The Extra Pass: Quiet Jazz and Tuesday’s recaps

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For the most part, the Utah Jazz typically fly under the radar. Occasionally they’ll pop up after unexpectedly beating a contender, like they did last night with a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But other than that? You won’t hear much out of Utah. No real trade rumors, no murmurs of unhappiness, no headline grabbing material.

Perhaps no team keeps their plans better under wraps than the Jazz. When Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were let go in free agency this offseason, there didn’t appear to be a clear objective. It just looked like a small market , fringe playoff team losing two very good players and hoping the young guys behind them would replace their production.

But then, out of nowhere, Utah turned that cap space into two unprotected first-round picks from the Golden State Warriors, and things began to make a lot more sense.

For all intents and purposes, the Jazz have provided the blueprint for how to properly execute a rebuild. There’s a young promising player at every position, and they’re all growing together. There are no draft picks owed, there are multiple picks coming in, and there’s plenty of cap space available to be used in creative ways, as we’ve seen.

Utah is also set up as a top landing spot for available coaches, as Tyrone Corbin is likely doing nothing more than keeping the seat warm at this point.

Right now, Utah’s roster is cheap, young and bad. At least one of those things will change soon, though.

You may not associate the term “Max Player” with Gordon Hayward, but it would be a surprise at this point if he didn’t demand that in restricted free agency. Young wings with great size that can initiate offense, play in the pick-and-roll and shoot the three don’t seem to come around all that often anymore, and Hayward reportedly had teams drooling during his time with the USA national team this offseason.

Hayward will get paid. Derrick Favors already did. The schedule for the Jazz being competitive may be a little quicker than most think, particularly if an impact player like Jabari Parker lands there on draft night.

But let’s make one thing clear. Any future evaluation of the Western Conference landscape needs to heavily account for the Jazz. This is a well-managed team that understands their direction and is fully invested in rebuilding. There were no half-measures here, and for that reason, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz will be quiet for much longer.

D.J. Foster

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Cavaliers 111, Sixers 93: The Sixers looked great in winning four straight on the road, but have now gotten blown out in consecutive contests. Two inexplicable things happened in this one: C.J. Miles setting a Cleveland franchise record for three-pointers made with 10, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Thaddeus Young finishing 0-7 from the field with zero points in 22 minutes of action. Michael Carter-Williams finished with a career-high 33 points, many of which came in garbage time. — Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 86, Raptors 79: Toronto got its second straight moral victory, hanging with the Pacers down the stretch after keeping things close with the Heat just two nights earlier. But while the Raptors have recently emerged as the third best team in a dismal Eastern Conference, there’s still a long way to go to earn a basic level of respectability. Awful performances from Amir Johnson (zero points in 21 minutes), Terence Ross (three points, 1-8 shooting) and Greivis Vasquez (two points, 1-7 shooting) can’t happen if Toronto is to be taken seriously. — BP

Wizards 97, Bobcats 83: A balanced effort from an up-and-down Wizards team is one the club will take, especially on the road and coming against one of the league’s better defenses. A 17-0 run in the third quarter did the trick for Washington in this one, and the Wizards led by as many as 19 points before the final buzzer sounded. Marcin Gortat turned in an above average effort against the Charlotte frontcourt, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. — BP

Heat 107, Pelicans 88: New Orleans actually led this one at the break, before LeBron James made sure that his team wouldn’t needlessly drop a home contest. James scored 16 of his 32 points in the third, which helped turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final period. Miami outscored its opponent in the second half 64-39 to ultimately cruise to the double-digit victory. — BP

Knicks 89, Pistons 85: Both teams played their final possessions as if they were trying to lose, but in the end New York avoided yet another embarrassing and devastating loss to add its third win in four games to its recent portfolio. The Knicks led by 14 points with under nine minutes to play, yet saw that lead cut to just one with 46 seconds left. Josh Smith missed an unconscionable long two with under 10 seconds remaining that would have given Detroit the lead, and Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 34 points ended up being enough to give the Knicks the victory. — BPP

Bulls 92, Suns 87: Phoenix is without Eric Bledsoe for a week or so, which means defensive-minded teams like Chicago can slow the pace and win the rebounding battle in order to secure a victory. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 26 of the Bulls’ 50 boards, and the Suns struggled to hit shots, finishing just 6-of-23 from three-point distance. — BP

Warriors 101, Bucks 80: Golden State won its 10th straight, which we dove into in a little more detail here. — BP

Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108 (OT): San Antonio had this one — they were up 16 midway through the fourth quarter and 12 with two minutes to go. But a late 12-0 run by the Grizzlies led by 9 points in those last couple minutes by Mike Conley including the killer crossover move and layup that sent the game to OT (he finished the night with 30). In OT it remained close and it took a vintage Manu Ginobili drive and bucket to get the Spurs the win (see the video of the day above). Tim Duncan finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds and carried the Spurs for stretches of this game. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 110, Lakers 97: Dallas has weapons — starting with that Dirk Nowitzki guy, who had 27 points in this game — and the Lakers simply don’t have the defense to stop good teams no the offense to overwhelm them. Pau Gasol (he’s still there) is clearly Lakers offensive option No. 1, but Dallas wisely doubled him when he got the rock and nobody else made Dallas pay (Nick Young 1-of-7, Jodie Meeks 6-of-16, Ryan Kelly 1-of-5). Kendall Marshall had another strong outing (18 points on 7-of-10 shooting) but this was Dallas’ night. Vince Carter had 19 off the bench for them. — KH

Nuggets 129, Celtics 98: Denver opened the game on a 20-9 run, had extended that to a 23-point lead at the half and the second 24 minutes felt a lot like garbage time. You know things are going your way when Kenneth Faried has 21 points. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 assists, he remains very good at this basketball thing. Jeff Green had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 for Boston. Denver has won three in a row and while it hadn’t been against the best competition you need to beat the teams worse than you and Denver is doing that. — KH

Jazz 112, Thunder 101: No Russell Westbrook, no Serge Ibaka, and really no defense from the Thunder on Tuesday night. Credit the Jazz for hitting their shots — 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.8 percent for the game — but Oklahoma City played like a team that thought they could show up and win. Utah took control in the second quarter and led by 24 in the third, but you knew a Thunder run was coming and it did in the fourth behind Kevin Durant, who had 48 points on the night. The problem was OKC couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward, who had 17-consecutuve Jazz points in the fourth to stave off the Thunder and finished with 37 points on the night. — KH

Kings 123, Trail Blazers 119: I hate to say we’ve been warning you at PBT that Portland’s lack of defense would eventually catch up with them but… DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay continues to be efficient in Sacramento with 32 points on 16 shots as the Kings pulled away in the third quarter then held on late for the win. Damian Lillard was a beast — 26 points in the fourth quarter trying to spark the comeback and 41 on the night — but if you can’t get stops (the Kings shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter) you can’t win consistently in close games and the Trail Blazers have dropped 4-of-6. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points for Portland, Isaiah Thomas 22 for Sacramento. — KH

Cool Hand Lue: Cavs coach keeps NBA champs cool amid chaos

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Moments after the Eastern Conference championship banner was raised by the Cavaliers for the third straight time and the obligatory postgame interviews ended, Tyronn Lue slipped quietly away.

Cleveland’s coach ducked into the shadows, his preferred location.

“I don’t like the attention,” he said.

But Lue, once a journeyman point guard who steered the Cavs to an NBA championship last season, has grown more accepting of his frontman role. He’ll again be at center stage this week as Cleveland meets Golden State in the third installment of their title trilogy.

If the unassuming, easygoing Lue had his preference, the teams would duke it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a playground court in a stifling hot gymnasium, with only a handful of onlookers present. A student of the game, he’s old school with a fresh perspective.

Of the many juicy subplots between the Cavs and Warriors, one that frequently goes overlooked is Lue, the former assistant who has blossomed in no time into one of the league’s brightest young head coaches and a playoff savant.

He’s 28-6 in two postseasons with Cleveland. His players credit Lue’s soothing, steady influence – on and off the floor – as nearly as vital to their success as a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer.

“It’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” LeBron James said following practice. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever else happens after this is extra credit. And I feel the same way. That’s why I relate to him so much. Lose here, or you win a game here, it’s like, `All right, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low.’

“So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”

Lue has been preparing for the biggest battle of his basketball career this week.

From the moment he returned home from Boston following the Cavs’ win in Game 5 of the conference finals, Lue has immersed himself in the Warriors, a virtual All-Star team featuring two league MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry), a dead-eye shooter (Klay Thompson) and a triple-threat performer (Draymond Green).

Lue’s defensive strategy to this point in the playoffs has been to neutralize the opponents’ top player. The Cavs were able to do that with Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series. Cleveland blitzed, double-teamed and did all it could take away the other team’s offensive threat.

Lue was asked if it’s more difficult to identify who that is on Golden State.

“Hell yeah,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s tough.”

