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Boris Diaw turns around career with Spurs, but don’t call him rejuvenated

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boris Diaw was playing some of the worst basketball of his career in 2012 – when he was playing at all. Not even the Charlotte Bobcats, en route to the worst record in NBA history (7-59), deemed him worthy of minutes every game. Diaw looked out of shape and lethargic. As his production and conditioning worsened, the Bobcats finally, mercifully bought him out.

Two years later, Diaw was in the running for NBA Finals MVP with the Spurs.

Did San Antonio rejuvenate him?

“No!” Diaw snaps before breaking into a laugh.

“If I was rejuvenated,” Diaw says, “that means I got old at some point.”

Diaw certainly hasn’t looked over the hill with the Spurs, whom he signed with after his 2012 buyout. He has played in more wins (204) than anyone the last four years. His combination of points (1,270), rebounds (617) and assists (420) as a reserve in that span is unmatched.

And he has helped the Spurs to a 34-6 start and nine straight wins this season heading into their matchup with the Cavaliers tonight.

“He’s a really smart basketball player, probably one of the most intelligent players in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Draft buzz in 2003 called Diaw a 6-foot-9 point guard. Now, the Spurs list him as a 6-foot-8 center-forward. He has also played both wing positions during a 13-year that also included stops with the Hawks and Suns.

He has shown amazing athleticism. Yet, his weight – listed at 250 pounds – is a common concern.

And as he put it, “I’m at the same time very easy to coach and at the same time very hard to coach.”

Diaw was difficult to coach in Charlotte, where then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas ripped his effort and commitment. He was also difficult to coach in Atlanta, where he told isolation-favoring coach Mike Woodson he couldn’t play for him.

The common theme: Both coaches wanted Diaw to score more.

“I’m not that,” Diaw said. “I need teammates and good teammates. I need a system where the ball is moving, where it’s team basketball.”

Diaw said he has long recognized how much his team’s style affects him, but he can’t always control it. He fit with the Hawks, who drafted him No. 21 in 2003, until they fired Terry Stotts for Woodson. He clicked for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns, but then they replaced him with Terry Porter and traded him to Charlotte. There, Diaw meshed with Larry Brown before the Bobcats fired him and hired Silas.

So, Diaw knew what he wanted when he became a free agent in the spring of 2012: a team that shared the ball, was headed to the postseason and could become a long-term fit.

The Spurs just weren’t certain they wanted him.

Though Popovich declined to look back on Diaw’s Charlotte-to-San Antonio transition – “When did he play for Charlotte? Twenty years ago or something?” Popovich said. “It’s 2016” – Tony Parker remembers it well. The Spurs point guard, who grew up with Diaw in France, recalls Popovich and San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford asking about Diaw.

“Charlotte was saying stuff about him,” Parker said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been playing with him with the national team. There’s no way Boris is like that.'”

Parker’s message to Popovich and Buford: “We have to do it. He’s going to be perfect.”

In many ways, Diaw has been.

He appears to get along well with Popovich, and the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement suits him to a T. Diaw also  provides them with a versatility that creates mismatches.

Start with Diaw’s scoring ability.

Put a smaller player on him, and Diaw will post him up. Put a bigger player on him, and Diaw will take him to the perimeter. Guard him too closely there, and Diaw will drive to the basket. Too loosely, and he’ll shoot 3-pointers.

Diaw is the only player shooting 60% on both post-ups and drives (minimum 10 attempts of each). Here’s the field-goal percentages of all 90 qualifying players, Diaw represented by a black dot and everyone else gray:

