Kurt Helin

Isaiah Thomas

Danny Ainge consulted with Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas about potential free agents

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There is nobody on the Celtics who should feel their roster spot is safe. Well, maybe Marcus Smart to a degree, but in general GM Danny Ainge has a lot of assets that he is willing to wheel and deal to build the Celtics roster.

Which is why him reaching out to Isaiah Thomas about free agents is a sign the guard might be around for a little while.

Speaking with the Boston Globe, Thomas — who was traded to the Celtics mid-season and helped spark their run to the playoffs — said Ainge called him up to talk about free agents and who would fit in Boston.

“Danny said if there’s any free agent out there I’m interested in, to let him know,” Thomas said by telephone. “That has me excited. For him to ask for my input means a lot, because it means I’m definitely, right now, a part of the future, and they also value your word and what you think about the game of basketball. It means a lot, and it’s a mutual respect we have. Now, hopefully, we can get a few guys.”

So who does Thomas want? Like he’s going to name names. But he did say what he was looking for.

“A defensive-minded player,” he said. “It’d be nice to get one of those in the draft. A lot of the big men out there could definitely help us out. But I know Danny is always up to something.”

Thomas told Ainge he could be a valuable recruiter when free agency begins. Thomas said that when he played for the University of Washington, he helped persuade several high school prospects to join the Huskies.

Well then Isaiah, get on the phone to DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert right now.

Thomas is a good fit on the Celtics right now — a dynamic scorer that the fans will love. He will put up points on a team that could use a little offensive spark, he averaged 19 points a game for the Celtics last season. No, he’s not terribly efficient (41 percent shooting), but he can score.

In the end, Thomas is an asset that can be moved just like every other Celtic. If Ainge gets the right offer, Thomas is gone. But for now, it sounds like Thomas can move out of the hotel where he has lived in Boston — seriously, ever since he was traded — and get an apartment. But he may want to hold off on buying just yet.

Rumor: Paul Pierce might opt out of contract with Wizards, join Clippers

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards-Game Six
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After his last game in Washington, with the Wizards eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks from these playoffs, Paul Pierce sounded like a guy ready to walk away.

“Truthfully, what was going through my mind is, I don’t have too much of these efforts left, if any,” Pierce said. “These rides throughout the NBA season, throughout the playoffs, are very emotional. They take a lot out of not only your body, but your mind, your spirit…. I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” Pierce said.

But maybe he will — on the other coast with another team that just can’t quite seem to live up to its promise.

Pierce to the Clippers rumors have floated around the league for a while, and David Aldridge at NBA.com brought it up in his column Monday.

Washington’s main issue is complacency. The Wizards could stand pat if Pierce decides to return to D.C. next season rather than opt out of his deal, but many around the league believe Pierce will do just that and finish his career back home in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

The point Aldridge is making is a good one: The Wizards need a long term answer at the three. Pierce enjoyed his time in the city and may, once things settle down, decide to stay put. He spoke glowingly of his teammates there and the city.

Doc Rivers had the chance to go after Pierce last summer but decided to give his full mid-level exception to Spencer Hawes instead. You can bet he’d like that one over.

And he may get the chance. One-year deal and the Clippers get some needed depth at the three and a veteran voice? At an affordable price, it makes sense.

If Pierce wants to go through one more run.

Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Seven
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The questions remaining in the Western Conference Finals aren’t about what Golden State can do — we’ve seen that. They are the better team. There’s no doubt they can close out the series.

The questions are all for Houston. They have fought hard and lost two games, then been dominated in another. The Rockets are down 3-0 but at home for Game 4 Monday night with one more chance to show their resolve and answer some of the myriad of questions the Warriors pose for them.

With that, we’ll focus on Houston heading into Game 4: Here are three things to watch from the Rockets.

1) How much fight does Houston have left? After Game 4 against the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, I was in the Rockets’ locker room and thought they looked defeated. Houston was down 3-1, and after a couple tough losses they looked like players in other playoff locker rooms I’ve seen, ones where the team came out the next game and rolled over to accept their fate. But that’s not these Rockets. Houston has been the most resilient team in the NBA this season. Injuries forced changing lineups all season and would have devastated a lot of teams, yet the Rockets kept on winning — 56 games, all the way to the two seed in the West. Against the Clippers, they battled back to take the series. The question here isn’t can Houston battle back to take this series from the Golden State — it can’t — but will it come out with that fight and spirit and take Game 4? I expect they will show that resolve.

