Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six

Grizzlies add mental-endurance coach

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What do the Florida State and Alabama football teams have in common?

1. They’re the only programs to win national championships in the last three years.

2. They employeed Trevor Moawad.

The Memphis Grizzlies, trying to piggyback off that success, are emulating No. 2.

Grizzlies release:

The Grizzlies also added Trevor Moawad, a recognized expert in the field of mental conditioning who has led mental endurance programs for the University of Alabama and Florida State football teams, as mental endurance coach.

Moawad joins the Grizzlies organization to serve as mental endurance coach. Moawad has recently coached under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State University, helping to guide and lead the development of the players off the field to ensure they are thinking at an elite level on the field. Through the integration of advanced mindset solutions, he has played a vital role in both schools winning NCAA Championships for their football programs in his tenure.

I wouldn’t assume Moawad’s presence and a championship share a causal relationship. Most likely, elite programs like Florida State and Alabama can afford many luxuries – including a coach focused on mental technique . But that’s just an example of many advantages, making it difficult to say which play the most direct roles in winning.

We’ll see how big an advantage is for the Grizzlies, but I think it helps. They’re not the first to use experts on gaining a mental edge, though I don’t know how common they are on staffs around the league as opposed to outside consults.

Under Lionel Hollins, Memphis always struck me as a team with a strong culture of mental toughness. Veterans like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen help, and they’re still there, even with Hollins in Brooklyn. Might there be diminishing returns that don’t exist with a mentally weak team hiring Moawad?

But my only questions are about how large a positive this is. Moawad should help the Grizzlies, and his mere presence shows Robert Pera’s commitment to building a winner.

Want to know how specifically Moawad will help? Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated wrote a fascinating profile of him, including some examples of his techniques:

The exercise that helped Hightower understand why he needed to speak up during the Auburn game involves a group of players who are tasked with planning a barbecue. Each player wears a number on his head. He can’t see the number, but his teammates can. A one is the low man on the totem pole. A nine is an alpha dog. Moawad instructs the players to treat one another in accordance to the number on each person’s head. When the nine speaks, everyone listens and reacts. When the twos and threes speak, they are ignored. "You start to learn status," Moawad said. "The overall goal is learning where you fit in. At different times, you need to play different roles." Said left tackle Barrett Jones: "By the end, everyone clearly knew what number they were."

Coach Tom Coughlin wanted to know if the mental coaches could find a way to help tailback Fred Taylor — known at the time as "Fragile Fred" because he was so injury-prone — play a full season.

Then they went to work on Taylor. They surveyed the longest-tenured veterans on the Jaguars’ roster to determine what they did that Taylor did not. They discovered that all of the veterans came to work at about 6:30 a.m. Taylor showed up two hours later. They told Taylor he needed to begin showing up earlier. He asked what he needed to do during those two hours. Do what the veterans do, Moawad and Bohling told him. Taylor filled those two hours with training that helped him start 46 consecutive games between 2002 and 2004.

some players arrive on campus unable to look coaches and teammates in the eye. Moawad has a drill to fix that.

Find a friend and try this exercise.

You: OneFriend: TwoYou: ThreeFriend: OneYou: TwoFriend: Three

Pretty easy, right? Now replace each "one" with a clap and try again.

Awfully hard to do without maintaining solid eye contact, isn’t it? Now replace each "one" with a clap and each "three" with a finger snap.

It can’t be done without eye contact. Work that drill enough, and the shiest person can learn to look even the sternest authority figure in the eye.

Moawad also tries to help teammates communicate better with one another. Back when Jones played guard, he sat back-to-back with center William Vlachos. Vlachos had to describe a series of complex shapes on a card in his hand. Jones, without seeing the card, had to reproduce the shapes.

Moawad trains players to believe by changing their internal monologue. He said an athlete says 800-1,400 words a minute to himself on a subconscious level. Those words must be positive, and they also must be the correct words that allow the player to focus on the task at hand and not some distraction in another part of his life or on some external influence like, say, 100,000 screaming fans. Moawad often uses the example of sprinter Michael Johnson, who tried to limit his internal monologue to the same four phrases during a race.

