George Hill injury jeopardizes Pacers’ identity

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The puzzle pieces have changed, but the picture of the sailboat they form has not.

Under Frank Vogel, the Pacers have relied heavily on their starters. Between them, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert excel in all areas of the court, offensively and defensively, and really balance each other. But even when the pieces were slightly different – Danny Granger in place of Stephenson or Darren Collison in place of Hill – the positive results remained.

2013 playoffs (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +69 in 209 minutes
  • Other lineups: –45 in 319 minutes

2012-13 regular season (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +284 in 1,218 minutes
  • Other lineups: +42 in 2,700 minutes

2012 playoffs (Hill, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +86 in 240 minutes
  • Other lineups: –71 in 293 minutes

2011-12 regular season (Collison, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +189 in 1,000 minutes
  • Other lineups: +29 in 2,198 minutes

In some ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because, the more they play together, the better they play together. Even when the main lineup changed, Indiana showed a strong commitment to the new lineup.

In each of the last two seasons, the Pacers have had the league’s second-highest raw plus-minus. The No. 1 team has changed around them, and in both cases, Indiana held a huge lead over No. 3.

This achievement combines two factors, quality and quantity. For example, a unit that outscores opponents by 1 point per minute and played 10 minutes together (+10) would rank ahead of a unit that outscores opponents by 3 points per minute and played 3 minutes together (+9).

2012-13

  • Thunder (Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins): +288
  • Pacers: +284
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Udonis Haslem-Chris Bosh): +157

2011-12

  • Suns (Steve Nash-Jared Dudley-Grant Hill-Channing Frye-Marcin Gortat): +208
  • Pacers: +189
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Joel Anthony: +108

The Pacers’ top lineup led the NBA in raw plus-minus in the 2012 playoffs, and it again leads during the 2013 playoffs.

But the peril of the Pacers’ plan is showing with the injury to Hill, who’s still day-to-day. Every team would miss Hill’s defense and outside shooting, but the Pacers will especially miss how Hill interacted with Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert. More so than other teams, Indiana is shook by an injury to a single starter regardless of which it is.

So, D.J. Augustin stepping into the starting lineup will challenge a lot of what Indiana likes to do. When Augustin plays with the Pacers’ other four starters, they’re +5 in 25 minutes during the playoff, though 17 of those minutes came during Game 5 against the Knicks with Hill out (+2). But, using a larger and seemingly more reliable sample, Indiana was –17 in 93 minutes during the regular season with that unit. That was the Pacers’ most-used lineup that was outscored by opponents.

Maybe Vogel now wishes he had given more playing time to lineups besides his starting unit. But if he had, maybe the Pacers wouldn’t have come this far in the first place.

Mark Cuban on shooters jumping forward: ‘Just have some guts and say it’s not a foul’

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It seems like everyone is trying to draw suspicious fouls on 3-pointers in the NBA these days. Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard… the list goes on.

NBA players spend a significant amount of time in the offseason trying to figure out ways to trick the referees, with some going so far as to workout with a full officiating crew so they can find the right angles to hide their sleight-of-hand.

But some fans have started to complain about all this trickeration, including the types of “fouls” drawn on 3-point shots where jump shooters clearly leave their own space and enter that of the defender’s.

In a recent edition of his NBA newsletter, New York Times writer Marc Stein responded to a reader question about this phenomenon by quoting Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

According to Stein, Cuban isn’t a fan of these calls and he sees a simple solution.

Via NY Times Newsletter:

Shooters intentionally trying to draw fouls, by contrast, is a far saucier issue.

You certainly have a vocal supporter in Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who was tweeting on the subject early in the Houston/Golden State series and issued this challenge to referees when I asked him about it Monday: “Just have some guts and say it’s not a foul.”

After the matter generated so much debate this postseason, let’s see how much discussion will take place at the league’s next scheduled Competition Committee meeting in July during summer league. The committee also convenes by conference call in June.

The solution for players purposefully trying to train themselves to be able to trick referees the way they have isn’t clear. It has seemed quite obvious when watching games — even for fans watching them in real time — that a lot of these 3-point shot fouls aren’t really fouls.

At a distance, it feels like we are destined for one of two things: Either real time broadcast referees back in New Jersey who will be able to radio in calls, or a point of emphasis in the next few seasons that stops players from doing this.

Of course, the NBA likes to put in these point of emphasis rules for a few weeks, then stop calling them altogether. Remember when guys were getting technical fouls for flops? That was so very long ago.

This NBA postseason has not been kind for the NBA or its officiating crews, and eventually people are going to start to feel as though they don’t understand the game they are watching any longer. The NBA is in danger of becoming the NFL in that regard, and the rancor is only going to grow thanks to social media. Something serious needs to be done, and at its core it seems like they need to get back to playing the game and calling the game the way it was intended.

That’s something that’s harder than it sounds, but at the very least it should be easy to stop calling fouls on shooters who plainly throw themselves into the reasonable path of defenders.

Are the Clippers, Knicks really equal threats to sign Kevin Durant?

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Is Kevin Durant going to stay with the Golden State Warriors? Is he going to sign with the New York Knicks? How about the Los Angeles Clippers? We just don’t know whether Durant will stay with the best team ever assembled, or strike it out on his own with several championships under his belt.

