Kurt Helin

Jazz D-League team on move from Idaho to Salt Lake City

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Back in the ABA days, from 1971-76, there were the Salt Lake Stars. The first major professional sports team in the city, they won the ABA title in 1971 coached by Bill Sharman (former Celtics star and Lakers’ coach) and led in scoring by Zelmo Beaty.

The Stars are back.

The Utah Jazz are moving the D-League’s Idaho Stampede — a team the Jazz own and operate — to Salt Lake City starting next season, the team announced Monday.

“We are thrilled to bring an NBA D-League team to Salt Lake City and in close proximity to the Utah Jazz,” said Steve Starks, president of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment. “The Salt Lake City Stars will provide further opportunities to promote the game of basketball, extend the reach of the Jazz, and engage with our surrounding communities in new ways.”

“The relocation of our D-League team to Utah will further align our efforts in player development and basketball operations to support the Jazz,” said Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz general manager. “The close relationship will strengthen our team on the court by providing our younger players a chance to grow in an environment that is consistent with Jazz basketball. Additionally, it serves as a training ground for all aspects of our organization, from coaches to support personnel.”

The advantage for the Jazz is simply proximity. Basically, center Tibor Pleiss will be closer to them should they want to call him up.

As teams get added to the D-League — the league hopes for a 30-team D-League someday — expect teams to be located closer to their NBA partner. It just makes sense economically and logistically for the team.

NBC’s NBA Power Rankings: Memphis falling, Utah climbing as season winds down

Associated Press
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Welcome to the penultimate NBA power rankings for the season. While the top of the board remains steady, Memphis is falling and it feels like the middle of the pack is all bunched together and could be put in almost any order and be “right.”

source: 1. Warriors (69-8, last week No. 1). They need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ 72-win record. Where it gets interesting is if they win their next three games (which is likely), they will go for the record next Sunday at San Antonio, where the Spurs are undefeated this season. Coach Steve Kerr has expressed concern that this record chase is taking a mental toll on his team, not ideal heading into the playoffs.

source: 2. Spurs (64-12, LW 2). Locked in at the two seed, Gregg Popovich has gone into full “we will rest guys” mode, but as you expect the Spurs keep winning (LaMarcus Aldridge has played well). Expect the heavy rest to include Thursday’s game at Golden State, where no Spur you can name outside Boban probably plays.

source: 3. Cavaliers (55-22, LW 4). The Cavaliers team that played the first half against Atlanta Friday night moved the ball, played with pace, defended, and could play with anyone. But Cleveland couldn’t sustain that for 48 minutes (the game went to overtime, where the Cavs eventually won). Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have gotten rest, expect key guys to get nights off this week as Cleveland heads out for three games on the road (Bucks, Pacers, Bulls).

source: 4. Thunder (53-24 LW 3). Blowing leads has been a disturbing trend for Oklahoma City all season, and Sunday a desperate Houston team out executed them over the final six minutes to get the win. They become too predictable on offense, but their defense struggles as well late in close games.

source: 5. Raptors (51-25, LW 6). They set a franchise record for wins in a season getting to the 50 mark, but everyone knows this team will be judged on winning at least one playoff round, if not making the conference finals (for the first time in Raptors history). Health remains a concern with that, including Kyle Lowry battling elbow issues. DeMarre Carroll would help if healthy, he says he wants to return but the team is less optimistic.

source: 6. Hawks (45-32, LW 5). The Hawks had been playing well but last week lost to the top two teams in the East, Cleveland and Toronto. Makes you wonder how far they can go come the playoffs, and how far that defense can take them. Seeding will matter, and they are in the group clumped in the east from 3-6, key games for Atlanta this Thursday (Toronto) and Saturday (Boston).

source: 7. Clippers (48-28, LW 9). Blake Griffin is back — he played 24 minutes and looked understandably rusty Sunday, but with flashes — and Doc Rivers will want to get him in a rhythm while getting core guys like Chris Paul some rest. Austin Rivers has played better of late, particularly his shooting, if he can do that in the playoffs it would be a big boost for the Clips.