There are few weaknesses in these Warriors, the first team to head into the final round 12-0 and winning by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“They have so many weapons,” Lue said, “having four All-Stars and now adding KD to the mix who I’ve always loved as a scorer, just how he scores so easy. They have a lot of options. It’s going to be tough, but we have to lock into what we have to do defensively, and sometimes you can play great defense and it doesn’t work. Steph is making tough shots, Klay is making tough shots and KD is making tough shots. But all you can do is play your defense, stick to your principles and just make it as tough as possible.”

The Cavs know Lue won’t panic.

He stayed cool last spring when Cleveland fought back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first title. Lue made subtle tweaks to his rotation, drew up key inbounds plays, then isolated Irving late in Game 7 on Curry. The Cavs All-Star guard made his now famous go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer.

Pressure intensifies in the postseason, when possessions, turnovers and rebounds are magnified.

As the drama builds, Lue stays composed, setting the tone for his players.

“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions,” James said. “Going high, going low. And if you’re a coach able to just stay even-keeled throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the rest of the group.”

Lue is a stickler for detail, and he won’t cut any corners preparing for another dance with the Warriors. He’ll have the Cavs ready, and they can also count on him to keep them relaxed.

“When you’re prepared and you do the best you can do and you put it out there on the floor, you’ve just got to live with the results,” Lue said. “I’m doing my homework, I’m doing every possible thing to put this team in every situation to win. When you’re doing that, things you go over every day, end-of-game plays and things like that, either they work or they don’t.”

 

Byron Scott: Lakers made me feel ‘betrayed, lied to and deceived’

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Byron Scott lost 77% of his games with the Lakers, alienated their young players and failed to deliver on his big talk about defense.

Yet, Scott said he was blindsided when the Lakers fired him last year.

How did he possibly get the idea he’d return for a third season?

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

“If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if management said something Scott could have reasonably interpreted as a promise to keep him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Scott heard what he wanted to hear.

The Jim Buss Lakers didn’t always feature the best lines of communication, and Scott was delusional.

Either way, the Lakers did the right thing in firing Scott. If he were hired to manage Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, Kobe retired. There was no more need for Scott, who neither related well to young players nor implemented a winning scheme – pretty much everything beyond handling Kobe.

The strangest part of Scott’s criticism is how it reflects on Kupchak, who has now been accused of both being too dishonest and too honest.

Tony Parker tells French publication he plans to return in January

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Back on May 5, Tony Parker has surgery to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, an injury some thought could be career ending for the 35-year-old point guard.

He plans to be back and is aiming for January, he told the French publication L’Equipe, as transcribed by EuroHoops.net.

“I will play my best basketball when I return in January”, Parker told L’Equipe….

“The first thing that came in when I got injured, was frustration. I was super good and we had the chance to go until the end and get the title,” Parker said.

“The coach’s plan worked like a clock. I was consistent, playing for twenty to twenty-five minutes per game. My series against Memphis was good and I had a good start in the season,” he added.

Paker’s return in January (if he can meet that timeline) will have him coming off the bench, meaning the Spurs will still need a starting point guard and some depth at the position.

No, that doesn’t mean Chris Paul is coming to San Antonio, that was always a long shot as Adrian Wojnarowski noted. It’s not like the Spurs to kick guys like Parker to the curb (Bill Belichick does not run the franchise) nor do the Spurs gut their roster, and that’s what they’d have to do. Beyond that, Paul is president of the players’ union and one of the things he/the union got in the new CBA was to turn the over-36 rule (which restricted how much LeBron could get on his last deal) to the over-38 rule — meaning the Clippers can give 32-year-old Paul one more five-year max deal. You really think he’s walking away from that?

Hopefully, when Parker returns he can give us all glimpses of his old self.

Steve Kerr says he’s not ready to coach in NBA Finals, at least not yet

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Steve Kerr has been a regular presence at Warriors practices, he’s traveled with the team to playoff games, he’s been part of the planning/strategizing sessions for the team — basically, he’s been everywhere but the sidelines.

He’s not ready to return there. Yet.

Interim Warriors’ coach Mike Brown was knocked down by the flu on Monday, so Kerr ran the Warriors practice then spoke to the media, but said he still is battling issues from his back surgery and is not ready yet to return to the sidelines. Via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

The Warriors brought in Mike Brown last summer just for this type of situation — he’s a veteran NBA coach who has led a team to the Finals (the Cavaliers, with LeBron James), and the Warriors thought it possible Kerr could miss time. With Luke Walton in Los Angeles, Golden State wanted a veteran on the bench. Brown is that.

He’s not as creative as Kerr is addressing matchups and challenges, but if Kerr is in the film sessions and practices, then his influence is still there. That may be enough for a more talented and more rested Warriors team (than a year ago) heading into the Finals starting Thursday night.