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Player Team Post-ups Drives
Boris Diaw SAS 61% 63%
Kevin Durant OKC 63% 58%
Nikola Vucevic ORL 53% 61%
Blake Griffin LAC 43% 66%
Charlie Villanueva DAL 60% 49%
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 55% 52%
Andrew Nicholson ORL 50% 56%
Arron Afflalo NYK 59% 47%
Kawhi Leonard SAS 53% 52%
Chris Paul LAC 50% 55%
Shabazz Muhammad MIN 55% 50%
Kelly Olynyk BOS 57% 47%
Paul Millsap ATL 53% 49%
Jabari Parker MIL 53% 48%
Evan Turner BOS 46% 54%
Thaddeus Young BKN 50% 49%
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 47% 52%
Nikola Mirotic CHI 45% 54%
Carmelo Anthony NYK 45% 54%
Dwyane Wade MIA 45% 53%
Greg Monroe MIL 43% 55%
Shaun Livingston GSW 56% 42%
Mirza Teletovic PHX 44% 53%
Harrison Barnes GSW 52% 44%
Luol Deng MIA 44% 52%
Derrick Williams NYK 46% 50%
Marcus Morris DET 50% 45%
DeMar DeRozan TOR 43% 52%
Andrew Wiggins MIN 46% 48%
LeBron James CLE 43% 51%
Amir Johnson BOS 53% 40%
Brook Lopez BKN 48% 45%
Al Horford ATL 48% 44%
Russell Westbrook OKC 42% 49%
Danilo Gallinari DEN 53% 39%
David West SAS 51% 40%
Chris Bosh MIA 39% 51%
Lance Thomas NYK 50% 40%
Rudy Gay SAC 53% 37%
Kenneth Faried DEN 53% 37%
Zach Randolph MEM 43% 46%
DeMarcus Cousins SAC 44% 44%
Jared Sullinger BOS 42% 46%
Deron Williams DAL 39% 48%
Ryan Anderson NOP 47% 39%
Ersan Ilyasova DET 40% 46%
Mason Plumlee POR 53% 33%
James Harden HOU 38% 48%
Rodney Hood UTA 40% 46%
Josh Smith LAC 44% 42%
David Lee BOS 43% 43%
Joe Johnson BKN 40% 44%
Kyle Lowry TOR 38% 46%
Khris Middleton MIL 41% 43%
Pau Gasol CHI 40% 43%
Marvin Williams CHA 60% 23%
Jeff Green MEM 43% 40%
Jon Leuer PHX 40% 43%
Wesley Matthews DAL 35% 47%
Spencer Hawes CHA 41% 42%
Luis Scola TOR 45% 38%
Klay Thompson GSW 40% 42%
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 41% 40%
Kobe Bryant LAL 35% 45%
Jimmy Butler CHI 34% 46%
LaMarcus Aldridge SAS 47% 33%
Nerlens Noel PHI 39% 41%
Anthony Davis NOP 34% 46%
Nicolas Batum CHA 41% 36%
Derrick Favors UTA 45% 30%
Gordon Hayward UTA 31% 44%
Markieff Morris PHX 32% 42%
Gerald Henderson POR 33% 41%
Kevin Love CLE 53% 21%
Andre Drummond DET 41% 33%
Tobias Harris ORL 32% 40%
Stanley Johnson DET 36% 34%
Kristaps Porzingis NYK 39% 31%
Kevin Martin MIN 27% 42%
Terrence Jones HOU 42% 27%
Draymond Green GSW 28% 41%
Aaron Gordon ORL 25% 43%
Michael Carter-Williams MIL 21% 46%
Julius Randle LAL 30% 38%
PJ Tucker PHX 26% 40%
Marcus Smart BOS 30% 36%
Paul George IND 20% 46%
Frank Kaminsky CHA 33% 30%
Noah Vonleh POR 15% 38%
Metta World Peace LAL 8% 30%

The only other player in Diaw’s class is Kevin Durant.

Diaw’s 3-point shooting has also jumped to 38% after dipping last year. He’s shooting 37% from beyond the arc with the Spurs, more than enough to force defenses to account for him.

And scoring just scratches the surface of what Diaw brings to the table.

Whether he’s spotting up on the perimeter, driving to the hoop or posting up, Diaw is looking to pass. Thought he pre-draft evaluations were overblown, Diaw often resembles a point guard in a power forward’s body.

Diaw is a solid position defender. He helps on the glass, too.

All this adds up to a prime playoff contributor. Opponents will have a difficult time finding a weakness to exploit. Meanwhile, Diaw will create mismatches.

The Spurs – with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Parker – have the talent to compete with anyone. Diaw help them turn the style of any game to their favor.

That’s why Parker, who has played only for San Antonio and never even entered free agency, is so glad the Spurs listened to his recommendation. It’s telling that, when trying to clear cap space for Aldridge, San Antonio traded Tiago Splitter rather than Diaw.

Unlike most post-buyout free agents, Diaw wasn’t looking for just a few-month destination to finish the season in 2012. He wanted to find a long-term home, and it appears he has.

“Hopefully,” Parker said, “we can finish our careers together.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”