source: 8. Hornets (44-32, LW 7). While the Hornets are in that bunched group in the middle of the East, their focus needs to be on getting guys healthy over wins — Al Jefferson missed Sunday’s game (quad) and Nicolas Batum had to leave it with a knee issue. Home court would be huge for them in the postseason, but it can’t come at the expense of health.

source: 9. Celtics (45-32, LW 10). They went 3-2 on a tough West Coast swing, they ended Golden State’s home winning streak, and with the win over the Lakers they clinched a playoff spot. “It’s a stepping stone,” Isaiah Thomas said after the Lakers game. “Definitely a goal of ours to make the playoffs, we definitely want more.”

source: 10. Heat (44-32, LW 8). Similar to Charlotte, this is a team that could really use home court in the first round (they are much better at the AAA) but getting healthy is the priority, especially Dwyane Wade. Interesting games against Detroit and Chicago this week.

source: 11. Jazz (39-38, LW 13). They have a one-game cushion on staying in the playoffs heading into a week where the games are tough — Spurs, Clippers, and improved Nuggets. Their defense has been stout, and if Alec Burks returns this week it would boost an inconsistent offense.

source: 12. Pistons (41-36, LW 12). With a huge win over Chicago Saturday the Pistons should feel secure about making the postseason, but when was the last time Stan Van Gundy relaxed and felt secure in season? Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris have all played well for the Pistons of late and the playoff experience they will all get will be invaluable for this team moving forward.

source: 13. Trail Blazers (41-37, LW 16). They have a real shot to move up to the five seed and get the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round (and avoid the Thunder), Portland is just half a game back of slumping Memphis for that slot. Some winnable games this week, plus a real test against Oklahoma City.

source: 14. Pacers (41-36, LW 11). Indiana’s loss to Chicago last Monday made the playoff chase at the bottom of the East much more interesting. And the fact the Pacers didn’t impress with wins over Philly and New York complicates matters. The Pacers are just a game ahead of the Bulls for the final playoff slot in the East, and they have a tough schedule with Cleveland and Toronto up this week.

source: 15. Mavericks (39-38, LW 19). This is the make-or-break week for Dallas’ playoff hopes. Dallas is clinging to a one-game lead over Houston, and those two teams face off Wednesday. Then after a soft game against Memphis the Mavericks close out the season with at the Clippers, at the Jazz, and against San Antonio. Tough patch. Even if Memphis loses out from here (a possibility) Dallas needs to win two of these five to catch them.

source: 16. Rockets (38-39, LW 14). Of the teams chasing a playoff slot at the bottom of the West, Houston has the easiest schedule by far. There is a big showdown with Dallas on Wednesday, but after that they go Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings. Houston should win it’s last four (but consistency has not been this team’s strength).

source: 17. Bulls (39-38, LW 18). They beat Indiana (giving Chicago the tiebreaker) but lost to Detroit, leaving Chicago two games back of those teams with five games left to play. The Bulls are going to need some help, and they need wins against Miami and Cleveland this week to have a chance.

source: 18. Wizards (37-40, LW 17). They are all but officially out of the playoffs and Bradley Beal (who struggled with his shot Sunday) summed it up well after a loss to the Kings last week: “To me, it felt like we gave up. I guess we kind of figured we’re already in the playoffs some reason. It’s either that or we want to get to the offseason. But as far as why, I have no idea.”

source: 19. Magic (33-44, LW 24). This is the team playoff-bound teams suddenly don’t want to face — the spoiler Magic beat the Pacers, Bulls, and Grizzlies recently. This week they face the Pistons, then have a home-and-home with Miami. Nikola Vucevic has found his groove post-injury and is playing well.

source: 20. Grizzlies (41-36, LW 15). The injuries have caught up with Memphis — six losses in a row, 10-of-12, and the team’s defense is atrocious. With a tough schedule ahead they could lose their last five, and then have to hope that Dallas/Utah/Houston stumble and don’t pass them. They will lose the five seed, which just a couple weeks ago seemed a lock for them.

source: 21. Bucks (32-45, LW 21). Who is third in triple-doubles in the NBA this season (behind Westbrook and Green)? Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s why Jason Kidd said he will still use the Greek Freak as a point-forward to initiate the offense next season.

