John Calipari comes to defense of John Wall

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Kentucky coach John Calipari is a consummate recruiter — a combination coach and father. A guy who in private might be tough on his guys, but in public will defend them. Even after they are flown from his nest.

Like John Wall.

The former Kentucky point guard and former No. 1 overall pick is about to enter his third season in the NBA and while he’s been good, he hasn’t been great. He hasn’t been the franchise anchor everyone expected. He was above average with a PER of 17.7 last season, but that is not the 20+, lock All-Star kind of level everyone expected.

Calipari had Wall’s back in a radio interview on ESPN 980 in Washington DC (which Mike Prada quotes at the fantastic Bullets Forever).

“What’s happened is, you took a 19-year old and put the weight of the world on him, saying to him, ‘We’re expecting you to drag this team to another level.’ Well, there are no young guys [who can do that]. [Even] Anthony Davis isn’t that guy,” Calipari said.

“Now, if you have a good team, Anthony and John will make you better. If you remember, I had Derrick Rose. But the way the [ping pong] balls dropped, he ended up playing on a pretty good team. So, all of a sudden, he’s an All-Star in two years, and all of a sudden he becomes the MVP of the league. But he’s on a good team. So, what’ll happen is, as [the Wizards] build that team, John will come out more.”

Um, yes and no.

I agree that Wall was thrown into a tough situation, coming into the Wizards in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas guns-in-the-locker room mess. Flip Saunders is a good coach of professional veterans, but the Wizards locker room was not that and the result was undisciplined play on the court and no focus off it. Asking Wall to walk in, change the culture and lead that team was too much.

But Wall also didn’t take a step forward last year — if anything, his jump shot regressed. He averaged 4.4 long two pointers (16 feet out to the arc) last season and shot 29 percent on them. He shot 7.1 percent from three and only took one every other game. Even with his quickness Wall can be defended in the half court.

Calipari admitted that Wall needs to step up his game. This season the excuses go away — Washington has brought in quality veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and on down the line. Guys who understand about being a professional, about preparation.

Calipari isn’t totally wrong about Wall, but the excuses are now gone. This is the season we really learn about Wall, about how good he’s going to be. His time is now. Calipari knows it, too.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.