nets defense. But Devin Kharpertian wisely questions if this defensive switch has been made with the Nets personnel in mind.

The system Teletovic is referring to is “packing the paint,” a scheme popularized by Tom Thibodeau, head coach and defensive guru for the Chicago Bulls. But Thibodeau’s system relies on two personnel fits the Nets don’t have: an athletic big man who can roam from side to side in the paint to cut off drives (Bulls center Joakim Noah fits that description), and athletic guards who are quick enough to keep one foot in the paint and slide out to their man on the perimeter if a pass is thrown that way (Bulls wings Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng are two examples).

Kevin Garnett used to be that guy anchoring the middle for the Celtics, but he is not the same player anymore. He, like the entire Nets defense, looks slow and plodding. They have been better with the big body of Brook Lopez in the paint to protect the rim, but he’s not exactly quick or a defensive force.

If the defense continues to play this poorly Brooklyn will not turn it around.

And that’s all on Kidd now. Whether that’s fair or not, as one scout told Marc Stein at ESPN.

“But I blame Mikhail Prokhorov. You’re not going to hear a lot of sympathy [for Kidd] because there’s a lot of [veteran assistant] coaches in this league who want the chance he’s getting, but I feel for him because he’s been put in a really tough position. You’ve got all these injuries, you’ve got an unsettled staff [in the wake of Lawrence Frank’s reassignment], you’ve got a lot going on. Would Prokhorov buy a $200 million company in Russia and put a first-year guy in charge?”

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.