The Extra Pass: The nightmare that is LeBron James; plus Monday’s recaps

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You know those nightmares where you can’t run away fast enough? The ones where your legs turn to mush and the baddy behind you keeps gaining ground?

That’s a recurring nightmare for lots of people, but it’s a recurring reality for Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was on the sidelines with the San Antonio Spurs for Game 6 of last year’s finals, or alternatively, on the wrong side of NBA history.

We remember the final dagger from Ray Allen in that game, naturally, but very quietly, it was a three-pointer from LeBron James that cut the lead prior to that. If James doesn’t get that to fall, it’s a whole different story.

Of course, James has a habit of doing this sort of thing, and it happened one more time against Budenholzer and “Spurs East”.

The Hawks had played about as well as you could ask, building a seven-point lead with about 1:30 to play. That probably would have been safe against most teams, especially with all the good free throw shooters on Atlanta’s roster.

Problem is, Miami isn’t just good when they’re playing from behind — they’re the best.

In the last five minutes of games where Miami is tied or behind this season, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 131.5. That’s tops in the league.

That’s in large part due to LeBron’s willingness to let it fly when facing a deficit. James attempts a surprising low amount of threes per game (2.9 this year) for hitting above 40 percent over the last two seasons, but his hesitancy is gone in the clutch.

Per 36 minutes in the clutch (Last 5 min <= 5 points), James is attempting a whopping 13.2 threes, and still making 37.5 percent of those attempts.

A lot of players have "extra gears" in that they run maybe a little faster, or jump a tiny bit higher. But for LeBron? He just begs his opponent to come outside the arc and guard him. The three-pointer is the back pocket shot for LeBron right now — he's saving for when he really needs it.

The Heat needed it Monday. A three-pointer from LeBron shrank the lead from seven to four, then another three from LeBron came with 23 seconds lead to cut the lead to one. A thunderous dunk ]brought the lead back down to one again after two made free throws.

Ultimately it was Allen who saved the day again with three clutch free throws to tie the game and push it to overtime, but the Heat wouldn't have been there without LeBron keeping the door ajar, once again.

—DJ Foster

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Pacers 103, Nets 86: This was the first game for the Nets since losing Brook Lopez for the season with a foot fracture, and it went about as well as you might expect against one of the league’s elite teams. Indiana got bug games offensively out of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and defended well enough to hold Brooklyn to just 58 points through the game;s first three quarters. Deron Williams had just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, and he’s going to need to be much more aggressive in looking for his own shot on most nights for his team to have a chance. Paul Pierce finished 0-for-7 in 15 minutes off the bench, before being ejected in the third following a takedown of George Hill on the break. — Brett Pollakoff

Heat 122, Hawks 121 (OT): Dwyane Wade sat out his seventh game of the season due to soreness in his knees, and Miami trailed by seven points with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation. Then came the comeback, which included two threes and a dunk from LeBron James, followed by Ray Allen sinking three free throws with eight seconds left to force the extra session. It was the Heat reserves who came through in overtime, however, with Michael Beasley and Chris Andersen sealing the win at the free throw line, while the Hawks finished scoreless over the game’s final 1:21. With Wade out, LeBron did the heavy lifting, and finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just under 46 minutes of action. — BP

Spurs 112, Raptors 99: Toronto has been playing well since making the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings, and came into this one having won four of its last five. But after winning in Oklahoma City on Sunday, following that up with a win against another team at the top of the standings on the road was too much to ask. The Raptors hung in for most of the night, however, and San Antonio closed the game with a 12-4 run over the game’s final 2:18 to seal it. — BP

Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94: Memphis got a big game from Zach Randolph and a strong performance out of its bench to win its second straight following a five-game losing streak. Randolph finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and the Grizzlies shot 55 percent from three-point distance and committed just six turnovers — all of which were factors that helped the team build a lead of as many as 16 points before the game was through. — BP

Knicks 103, Magic 98: Carmelo Anthony left this game in the third with an ankle injury, but the bulk of the damage for the Knicks was done in the first half. New York took a 24-point lead into the break behind 17 points from Anthony, 14 from J.R. Smith and a much better game inside from Tyson Chandler than he showed in Saturday’s brutal loss to Memphis. Orlando got back into it in the third, but a rough fourth quarter offensively from both teams allowed the Knicks to come away with the much-needed victory. — BP

Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92: Cleveland was without Dion Waiters for the third straight game due to a wrist injury, and had trouble scoring against the front line of the Pistons. Detroit has two dominant big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and Andrew Bynum couldn’t get much of anything done against them inside. Bynum finished 0-for-11 from the field with zero points in almost 23 minutes of action. On the Pistons side, Brandon Jennings had 21 points on 11 shots, to go along with 13 assists, and Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points. — BP

Bobcats 111, Bucks 110 (OT): Khris Middleton hit a shot from 21 feet at the overtime buzzer that would have been enough to send the game to its second extra session, if only he were a foot or so further back. Milwaukee trailed by three, and ran a good play to get Middleton a catch-and-shoot open look as time expired. But his foot was clearly on the line, so it goes in the books as a tough loss for the Bucks. Brandon Knight finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in the losing effort, while Al Jefferson (26 points, nine rebounds) and Kemba Walker (25 points, 10 assists) did the damage for Charlotte. — BP

Mavericks 111, Rockets 104: James Harden missed this game with a sprained ankle, and despite an above average 29-point, 15-rebound performance from Dwight Howard playing over 40 minutes, the Rockets didn’t have enough to match the guard play of the Mavericks without him. Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 33 points and 10 assists, and Dirk Nowitzki poured in 31 points to lead all scorers. Dallas put this one away in the third by outscoring Houston 36-21 in the period; the contest was never in doubt the rest of the way. — BP

Warriors 89, Nuggets 81: Another game, another slow Denver start — Golden State was up 24-9 this time. Then as is their pattern the Nuggets spend the next couple quarters chipping away at the lead, with Timofey Mozgov’s 14 points and Ty Lawson’s 16 leading the way. Then in the fourth quarter the Nuggets came undone, shooting just 29 percent. On the other side Klay Thompson awoke from his slump for eight points in the fourth quarter. The big offensive force was David Lee with 28. Denver has now gone 3-7 in their last 10. —Kurt Helin

Suns 117, Lakers 90: Two teams heading in opposite directions, so this ended pretty much as you expected. The Suns led from the start and got 22 off the bench from Gerald Green, plus 19 from Marcus Morris. For the Lakers, they were lackluster, had another terrible third quarter and Pau Gasol was 4-of-12 in his 20 minutes (but Nick Young did have 19). —KH

Pelicans 113, Kings 100: Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento and dropped 25 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds on his former teammates. Evans was doing the heavy lifting for the Pelicans to stay in what was a sloppy game for three quarters, while DeMarcus Cousins did the same for the Kings (24 points, 14 rebounds). New Orleans broke it open in the fourth quarter with a 16-3 run and ended up with a 39-point fourth quarter sparked by Evans and Anthony Davis (21 points). This snapped a four-game losing streak for the Pelicans. By the way, Rudy Gay was 2-of-12 with six turnovers. Rough night. —KH

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.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.