Archive for April, 2008

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.

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.

Apr. 29: Hornets 99, Mavs 94

The AP reports: Chris Paul had 24 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds, and the Hornets held on for a 99-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks to win their first-round series in five games… David West scored 25 points for New Orleans and Jannero Pargo had 17, while Tyson Chandler had 10 points and 14 rebounds… Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Devean George added 11 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas nearly pulled off an improbable comeback. The Mavs cut a 17-point deficit to three in the final seven minutes before Peja Stojakovic hit a pair of free throws to seal it with 5.7 seconds left. Tempers flared near the end, and Jerry Stackhouse was ejected for a second technical foul with 1:47 left after slapping the ball out of Paul’s hands during a stoppage in play, then getting in a face-to-face standoff with West. Dallas never led and was hurt badly by an 11-1 Hornets run after Nowitzki’s free throw had pulled the Mavs to 73-66 early in the fourth quarter. Dallas played solid defense on New Orleans’ next possession, keeping the ball on the perimeter, but Pargo hit a deflating 3 at the shot clock buzzer. Stat Notes: The Hornets shot 48.7%, the Mavs 42.7%. The Hornets nailed a fantastic 8-of-14 three-pointers (four guys had two each), the Mavs just 9-of-26 (Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Stackhouse combined for 1-of-11 threes). Rebounding and assists were close. Both teams controlled the ball well. For the Hornets, Chris Paul had 24 points, 11 rebounds, 15 assists (no turnovers!) and 2 steals. David West had 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Jannero Pargo (7-of-9) had 17 points and 3 rebounds. Peja Stojakovic shot just 2-of-12 for 11 points and 6 rebounds. Tyson Chandler had 10 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. For the Mavericks, Nowitzki shot just 8-of-21 for 22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks. Six other Mavs scored between 11 and 14 points. Jason Terry had 13 points with 9 assists. Jason Kidd had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists and no turnovers. Josh Howard had a modest 12 points with 9 rebounds and more turnovers than assists. Brandon Bass had 9 rebounds off the bench.

Mark Cuban denies having brush with fan

The Dallas Morning News reports: After Chris Paul tumbled into the baseline seats late in Game 4, he got into an exchange with a fan. Despite what some reports said, owner Mark Cuban did not have a brush with the fan. “He is a friend of mine,” Cuban said. “He wasn’t goading, nor was he trying to create a confrontation in talking to Paul. I was right there. When Paul fell in his lap, he said something, and Paul matched and bettered him with a comment of his own. [Referee Steve] Javie then came over and kicked out the fan.”

Cavs owner`s company has new partner

The Detroit News (Daniel Howes) reports: Quicken Loans Inc. Chairman Dan Gilbert’s “Detroit 2.0″ initiative is getting new help from an unlikely source — General Motors Corp. Matt Cullen, the 29-year GM veteran who personified its downtown redevelopment push at the Renaissance Center and the riverfront, is leaving the automaker to become president and chief operating officer of Rock Enterprises, a new holding company formed to coordinate and integrate Gilbert’s growing portfolio of companies and investments. The move comes amid fears that the widening scandal engulfing Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick could stall redevelopment and reverse Quicken’s decision to move its headquarters downtown from suburban Livonia. Hiring Cullen, who will spearhead Quicken’s Detroit development projects, is Gilbert’s watch-what-we-do rebuke to that kind of speculation.

Shaq supports Mike D’Antoni

The Arizona Republic (Paul Coro) reports: Suns players are trying to take the public heat off their coach, Mike D’Antoni. “I’ve been around a lot of guys, a lot of coaches,” Suns center Shaquille O’Neal said. “I think he’s the right guy. He really is. He’s an excellent, excellent man. He has a great relationship and a great rapport with the players. It’s our job to make him look good. They’ve been looking good the last few years before I got here. They just could never get over the hump but there are a lot of teams that have never got over the hump. “Mike D is the excellent guy for the job. Luckily, I’ve been on four championship teams with some great Hall of Fame coaches. I’ve got to put Mike D in that category. It’s never the coach. It’s always the players.”

Will Robinson passes away

The AP reports: Will Robinson, the first black basketball coach at a Division I school and a Detroit Pistons scout who discovered Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, died Monday. He was 96. Robinson died at a Detroit hospital, Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek said. Robinson had been sick for 15 months and in a nursing home for more than a year, Dobek added. Robinson broke a racial barrier in the 1970s when he coached Illinois State. He joined the Pistons as a scout in 1976, and the additions of Dumars and Rodman were keys to Detroit’s 1989 and 1990 NBA championships. Those teams were coached by Chuck Daly, who took the job after Robinson declined former general manager Jack McCloskey’s offer.

The Globe and Mail (Mike Grange) reports: One game after delivering his best postseason performance, Chris Bosh gave one of his worst. It didn’t matter, the results were the same. The team built around him, the Toronto Raptors, lost last night 102-92 to the Orlando Magic — and they also fell in their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series 4-1. It marked the end of a confounding season that started in preseason in Italy with high hopes and ended in Orlando with a heavy dose of NBA reality: The Raptors aren’t good enough. Bosh had a strong series, but a weak finish. His signature moment last night was a fade-away fourth-quarter jumper that he finished on his bum, the ball well short. At the other end it was the Magic’s young franchise player, Dwight Howard, gobbling up rebounds and dunking them home like something out of a Japanese monster movie, Bosh helpless to stop him. Bosh needs help, as this series has proven, more than previously thought. The Raptors’ other pillar — stellar point guard play — appeared shaky, too, as for the fourth time in five games the Magic’s Jameer Nelson was the best quarterback on the floor. His three-pointer with three minutes remaining left the crowd at the Amway Arena roaring and the Raptors down 10, with no sign of a pulse.

