Associated Press

Three things we learned Tuesday: In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Minnesota team shows tenacity. Finally.

2 Comments

We know you couldn’t watch all of the NBA’s Tuesday night lineup because you were focused on what a man’s face looks like in super slo-mo when getting hit by a ball. We’ve got you covered, here are the takeaways from Tuesday.

1) In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Timberwolves show tenacity, maturity. Get win. We clearly expected too much, too soon from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s easy to look at their roster on paper, to watch all that young talent in a game — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc.— and see the potential for greatness. We all thought that the addition of coach Tom Thibodeau would bring to that talent the intangibles we saw in his Bulls teams — we’d see tenacity. Instead, we’ve seen a Minnesota team that plays an immature game, that doesn’t show the determination, the grit to defend every play every night. We’ve seen ego. We’ve seen Thibodeau not been able to reach all this talent and teach the young stars the other things it takes to win in the NBA. We haven’t seen grit and tenacity.

Until Thibodeau brought them home to Chicago Tuesday. The Bulls blitzed the Timberwolves and overwhelmed them early, racing out to a 26-6 lead, at one point being up by 21 points. Chicago put up 38 points in the first quarter.

But they put up just 56 points the rest of the game, never breaking 20 in a quarter and shooting just 33.8 percent overall and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc in the final three quarters. The result was a 99-94 Minnesota win. The Timberwolves team that has rolled over in the face of adversity all season buckled down on defense and was able to stall out a Bulls offense that, when pressed, is unimaginative and relies heavily on isolation. The Bulls do not shoot well from the outside (they did to start the season, but that has faded and they are 29th in the NBA in eFG%), and if you can keep them off the free throw line you can force them into tough shots. Meanwhile, on offense, the athletic Timberwolves were making plays.

What matters with the Timberwolves this season is progress. That hasn’t come as fast as some wanted and expected to see, there will be no playoffs for the team this year, but progress may be coming. Tuesday night was a step. It’s fair to question if Thibodeau and his hard-driving ways are reaching the young core and if they are buying in, or tuning the old man without a life outside basketball out. But maybe it’s all just taking longer than some expected. Maybe Tuesday night we saw a step in the right direction, and while those steps may be wobbly at times ahead maybe there steadily will be other steps to follow. Let’s see where this team is and how they are playing after the All-Star break. The narrative of this team could change.

2) Portland packs paint, blocks shots, finds formula (for a night) to neutralize Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. This was the Thunder team I feared we would see more of this season: The Westbrook-against-the-world model would run into teams packing the paint to take away his drives, there would be blocked shots and turnovers, and OKC would lack the shooting to make teams pay for that strategy.

With Victor Oladipo out for the Oklahoma City (sprained right wrist), that’s what happened to them in Portland. The Trail Blazers played their best defensive game of the season, they sagged back and packed the key — there always seemed to be three guys in there on Thunder drives — and the result was the Thunder shot 40.4 percent in the paint. The Blazers didn’t pay for that strategy as the Thunder shot 29.6 percent from three (and were 1-of-7 on corner threes). OKC turned the ball over on 19.4 percent of their possessions (big men Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 11 turnovers between them).

This combined Tuesday night with the fact the weight of this offense seems to be wearing a little on Westbrook — he had 20 points, but it took 19 shots to get there. This is a trend now — in his last 10 games he’s still averaging a triple-double (29 points, 12.4 rebounds, 11.2 assists) but he’s shooting just 39.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. Check out his shot chart from the last 10 Thunder games.

Westbrook shot chart

Oklahoma City has succeeded this season on a combination of a top-10 defense and Westbrook doing it all on offense. It’s gotten them off to a 15-10 start. But Tuesday night the hot shooting that Portland can bring undid the defense (particularly the OKC bench units), and the loss for the Thunder points to bigger questions: Can they maintain that pace? Can Westbrook?

3) Fightin’ Kristaps Porzingis puts up 34, but that’s not enough for Knicks. Phoenix beat New York 113-111 in overtime Tuesday night, a nice home win for a Suns team that has had its share of struggles this season.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Knicks’ fan favorite (and New York’s best player) Kristaps Porzingis put up 34 points and showed a lot of fight Tuesday. Almost literally after Suns’ rookie Marquese Chriss threw KP to the ground.

Porzingis had a monster night, and if he doesn’t foul out maybe overtime looks a little different.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

AP
3 Comments

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

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Leave a comment

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

AP
3 Comments

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)

AP
Leave a comment

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.