Tony Parker, Tim Duncan

Thunder vs. Spurs Game 5 preview: Is home cooking enough for San Antonio?

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San Antonio doesn’t want to hear about 2012 (when it was up 2-0 on Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals and got swept the next four). The Spurs are a different team now they say, as are the Thunder. This is a different series. All of that is true.

The Spurs biggest problem for Game 5 is one they couldn’t solve in 2012:

When the Thunder players get off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be incredibly long and athletic. For a couple years now that advantage has not been something the Spurs have been able to overcome.

Through four games of the Western Conference Finals the home team has won in a blowout. Yet while the series may be even 2-2 but the games have not been. The Spurs owned the first two. After getting crushed on the road now the Spurs come home seeking to reassert their dominance. The Spurs need to win at home because it’s become evident through their nine-game losing streak there they can’t win in Oklahoma City.

Their Serge Ibaka is coming to Game 5, too.

Since he returned to the Heat in Game 3 from a calf injury that was allegedly going to keep him out of the playoffs (nice bit of gamesmanship by the Thunder) the Thunder have been a different team. Their offensive spacing is vastly improved, Ibaka’s threat on the pick-and-pop has opened up driving lanes for Russell Westbrook. On defense the Thunder are more aggressive in extending their pressure because Ibaka is lurking back in the paint to clean up their mistakes. The Thunder’s length and athleticism, with Ibaka back in the lineup, allows them to contest virtually everything — in Game 5 the Thunder contested 47 percent of the Spurs shots, and San Antonio shot 33 percent on those (for comparison, the Thunder shot 49 percent on contested shots in Game 5).

Gregg Popovich has had a couple of years to tinker and experiment on how to beat a healthy Oklahoma City, and as evidenced by the last two games he’s still looking for answers. His team played well for the first eight to nine minutes of Game 4 but then he said they got away from what worked and that will doom you against the Thunder.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV Tuesday night. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.”

For two games the Thunder have not only been more athletic, they have been far more aggressive and far more physical. Their ability to challenge passes on the perimeter with that athleticism (and Ibaka as a backstop to clean up problems) has the Spurs hesitating to make passes for a split second, which is allowing defenders more time to recover and contest. Tony Parker has had Russell Westbrook in his face defensively and Ibaka in the lane when he drives, taking away anything easy and clean. When Parker struggles the Spurs offense stalls.

Going home for Game 5, and realizing the desperate situation, expect to see the Spurs play harder. Play smarter. Expect the Spurs to come out with a new sense of physicality to their game.

The question is will it matter, or are these Thunder just a matchup problem Popovich and the Spurs cannot solve?

Rumor: Jazz, Kings, Pistons getting new primary logos

Image (1) Jazz_logo-thumb-250x180-17271.gif for post 3449
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Conrad Burry received a copy of an Adidas catalog, and it shows logos for every NBA team next season.

Except the Jazz, Kings and Pistons.

This is circumstantial evidence, but it has previously held up as the first sign of a new logo.

Keep an eye on Utah, Sacramento and Detroit.

Chris Bosh pulls out of All-Star Game with calf injury; Al Horford to replace

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TORONTO — Chris Bosh was set to play in his 11th All-Star Game Sunday night, in front of his old fans in Toronto. He was talking at media availability on Friday afternoon about how he was a different person than when he played in Toronto, and how he was excited to be part of it.

Now he is out.

Bosh pulled out Friday afternoon, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical Yahoo Sports and since confirmed bu the NBA. It is due to a strained calf muscle (first reported by Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today).

Al Horford is flying to Toronto to replace him, reports Wojnarowski. This will be Horford’s fourth All-Star Game, and he will be the second Atlanta Hawk along with Paul Millsap. That’s one more representative than the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers have.

Bosh is not participating in the three point contest Saturday night either, being replaced by C.J. McCollum of Portland.Bosh was just excited to see the All-Star Game finally come to Toronto for the first time, he still clearly has a strong affection for the city.

Bosh said he excited to see the All-Star Game finally come to Toronto for the first time, he still clearly has a strong affection for the city.

“It’s just a trip,” Bosh said about being in the Toronto game. “This was one of my goals after last season to actually accomplish this, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s kind of poetic, a little bit, for me to be here to see it here for the first time. We talked about what if All-Star was here, and now it’s actually here, so it’s cool.”

Now he will be watching from the sidelines.

Bosh becomes the second Eastern Conference All-Star to pull out due to injury. The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler backed out as well due to a sore knee; he was replaced by teammate Pau Gasol.

Report: Celtics not interested in trading for Dwight Howard

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets battles for the ball with Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets and Celtics reportedly talked about a Dwight Howard trade, though at the time, it seemed Houston was averse to dealing the center.

Now, that the Rockets are reportedly shopping Howard, is Boston a potential destination?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.

The Celtics are in a great spot. Not only are playing well now, they have some nice players (including All-Star Isaiah Thomas and underrated Jae Crowder) and a boatload of draft picks.

They don’t need to cash in their chips for Howard.

Howard could help this team protect the rim and score inside, even as a rental. But at that point, it’s doubtful Boston would value him enough to offer the Rockets enough to deal him.

If the Celtics don’t want to pay Howard big dollars into his 30s – especially if they don’t think other stars want to play with him – there’s really no point dealing for him.

Houston will apparently have to find a team more desperate.*

*But also with assets. Sorry, Nets.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”