Pat Ewing to coach Magic summer squad

The Orlando Sentinel (Brian Schmitz) reports: Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing has accepted a head coaching job this offseason — coaching the Magic’s summer-league team in July. “You think that’s the only [head-coaching] job I can get?” laughed Ewing, the former New York Knicks star who has not been contacted about the Knicks’ opening. “Actually, I’m looking forward to coaching these guys this summer. It will be a good experience.”

Apr. 28: Lakers 107, Nuggets 101

The AP reports: The Denver Nuggets finally gave the Los Angeles Lakers a good fight. No surrender on this night. No frustration fouls filling up the fourth quarter of another blowout. No matter. The Lakers dispatched the tempestuous Nuggets anyway. Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 31 points over the final 5 1/2 minutes Monday night, leading the Lakers to a 107-101 victory and a sweep of their first-round series… Pau Gasol led the way early, scoring 18 first-half points, and Bryant took over in the waning minutes, scoring nine straight points in every way—a turnaround jumper, a 3-pointer, a driving layup and a 15-foot floater—to give the Lakers a 97-96 lead… Marcus Camby’s first points since the series shifted to Denver came on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 33 seconds left, cutting the Lakers’ lead to 103-101, but Gasol maneuvered underneath for a dunk, and Bryant added two free throws with 18 seconds left… The Nuggets couldn’t keep Los Angeles out of the lane for easy layups and dunks and they made the silly mistakes that the Lakers avoided, like the missed dunks by Nene and Anthony, who blew an alley-oop rim-rattler that bounced out of bounds at halfcourt in the third quarter. Stat Notes: The Lakers shot slightly better than the Nuggets from two-point range, and hit 8-of-22 threes while the Nuggets only made 4-of-21. The Lakers only hit 19-of-30 free throws; the Nuggets 19-of-24. The Nuggets had a slight rebounding edge. Assists were tied. For the Lakers, Bryant (12-of-24, 3-of-8 threes) had 31 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists (6 turnovers), 3 steals and 2 blocks. Gasol (7-of-15) had 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. Lamar Odom (5-of-11) had 14 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Vladimir Radmanovic took 13 shots for 12 points. For the Nuggets, J.R. Smith (7-of-12, 3-of-7 threes, 9-of-9 free throws) had 26 points, 3 assists and 2 steals off the bench. Allen Iverson took 22 shots for 22 points and little else. Carmelo Anthony (just 8-of-20) had 21 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Camby only scored 3 but grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. Anthony Carter shot 1-of-6 for 2 points and 6 assists.

Nene was absolutely awful in the final minute for the Nuggets in Game 4 against the Lakers. After a wide open Marcus Camby shot and made an unexpected three-pointer from the left corner, Nene was guarding Pau Gasol, and as Gasol was near the basket Nene, for no reason at all, started running away from him, leaving Gasol open to catch a pass and throw in an open dunk. A play later, Nene had the ball, up in three-point range, tried to hand the ball to J.R. Smith, but instead had it stolen right out of his hands by Kobe Bryant. During the turnover, Nene fouled Bryant, who made both free throws, putting the Lakers up 107-101 with 18 seconds left, essentially guaranteeing a Nuggets loss.

The final score was 107-101, and the Lakers win the first round series 4 games to 0.

First round playoff notes

April 28 notes on the 2008 NBA Playoffs:

- No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a playoff series.

- Eight teams have come back to win a series after falling behind 3-1. The most recent such comeback occurred in the 2006 postseason when the Phoenix Suns defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.

- Nineteen teams have recovered from 2-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven series, including two last postseason. The Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets 4-3 in their first round series after dropping the first two games, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Detroit Pistons 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals after falling behind 2-0.

- The Lakers, who can sweep the Denver Nuggets tonight in Game 4 (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), have forced Carmelo Anthony to shoot .353 (24-of-68) from the field during the first three games. Anthony shot .492 from the field during the regular season … Kobe Bryant became the first Nuggets opponent to score at least 30 points in consecutive playoff games since Utah’s Karl Malone did so during the Western Conference Semifinals in 1994. Allen Iverson became the first Nuggets player to score 30 or more points in consecutive playoff games since Alex English did so against Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals in 1988.

- The Orlando Magic, which owns a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Raptors, can close out its first series win since the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals tonight at home in Game 5 (7:30 pm. ET, NBA TV) … The Magic’s Dwight Howard has been a force on both ends of the court this series, averaging 23.0 points, 17.5 rebounds and four blocks. The last player to average at least 23 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks in a best-of-seven series was San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (24.2 ppg, 17.0 rpg, and 5.3 bpg) in the 2003 Finals.

- Atlanta Hawk rookie Al Horford, whose team is trailing the Boston Celtics 2-1 in their first-round series, is averaging 15.3 points, 11 rebounds and 3.7 assists through the first three games. The last rookie to average a double-double in a best-of-seven series was Memphis’ Drew Gooden (14.0 ppg, 12.7 rpg) in the first round of the 2003 playoffs. Game 4 is tonight in Atlanta (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

- The New Orleans Hornets defeated the Dallas Mavericks 97-84 yesterday to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. It marked the first time since January 1998, when they played in Charlotte, that the Hornets defeated the Mavericks on the road to snap a 14-game skid in Dallas. Game 5 is tomorrow in New Orleans (7 p.m. ET, TNT).

- The Detroit Pistons knotted their first-round series at 2-2 by defeating the Sixers in Philadelphia yesterday 93-84. Game 5 is tomorrow in Detroit (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV). All time in best-of-seven series that are tied 2-2, the home team is 103-36 in Game 5. The team that wins Game 5 has gone on to win 116 of 139 series (.835).

- NBA News

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