1. Keep my head down2. Pump my arms3. Explode4. Think like a bullet

Moawad has a drill to keep players focused despite external distractions. First, he has a player attempt to find a sequence of numbers in ascending order. Second, he has the player complete the same task with a partner staring silently at his work. Third, the player must complete the task while his partner screams insults at him.

Watch some of Hawks 12 blocked shots in close-out Game 6 vs. Celtics

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Atlanta got to the playoffs on the strength of their defense.

That also won the Hawks their first-round series against the Celtics — Boston struggled to get score consistently against Atlanta. On Thursday night that included 12 blocked shots as the Hawks took away the paint and the Celtics could not make them play.

Well done by the Hawks but that defense is about to be put to the test in the next round — the Cleveland Cavaliers have much more dangerous weapons.

No longer rebuilding, Pistons hope to improve in offseason

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 20: Tobias Harris #34 Andre Drummond #0 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Pistons have finally moved beyond the rebuilding stage.

After their first playoff appearance since 2009, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons can look ahead to the offseason knowing that if they simply keep their current starting lineup intact, the future could be fairly bright. That’s not to say that Detroit will stand pat, but the team’s key players are young enough that the Pistons can envision more success if this group stays together.

“We’re now not at the time of wholesale change anymore. We went through that,” said Van Gundy, who just wrapped up his second season as Detroit’s coach and team president. “We’re not making deals just to make deals. We like the guys we have, but we’ve got to add to it, and if there’s ever a chance to make a significant upgrade – yeah.”

The Pistons went 44-38, their best record since 2008, before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by top-seeded Cleveland. When Van Gundy met with reporters Thursday, he talked about a lot of potential improvements that can come from within – such as Andre Drummond‘s free throw shooting, Stanley Johnson‘s skill set and the team’s overall defensive approach.

The 22-year-old Drummond remains the Pistons’ biggest star. As he enters restricted free agency, the team has not expressed any reservations about trying to sign him long term – despite his sub-40 percent free throw shooting, an issue which occasionally relegated him to the bench during crunch time.

“He’s a 22-year-old All-Star center. There aren’t very many guys in the league who have the abilities that he has,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll move forward and obviously do everything we possibly can to try to get him re-signed.”

Detroit’s starting lineup of Drummond, Reggie Jackson (26 years old), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (23), Tobias Harris (23) and Marcus Morris (26) was good enough to lift the Pistons into the postseason, and the team also has the 19-year-old Johnson, a lottery pick last year. Van Gundy says he wants Johnson to work on developing his individual skills in the offseason, which isn’t always easy for players in the years before they reach the NBA.

“They don’t really get, or haven’t had summers where they could take an extended period of time and really focus on skill development,” Van Gundy said. “They’re always playing AAU, then with Stanley, USA Basketball, then they have a summer where they’re going to draft workout after draft workout after draft workout, and then right after that, they’re just going into summer league.”

As for Drummond’s woeful foul shooting, Van Gundy says it’s wrong to view it purely as a mechanics problem. Drummond shot 35.5 percent this season from the line and was 11 of 34 in the playoffs.

Van Gundy was asked if having Drummond try to shoot underhanded could be an option.

“I think right now everything’s on the table,” Van Gundy said. “We all know it’s an important thing, Andre more than any of us. I think he’s pretty open to anything, but there’s a lot of ways to attack this problem, and we’ll all have a hand in it.”

Although the Pistons don’t have to worry much about losing Drummond before next season, Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake are both unrestricted free agents. They combined for only 69 minutes in the playoff series, and Van Gundy was somewhat noncommittal about their future.

“In just a very general sense, I like the idea of having both of them back,” he said. “But – and I was honest with them – there’s priorities ahead of re-signing them.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Hawks close out Celtics, advance to face Cavaliers

<> during the first quarter of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 28, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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.
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The first Eastern Conference semifinals matchup is set: the Atlanta Hawks closed out the Boston Celtics 104-92 on the road to win their first-round series in six games and advance to the second round, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning on Monday.

The Hawks controlled the game from start to finish, neutralizing Boston’s offense and attacking Isaiah Thomas on the other end. Thomas finished with 25 points, leading all scorers, but shot just 9-for-24 from the field.

In the second half, Atlanta’s lead stretched as far as 28 points, before a Marcus Smart-led comeback in the fourth quarter cut it to 12 and Atlanta was able to put the game away.