Durant is not currently playing for the Warriors, having injured his calf and missed the entirety of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. However, a new report says that there are rumblings that the Los Angeles Clippers are a serious destination for Durant should he decide to opt out of his contract and leave Golden State.

The only caveat? According to Mark Stein, all of the aforementioned teams have been rumored as the “favorite” for Durant by people he trusts.

Via NY Times Newsletter:

Within the last month, very smart and plugged-in people I have consulted say that the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as an equally dangerous threat to the Knicks to sign Durant away from Golden State. And I believe it.

Problem is, at various points during the season, I have heard trusted insiders state with conviction that Durant is already planning to join the Knicks … and then that he is likely to consider the Nets as well … and now that he is eyeing the Clippers just as intently as New York.

It leads one to conclude that maybe the best forecast, at least for the moment, is that nobody but Durant and his business manager Rich Kleiman know.

Durant is one of the more tiring personalities in the NBA, and his constant need for ego-stroking has worn thin despite the Warriors’ success. If he decides to leave — and it just sort of feels like he will at this point — no doubt it won’t be the last we hear of this story.

Tim Connelly eager to finish what he started with Nuggets

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DENVER (AP) The prospects of a return home to Washington were undeniably appealing to Tim Connelly.

Not nearly as alluring as this: Finishing what he’s started.

The Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations elected to stay in town even with the Wizards calling. Things are booming these days with a Nuggets team that boasts a young nucleus led by big man Nikola Jokic and that won 54 games in the regular season. They were the No. 2 seed in the West before losing to Portland in Game 7 at home during the second round of the playoffs.

There was just too much work left to be done in Denver to consider taking Washington’s front office job even if it would’ve been with the organization where Connelly got his start and in the area where he and his wife are from.

“It’s safe to assume, and maybe it’s me being overly optimistic, that we’re going to see a better version of us next year,” Connelly said Tuesday. “I don’t know if that means more wins. I don’t know if we’re going to win a playoff series and advance, but I don’t think there’s any reason to think there will be any regression next season.”

A Baltimore native, Connelly appreciated the audience with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He said he was flattered by their recent “exchange of ideas” as the Wizards look to fill the role of team president after Ernie Grunfeld was fired in April.

“The relationships that have been built up here and the hard times we’ve been through – it was very hard to envision leaving something that has been so hard and so long coming in its build,” said Connelly, who broke into the NBA with the Wizards as an intern in the basketball operations department, then as an assistant video coordinator and as a scout.

Connelly was hired as Denver’s general manager in July 2013 and it took a while for the team to take off. Team President Josh Kroenke stayed patient with him. Connelly brought in coach Michael Malone before the 2015-16 season and they’ve steadily progressed since – from 33 wins in Malone’s first year to 40 wins in ’16-17 to 46 in ’17-18 and finally to 54 this season, including a league-leading 34-7 home mark.

“We did not get off to a good start by any stretch, and (Kroenke) doubled down on what easily could have been perceived as an initial mistake because he liked the processes and liked how we attacked our job day to day,” said Connelly, who was promoted to president of basketball operations in 2017. “Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that’s here in spades. So those things matter to me.”

Connelly and his staff have struck it rich in the draft, taking Jokic with the 41st pick of the second round in 2014. They’ve also selected Jamal Murray, along with up-and-comers Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley and Michael Porter Jr., who sat out this season as he recovered from back surgery.

The biggest offseason decision remains this: What to do with veteran leader Paul Millsap. The team holds a $30 million option, which could be restructured.

“I fully expect Paul to be back in a Nuggets uniform,” Connelly said.

On the free agency front, Denver hasn’t exactly been an attractive landing spot in recent summers. But Connelly sees that starting to change and believes the unselfish play of Jokic could be an enticing selling point. Denver could be in the market for another shooter and a power forward in order to take the next step.

“It will be fascinating to make those calls” in free agency, Connelly said. “If they say it’s about winning and the answer is about winning and they don’t talk to us, then I think it’s a disingenuous answer.”

The Nuggets definitely turned some heads throughout the regular season as they challenged Golden State down to the wire for the best mark in the West. They beat San Antonio in seven games in the first round before falling to the Trail Blazers.

“We sent a pretty loud message,” Malone said. “I think there were questions about our team all year long, for whatever reason: How legitimate are they? Are they really a No. 2 seed? Can they take their game into the playoffs with so many young guys that’ve never been there before?

“We answered so many questions about our team in the best way possible.”

NOTES: Malone said Jokic’s race horse, Dream Catcher, recently won a race in Serbia. “He made sure I knew about it, because the last race he won I was at,” Malone said. “I thought I was a good-luck charm but obviously I’m not.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors took Game 4 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, 120-102.

Things started off okay for Milwaukee but started to peter off as the hometown Toronto crowd got behind their Raptors. The bench continued to show up for Leonard’s squad, and it was Kyle Lowry dueling it out with Antetokounmpo in the first quarter.

Leonard scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, and perhaps his most impressive play of the night came early in the third quarter. Running a little two-man game with Marc Gasol, Leonard cut to the basket and wound up dunking all over the Milwaukee star.

Via Twitter:

Leonard appeared to hobble a little bit after his dunk, but he should be ready to go for Game 5 on a Thursday night. Meanwhile, the series heads back to Wisconsin all tied up at 2-2.

The victor of this series will get to take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.