Songaila pops LeBron in the face

Late in the first quarter of Wednesday evening’s Wizards at Cavaliers Game 5 playoff game (Cavs lead series 3-1), LeBron James drove down the left baseline at the rim, guarded by Darius Songaila. Their arms got tangled, and LeBron went up to try to score, was aggressively holding Songaila off with his arm in what appeared to be totally legal fashion but his other arm and Songaila’s arm were entangled the whole time, and as LeBron landed and they untangled, Songaila, using his left hand side-arm back-handed Lebron in the face. It clearly seemed intentional.

It wasn’t a full-on punch, but it was like a clear back-hand to the face. He didn’t follow through, so I can’t call it a full back-handed pimp-slap. More like taking your hand and swinging the back of it right into someone’s face, and then pulling your hand back in the same direction it came from.

LeBron just took the jab and stayed backed away, not retaliating.

I thought Songaila should have been ejected, yet the refs just called a personal foul and a technical foul on him, which was surprising.

And during the discussions after the incident, DeShawn Stevenson and Anderson Varejao had a very minor disagreement, and the refs quickly slapped a double-tech on them. I hate that call. Neither player needed a tech called on them.

Kevin Durant to win Rookie of Year Thursday

Thursday morning at 11 a.m. PT the NBA will announce that Seattle Sonics swingman Kevin Durant has won the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

Atlanta forward Al Horford is expected to come in second in the final voting.

Durant showed improvement as the season progressed, and in the final month or so really looked like a star worth building around.

Had Horford been more of a scorer, along with his rebounding and solid, rugged play, he’d possibly have come away with the award.

Stan Van Gundy loves Pat Riley

Not in that way. Not that anything would be wrong with that. But Van Gundy does have great respect for Riley.

The Orlando Sentinel (Mike Bianchi) reports: When I ask Stan Van Gundy why he has never spoken an ill word about Pat Riley or the Heat despite the mysterious way he resigned as coach in 2005, Van Gundy looks at me in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?” Van Gundy says. “Why would I ever speak an ill word of Pat Riley? I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you today if it wasn’t for Pat Riley. My life, especially my professional life, is incredible because of what Pat Riley did for me. I was a fired college coach who was getting turned down for interviews at Division II schools. “Pat Riley rescued me from that and gave me a chance to come to the NBA. He then moved me up his staff and gave me a chance to be a head coach. There’s nothing I’ve learned in the NBA that I didn’t learn from Pat Riley or my brother [Jeff].”

Raptors have summer work to do

The Toronto Star (Doug Smith) reports: Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo’s job this summer goes far beyond replacing a coach with three years left on his deal. The GM has to deal with what looks to be an untenable point guard situation, in which T.J. Ford continues to assert his need to start while Jose Calderon is likely to be signed to a long-term contract in early July. Colangelo conceded yesterday “point guard play is our biggest Achilles’ heel” but refused to speculate on what might happen. Calling the just-finished season “a disappointment,” the GM said the team’s needs are hardly a secret. The Raptors didn’t defend well enough, didn’t rebound well enough, weren’t athletic enough and didn’t have the necessary parts to ease the load on their best player. “This is the sum of it all: we need to get some more help for Chris Bosh,” he said. “Whether it’s protecting him inside in the paint, getting a little bit more of a presence in there, to just getting him another scorer that’s going to shoulder some of that burden, it’s something that’s clear we have to get better.”

Did Avery Johnson deserve to be fired?

The Mavericks fired coach Avery Johnson today, just half a day after the team got eliminated in the first round by a better squad, the New Orleans Hornets.

The Dallas Morning News (Eddie Sefko) reports: Johnson, who took over the Mavericks’ coaching job with 18 games left in the 2004-05 season, had been the subject of strong speculation late in the regular season and during the first-round playoff loss to New Orleans. Three playoff disappointments, including the 4-1 loss to New Orleans that the Hornets finished off Tuesday, and a loss of control of the team by Johnson convinced Cuban to make the move. Several curious comments and actions preceded Johnson’s dismissal. He had a loud outburst with Cuban after a game in March, a confrontation that was audible to staff members throughout the Mavericks’ offices. Early in the playoffs, Johnson took full responsibility for his team’s missed free throws and other physical errors. Clearly, that was a thinly veiled criticism of the players. Then, on Monday, after Johnson canceled a practice, the players decided to practice on their own, which angered Johnson.

