Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Lance Stephenson: Pacers missing ‘never-bow-down-to-anyone’ mentality, but I can help

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lance Stephenson realized long ago that it was a mistake to leave the Indiana Pacers.

So when Larry Bird called with an offer to come back and jump-start his career, the tough, 26-year-old guard shed tears of joy.

On Friday, about 24 hours after the Pacers made the signing official and Paul George welcomed him home with a text message, Stephenson returned to his old stomping grounds, looking for ways to help the Pacers make yet another playoff run.

“I was in New York rehabbing. I was like: `Man, I keep getting hurt. I guess I’ll worry about next year,”‘ Stephenson said. “When I got the call, I said: `Are you kidding? The Indiana Pacers? I’m going home.”

Plenty has changed since Stephenson last wore an Indiana uniform in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

George and Lavoy Allen are the only other players still around from that team.

Stephenson’s familiar No. 1 jersey is now being worn by Kevin Seraphin, so Stephenson will switch to No. 6.

And instead of fighting for the top seed, the Pacers are struggling just to make the postseason.

They started Friday tied with Miami for seventh in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of Chicago with seven to play. Indiana was scheduled to visit Toronto Friday night.

The Bulls have an easier schedule over the final stretch, the Heat own the tiebreaker over Indiana and the Pacers are still down two key backups – center Al Jefferson and forward Glenn Robinson III. A sprained left ankle is expected to keep Jefferson out until the final week of the regular season. Robinson could return next week from a strained left calf.

And as Stephenson has watched from afar, he thinks he can help Indiana turn things around with a new attitude.

“I think the thing they’re missing is that energy and that never bow-down-to-anyone (mentality),” he said.

That was certainly a trademark of Stephenson’s first stint in Indy.

The question is how long will it take him to make an impact this time?

He’s fought through injuries all season, and after brief stops in New Orleans and Minnesota, Stephenson figured his fate this season would be measured in 10-day contracts.

Instead, Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations offered him a three-year deal – the first two guaranteed, the third a team option. It was too good to refuse.

“He’s probably the only guy who believed in my game,” Stephenson said. “He always pushed me, he always challenged me. To have that guy behind you is incredible.”

Stephenson insists he has changed since leaving, too.

He’s sporting a beard and the family members that lived with him in Indianapolis before now live in Las Vegas.

And after playing for five teams in less than three seasons, Stephenson said he has learned more about basketball, himself and how to be a better leader. Heck, he even laughed off a question about a possible rematch with LeBron James on Sunday in Cleveland, declining to answer a question that rekindled images of Stephenson blowing in James’ ear during the 2014 conference finals.

But the Pacers brought back the 6-foot-5 guard for one reason: They want Stephenson to play with the same, old passion that made him a fan favorite the first time around.

“I think I can help these guys on the defensive end, and bring that tough edge about bowing down to no one,” he said. “I’ve got this year and next year, so I’ve got a lot of time to prove myself and show that I can get back to where I was.”

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

AP
2 Comments

Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

Getty
2 Comments

Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

6 Comments

Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

Leave a comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.