AP

Grizzlies pull within 2-1 of Spurs with 105-94 win

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Mike Conley scored 24 points and handed out eight assists as the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 10-game postseason skid against San Antonio by routing the Spurs 105-94 on Thursday night.

The Grizzlies pulled within 2-1 in this first-round Western Conference series, giving first-year coach David Fizdale his first postseason victory. This also marked the Grizzlies’ first win over the Spurs in the playoffs since April 2011, when Memphis beat San Antonio in six games.

Game 4 is Saturday night.

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph each scored 21 points for Memphis, which outscored San Antonio 31-17 in the third quarter and led by as much as 22 in the second half.

Kawhi Leonard, who scored 32 and 37 in the first two games, was held to 18. LaMarcus Aldridge added 16, and Kyle Anderson had 15 as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich benched his starters for most of the fourth quarter.

Memphis fans roared when Fizdale came onto the court before the game following his rant against officiating in Game 2, which cost him a $30,000 fine from the NBA. And they stayed on their feet much of the night, funneling their frustration into yelling for the Grizzlies and against the officials.

In this game, the Spurs had a big edge at the line in the first half (10 of 15) compared to the Grizzlies, who took only four free throws the entire first half. The crew of James Capers, Courtney Kirkland and Pat Fraher whistled the Spurs for only one foul in the second quarter – with 10.9 seconds left.

But Randolph scored 11 points in the second quarter, and the Grizzlies took a 50-46 lead into halftime. Then they really took control, opening the third by hitting 10 of their first 14 shots. They also played much better defense, harassing the Spurs into missing 11 of their first 17 in the quarter.

Popovich tried pulling his starters completely at one point, then simply sat down at others.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Manu Ginobili became the first second-round draft pick to play 200 career playoff games. … The Spurs shot an NBA-best 87.7 percent at the free throw line through the first two playoff games. They finished 16 of 28 (57.1 percent).

Grizzlies: Fizdale stuck with the lineup that worked in the second half of Game 2 when Memphis outscored the Spurs 45-40 despite losing. That meant Randolph and James Ennis both starting. This was just the sixth start for Randolph, who had 19 double-doubles off the bench during the regular season. He scored 11 points in the second quarter and even had a rare dunk.

GAME 3

The Spurs have dominated the postseason against Memphis, sweeping all three of the series San Antonio won with the exception of 2011. The third game of each series has been tight with three decided by single digits, and Game 3 of the 2013 West finals went to overtime before the Spurs won 104-93. The Grizzlies’ lone win in that span in the third game of any series with San Antonio came in 2011 when they won in six games.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.