Andrew Bogut hanging out in Croatia

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Charles F. Gardner) blogged the following: Andrew Bogut is enjoying some vacation time in Croatia, where he is visiting family and friends after the long National Basketball Association season. But it’s fair to say the Bucks center is keeping up with current events. Bogut had this reaction to the hiring of former Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles as the Bucks’ new coach: “I’m very excited about coach; I know he will be tough,” the Australian wrote in an e-mail response. “I think he will be the leader we need to set things straight and hold everyone accountable.” … “My second half of the year was great,” Bogut said in a season-ending interview. “My first half was definitely disappointing. I think my second half, I forgot about all the off-court distractions and all the things that were bothering me my first two years. “I just went out there and played hard. Obviously, you’re going to have bad games. You probably have five or 10 bad games in an NBA season. If I can limit it to five next year, I’ll be very happy with that. These last 20 games, it was tough going out there, knowing the games were kind of pointless in a way. I used these as motivation to prove myself, that I could definitely be a focal point of the offense and be a team guy first.”

Larry Brown expected to be demanding

On new Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown: The Charlotte Observer (Rick Bonnell) reports: Brown was named the franchise’s coach, replacing Sam Vincent. He’ll be demanding, meticulous and relentless. And something else not quite so appealing. “I’m nuts,” Brown joked, or at least half-joked. Brown has spent the past three decades in compulsive pursuit of coaching perfection. He’s uncompromising in that regard, which helps explain why this is his 12th stop between the pros and college ball. Sooner or later he exasperates the players or the players exasperate him. The joke around the NBA is he makes you better, he makes you crazy, then he makes his exit. Former Duke player Billy King worked for Brown with the Indiana Pacers (assistant coach) and Philadelphia 76ers (defacto general manager). King says it’s lost sometimes in the melodrama what a great teacher Brown is. “He demands that they play the correct way all the time. Down 20, up 20, you still have to play the right way,” King said. “Most pro coaches don’t do that. But Larry will keep coaching, keep teaching, up 30 with the subs on the floor.”

Apr. 29: Rockets 95, Jazz 69

The AP reports: The Houston Rockets didn’t need a big fourth quarter from Tracy McGrady to stay alive in their playoff series with Utah. McGrady scored 29 points and got plenty of help, and the Rockets staved off elimination Tuesday night by routing the Jazz 95-69 in Game 5 of their first-round series. Luis Scola added 18 points and 12 rebounds, Rafer Alston scored 14 points and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 10 rebounds as the Rockets cut their series deficit to 3-2 and forced Game 6 in Utah on Friday night… The Jazz, meanwhile, endured their worst offensive performance of the season, setting a season-low point total by eight. They shot 36.5 percent (27-of-74), went 2-for-9 from 3-point range and 13-for-23 from the free throw line. They also committed 18 turnovers and were outrebounded 46-38… Carlos Boozer led Utah with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Deron Williams had 13 points and six assists… The Rockets used a 12-0 run to stretch their lead to 70-48. McGrady swished a jumper over Matt Harpring with eight seconds left in the third quarter to put Houston up 74-55. Harpring stepped out of bounds at the other end, a fitting end to another dismal quarter for Utah.

Apr. 29: Spurs 92, Suns 87

The AP reports: The Spurs dispatched the Suns with a 92-87 Game 5 victory Tuesday in what has become almost a postseason ritual for the defending champions… Tim Duncan had 29 points and 17 rebounds and Tony Parker scored 31 points for San Antonio. They were the only Spurs to score in the double digits. Boris Diaw, who had a near triple-double in the Suns’ rout of the Spurs in Game 4, led the Suns with 22 points. Amare Stoudemire had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Shaquille O’Neal added 13 points… Five Suns players scored in double figures and they outshot the Spurs from the field, but they had a number of costly turnovers down the stretch… Nash had three of the Suns’ seven fourth-quarter turnovers and finished with only three assists… The Spurs outscored the Suns 23-15 in the fourth quarter, led by nine points apiece from Duncan and Parker… Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had his players intentionally foul O’Neal, a 52 percent career free-throw shooter, throughout the game. He finished 9-of-20 from the line, dropping the Suns to 20-of-37 total on free throws.

Apr. 29: Pistons 98, Sixers 81

The AP reports: Chauncey Billups scored 21 points, Richard Hamilton had 20 and Rasheed Wallace added 19 to lift Detroit to a 98-81 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday night and a 3-2 lead in the first-round series… Andre Iguodala scored a career playoff-high 21 points, finally putting together a night that resembled his play in the regular season… Iguodala didn’t have much help. None of his teammates reached double figures until Andre Miller in the third quarter, but that was after the point guard missed nine shots in a row in the first half when the game was relatively close… Billups had a series high in points (21) and assists (12). Wallace had six blocks, one short of the playoff franchise record he matched in Game 1. Jason Maxiell had a career playoff-high 11 rebounds, starting for Antonio McDyess, who is playing with a broken nose. Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince finished with 17 points, giving the balanced team a fourth option offensively. Miller finished with 13 points and reserve Louis Williams scored 16.