2) Expect an aggressive, attacking James Harden — but will Dwight Howard join him? In Game 3 the Warriors switched up their defense on Harden. Instead of a steady diet of Klay Thompson, the primary defender became Harrison Barnes, with his length, and the physicality of Andre Iguodala mixed in with Thompson for stretches. It threw Harden off, he shot just 3-of-16 on his way to 17 points. Harden has not gotten to the line at his regular clip this series. He was fantastic in the first two games of the series but he did it mostly by hitting challenging shots — like step-back jumpers — in the midrange. That was not a formula for long-term success. With their season on the line in front of his home fans, expect Harden to be cooking — expect him to be aggressive, attack, make plays and draw fouls. He will not go quietly into that good night. Another question tied to this: Will Harden and Dwight Howard finally start to play well off each other. As Tom Haberstroh brilliantly pointed out at ESPN, The Rockets’ two best players still play next to each other not with each other. They have the potential to be a devastating force together, but will they finally start to take some advantage of that?

3) Will the Rockets finally defend Stephen Curry well? Through three games in this series, 34 of Stephen Curry’s 62 shots have been uncontested. That’s 54.8 percent of his looks (including 10 of 19 in Game 3). We’re talking about the best shooter in the game, the one guy on the Warriors you can’t lose track of, the guy you have to help on, and more than half of his shots are not contested (according to the NBA’s Sports VU camera data). While we can quibble with the numbers, the fact is Jason Terry and other Rockets defenders lose Curry off the ball far too often. The Rockets have struggled with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and when a big is switched onto him Curry feasts. When he beats the first line of defense — which he will do, he’s good — too often the help isn’t reading the play correctly. Curry is also a gifted passer, and even when the Rockets play him correctly one of the many shooters on the Warriors roster gets a little space and the ball seems to find him. That said, you still have to start slowing Golden State by slowing Curry. He’s is not going to be stopped, but a team can make his job difficult — Mike Conley did it for the Grizzlies, spending the series in Curry’s jersey. If the Rockets want to get some stops, it has to start with slowing Curry down. Maybe that means slowing the pace down a little, but the problem is that doesn’t play to the Rockets’ strengths.

LeBron James carries load, makes enough plays in Cavaliers win (VIDEO)

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three
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LeBron James’ shot still is not falling — he was 14-of-37 shooting in Game 3. Atlanta defended him well, contesting 27 of his 37 shot attempts.

But LeBron still made the plays he needed to — driving dunks, steals, key threes, defensive plays — to carry the load for the Cavaliers and get them an overtime win and a 3-0 series lead against the Hawks. His exhaustion was evident as he fell to the ground after the game ended.

LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists — his 12th playoff triple-double, moving him past Karl Malone on the all-time playoff list.

 

Phil Jackson says he likes three pointers, but relationship appears complicated

New York Knicks v Los Angeles Lakers
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Remember is the second round when Knicks president Phil Jackson tweeted this:

Well, all four of the teams left in the playoffs were in the top five in the NBA in three pointers made this season. It looks like the Finals will be the three-loving Warriors against a Cavaliers team that has leaned on the three more come the playoffs. That’s not even talking about the Spurs who won the title last season, or the Heat the couple before that (or the jump-shooting Mavs before that). So things are “goink” pretty well, thanks.

Sunday, Jackson decided to clarify his position.

Phil Jackson has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know, and certainly when you think about his teams one thing that comes to mind is Robert Horry or Derek Fisher hitting threes with the Lakers, or Steve Kerr and John Paxson with the Bulls.

That said, how he’s trying to position himself in these tweets isn’t exactly revolutionary — play the game from the inside out. A team can’t just shoot threes, they have to have balance and be able to score inside and in a variety of ways. Notice all four of those teams left can score inside as well — LeBron James for Cleveland on the drive-and-kick, Dwight Howard in the post or James Harden on the drive in Houston, and Golden State does it on drives and cuts and the occasional post up (they had 58 points in the paint Saturday).

The question is prioritization of the three pointer.

None of those teams would pass up a dunk or uncontested lay-up for a three — it’s a matter of efficiency. But what about a contested eight-footer? An open free throw line jumper? Do you prioritize a lower-percentage (in terms of points per possession) midrange shot over an open three? It’s about value, and the league has moved to valuing the three more.

And that’s the smart thing to do.