source: 22. Kings (31-46, LW 23). Saturday night will be the final game at the old Arco, now Sleep Train, Arena. There were some good Kings teams, like the Chris Webber years, that played in that building. The Kings cracked 30 wins for the first time in five years this season, so maybe that’s a small step forward.

source: 23. Pelicans (29-47, LW 26). Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are shut down, they are about to pull a guy out of the third row to play 15 minutes for depth, and yet the Pelicans have won three of four. They have done it playing quality defense (which seems odd with Davis out, but that’s what the numbers say).

source: 24. Nuggets (32-46, LW 20). The Nuggets have improved as the season wore on and started to really find some players and an identity for coach Mike Malone, but the schedule maker did them no favors to close out the season. This week they face the Thunder, Spurs, and Jazz.

source: 25. Timberwolves (25-52,LW 25). They feel like a team just playing out the string, waiting for Karl-Anthony Towns to go and pick up his Rookie of the Year award. They have lost four of five and seem listless on offense.

source: 26. Knicks (31-47, LW 22). This team is going to see big changes over the summer — a new coach and an entirely new backcourt, for starters. The question is what kinds of free agents can the combination of Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony entice to come to Manhattan?

source: 27. Nets (21-56, LW 27). No Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young for the rest of the season — which is the smart play by GM Sean Marks. Why risk injury to your two best players and trade assets for meaningless games? But nobody may be as happy about the news as Celtics fans (Boston has Brooklyn’ pick, unprotected).

source: 28. Suns (20-57, LW 28). It’s been a disappointing season in the Valley of the Sun and this is going to be an interesting summer of change for them. That will start with a new coach, although the players like Earl Watson.

source: 29. Lakers (16-60, LW 29). They honored long-time trainer Gary Vitti Sunday and coach Byron Scott told a great story: Vitti started in the 1984-85 season and he had a radical idea — players should lift weights a lot more than they did. Back then few guys lifted regularly, the conventional wisdom was they would get too bulked up. Vitti said they would reduce injuries and it could help their athleticism. Looking back 30 years later, every team now does what Vitti got resistance trying to get his Lakers to do during the Showtime era.

source: 30. 76ers (9-68, LW 30). They have lost 12 in a row and need to get one more win to avoid tying the record for fewest wins in an 82-game season. There are winnable games in there, particularly against the Pelicans and Bucks this week. Those may be the best chance for the Sixers to avoid history.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Desperate Rockets, James Harden get win over Thunder

Associated Press
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If you took Sunday to watch the first pitch of the MLB season — and see Long Beach State’s own Troy Tulowitzki hit the first home run of the season — we understand. Here’s what you need to know from the NBA Sunday.

1) James Harden drops 41, Rockets out-execute Thunder down the stretch to get a key win in playoff quest. There are a couple of ways to look at this game. There is the Rockets’ perspective, where a team a game out of the playoffs could not afford to fall further behind and played with real desperation. Their biggest star James Harden stepped up with 41 points, guys like Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley made plays down the stretch, and the Rockets got that needed win 108-100.

From the Thunder’s perspective, well, remember when everyone complained about the simplistic sets and poor execution of the Thunder in the clutch under Scott Brooks? Well, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Oklahoma City’s season-long problem holding leads reared it’s ugly head again Saturday: The Thunder were up midway through the fourth quarter when the Rockets went on a 16-2 run to take a lead they would never surrender. Harden was impressive, but what decided this game was execution with everything on the line. Houston was flat-out better at that Sunday. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were not making plays, Harden was.

2) The bad news for Houston: Dallas and Utah keep pace with wins; will Memphis fall out of postseason instead? If you believe prediction sites like fivethiryeight.com, the Houston Rockets and their favorable schedule have a 69 percent chance of making the postseason. That provides a little comfort, but the reality is Houston remains one game out of a playoff spot despite their impressive win because Dallas and Utah also won. Both had winnable games, and both took care of business: Dallas beat Minnesota 88-78 thanks to another big night from J.J. Barea with 21 points and six assists; while Utah handled struggling Phoenix 101-86, with Gordon Hayward scoring 22.