From a talent standpoint, this series was always going to be skewed away from the Celtics, especially after Avery Bradley‘s hamstring injury in the first round of the playoffs. And Atlanta’s superior talent won out in Game 6, with every Hawks starter reaching double figures.

From here, Atlanta will face Cleveland in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, this time with everybody fully healthy for both teams. Boston is set up for an interesting offseason, with a high lottery pick coming from Brooklyn, a ton of cap space and dark-horse status in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

Livingston enjoying the moment filling in for injured Curry

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Shaun Livingston #34 celebrate during a second half time out against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Warriors defeated the Wizards 134 to 121. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Shaun Livingston‘s left leg could have been amputated nine years ago.

The knee injury he suffered while with the Clippers in 2007 was that severe. Going for a layup, Livingston’s leg buckled backward, parallel to the court, when he fell in a freak accident. He screamed and writhed in agony.

Now, healthy and reliable, Livingston is making a new name for himself on the NBA’s postseason stage. He has filled in admirably for the NBA’s best player as Golden State moves on to the second round of the playoffs without injured MVP Stephen Curry.

Livingston scored 16 points in each of his three starts in place of Curry during Golden State’s 4-1 first-round series win against the Houston Rockets.

“I think when you go through traumatic events like that, you understand,” Livingston said. “Now, being in this position and playing with guys like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Draymond (Green), All-Stars, being on this team, there was a time I was getting waived off teams that weren’t winning 20 games.”

Journeyman for this guy is practically an understatement. Just 30, the Warriors are already his ninth NBA team. Livingston has played in the most games of his career the past two seasons, 78 each, and emerged as a trustworthy backup to Curry when he comes off the bench with high energy and an aggressive style.

That night of Feb. 26, 2007, still fuels him. Livingston overcame long medical odds just to get back on the court, and for that he is so grateful each time he laces up his shoes for practice or game day.

Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral – as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama.

Livingston also dislocated his knee cap and tibiofemoral joint. Though the injury could have potentially ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.

After all that, the Warriors love watching him contribute in such a meaningful way as they chase a second straight championship.

“He’s been huge. Not just this series, all year,” Green said after Golden State eliminated Houston on Wednesday night, 114-81. “But really stepping in for Steph, and it’s different. It’s not the same thing that you’re used to, which is so unique about it. But he’s been incredible for us, always steady, somebody we know we can go to if we need a basket, and taking care of the ball and really running the offense.”

Livingston’s remarkable comeback inspired coach Steve Kerr this season when he was coping with his own trying ordeal, a long leave of absence following complications from two back surgeries.

“I admire Shaun Livingston. Shaun had probably the worst knee injury that I’ve ever seen, that anybody’s ever seen in NBA history, almost had his leg amputated,” Kerr said this week after being named Coach of the Year. “Think about what it took for Shaun to get back to the point where he is now, several years of rehabilitation. That inspires me, my players inspire me. … People may forget, but if it weren’t for the knee injury, Shaun was headed for a superstar career.”

Livingston, drafted fourth overall by the Clippers in 2004 out of Peoria Central High in Illinois, was hit with plenty of injury hard luck well before the frightening knee blowout and had yet to even play a full NBA season because of injuries.

“Going through those experiences, it’s humbling, and never getting too high or too low,” Livingston said. “Just respecting the process, keeping your head down and keep grinding.”

He has vowed to be aggressive and make things happen at every chance to keep Golden State’s record-setting season going. The Warriors had an NBA-best 24-0 start on the way to a 73-9 record that topped the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ previous-best finish of 72-10.

Kerr was on that team. The encouraging words from the coach mean so much to Livingston.

“He’s played and won championships as a player, and he’s been around,” Livingston said. “He’s played with the greatest and been coached by the greatest. So to hear those words, it’s very humbling. I’m grateful. I take it in stride, and I just try to let it fuel me.”

At 6-foot-7, Livingston is a tough matchup because of his length and athletic ability.

His teammates don’t want him to change a thing.

“He’s been phenomenal, so we’re going to need him to continue to be that way,” Green said. “We’re not sure how long Steph will be out, but until then Shaun will be holding it down for us. So he’s been big, and we look forward to him continuing to do that.”