Here’s one increasingly interesting playoff scenario: Maybe all three of Houston, Dallas, and Utah make the playoffs because Memphis falls out. The incredibly banged up Grizzlies — no Mike Conley, no Marc Gasol, and on down the line — have lost six in a row after Orlando beat them Sunday. The Griz have lost 10-of-12, and while currently the five seed in the West they are just three games up on nine-seed Houston. It is possible the Grizzlies lose all five remaining games (two against record chasing Golden State), and if that happens they could fall out of the postseason altogether.

3) Golden State bounces back with a comfortable win. Seven previous times this season the Warriors lost, and each time they bounced back with a win. Usually an easy win. Make that eight — the Warriors got 39 points from Stephen Curry and pulled away in the second half to beat the Trail Blazers 136-111. Those eight bounce back wins by the Warriors have been by an average of 15 points. Damian Lillard tried to make it interesting scoring 38 of his own, but Curry has a much deeper and better team around him than Lillard, and it showed.

4) Blake Griffin is back, and Clippers win again. His hand is healed, his suspension is over, and while is quad is still an issue Griffin was back on the court Sunday. Which is good news for the Clippers. Griffin played 24 minutes, looked rusty as expected (2-of-7 shooting overall) but showed a few flashes in the Clippers win over the Wizards.Oh yeah, he also threw down an alley-oop from Chris Paul.

With the win Clippers clinched fourth at least in the West (to be honest they are locked in to the four seed, they are not catching OKC) and home court in the first round, likely against Portland unless Memphis starts winning suddenly.

5) Throwback Kobe Bryant drops 34 in throwback game against rival Celtcs (but Boston wins anyway).
“Two things crossed our staff’s minds,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “Number one is, as much as we enjoy watching him on TV, I’m glad that we never will (see him in person) again. Number two is, I can’t imagine what he was like 10 years ago because he looked like he was 29 out there.”

Kobe Bryant dropped 34 points on the Celtics for old times sake, hitting threes and contested jumpers all night long. You could tell he still has a little extra fire when it comes to playing Boston. The problem for Kobe’s Lakers is they still defend like the Lakers have all season, so when the Celtics executed well down the stretch that was too much (Boston won 107-100). But Kobe gave the fans at Staples what they came to see, a little trip down memory lane.

Quote of the Day: Mark Jackson uses D’Angelo Russell situation to take shot at former assistant coach

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Rarely do our quotes of the days require a lot of context, but this is the exception that proves the rule. One part that doesn’t need an explanation is the recent D'Angelo Russell drama surrounding his surreptitiously taping — then it going public — a private conversation with Nick Young.

Here’s the second part: A few seasons back when Mark Jackson was coach of the Golden State Warriors there was friction and drama between him and some of his assistant coaches. Jackson had two assistants pushed out the door in two weeks. The second of those was defensive specialist Darren Erman (now on the Pelicans’ staff), and he was let go for surreptitiously taping coaching staff conversations which were considered private. That is certainly a fireable offense, although the push back was that Erman wanted proof that Jackson and other coaches were undercutting what he was trying to install and teach players. It was a lot of unnecessary drama. 

All of this brings us to Sunday, when Mark Jackson was in Los Angeles with the ABC crew covering the Thunder/Clippers game, and the topic of Russell’s foolish move came up. Here’s the quote, via Matt Moore of CBSSports.

Bitter much? Two year’s later you need to take a dig at the guy on national television?

(Hat tip the inimitable Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.)

Throwback Kobe Bryant drops 34 on Celtics, but Boston still gets win

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant admitted was up for his last game ever against the Boston Celtics.

Bryant dropped 34 points on his long-time nemesis in green, looking like his old self with fadeaways, threes, and hitting contested shots. He was 11-of-28 shooting, but he was putting on a show that the crowd at Staples Center ate up.

“He looked like old Kobe,” Boston’s Isaiah Thomas said (he had 26 points on the night). “From the jump, from the first play, he just had a different energy about him.”

“Two things crossed our staff’s minds,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said. “Number one is, as much as we enjoy watching him on TV, I’m glad that we never will (see him in person) again. Number two is, I can’t imagine what he was like 10 years ago because he looked like he was 29 out there.”

It wasn’t enough, the Celtics executed better in the fourth quarter and got a 107-100 win, clinching a playoff spot officially.