Archive for May, 2011

By Scott Spangler

For only the second time since 1997, neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Los Angeles Lakers will be taking part in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, two cities separated by about 200 miles will host said festivities. Oklahoma City is about a 3-hour drive from Dallas, right up I-35. But when comparing the makeup of the two clubs, the proximity is more like worlds apart.

Dirk Diggler

The Mavericks have been here before. During the Dirk Nowitzki era, Dallas has reached the WCF in 2003 and 2006. Rick Carlisle is an experienced coach with a veteran roster – Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, and so on. These are guys with a ton of playoff experience.

Since the move from Seattle, this would be new territory for the Thunder. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 22 years-old – either would represent the youngest player on Dallas’ active roster. What’s more, two other key members of Ok City’s rotation, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, are even greener.

Youth, to this point, has not been a problem for Scott Brooks’ club. Granted, Denver and Memphis aren’t exactly battle-tested. Still, to make the conference finals means you’ve won two rounds. And while some folks might feel coming off a seven-game series could be a disadvantage to the Thunder, it might also serve them going forward in terms of experience in an elimination environment.  Could that benefit OKC so soon? Tough to say.

Neither team has an answer for the opposing superstar. Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki will get theirs. Russell Westbrook could be a real problem for Dallas, though he only shot 32 percent against the Mavs this season. Still, no matchup is more favorable for either club than what the Thunder have at the point. The Mavs must rely on the type of team defense that helped contain Kobe Bryant. Westbrook is, to this point, the most dynamic playmaker Dallas has seen this postseason.

The bigs for these teams should provide steady interior presence and rebounding. Tyson Chandler and Kendrick Perkins have certainly made big splashes with their new clubs. Both are coming off tough second-round assignments. Perkins was dealing with Marc Gasol, Chandler with Andrew Bynum. Since neither center poses much of an offensive threat, these two will working away from one another and helping teammates more defensively.

Dallas is, without a doubt, the deeper team.  If Oklahoma City has any hope of making the Finals, slowing down Jason Terry is essential. James Harden must, at the very least, play his sixth man counterpart to a standstill. Continuing down the bench, we look for the Eric Maynor/J.J. Barea minutes to be an area of focus. The Lakers found out firsthand the damage Barea could inflict coming off high screens.

Dallas last played eight days ago, blowing away the Lakers on Mother’s Day. Since then, Oklahoma City has played three games, including one triple-overtime affair.  In certain cases, there could be a rest-versus-rust debate. Not here. The arrow may be pointing in different directions for these two franchises, but OKC will have to wait a little longer.

Again, the Mavs are an experienced bunch. They have been watching the Thunder/Grizzlies along with the rest of us. The rest should be what the doctor ordered for Dallas. I like the Mavericks to win this series in six games and advance to the NBA Finals.

Fans are discussing the upcoming series in this forum topic.

The Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat Sunday to take Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals series. Here’s some of what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to the media after the loss:

Erik Spoelstra: So we’re obviously very disappointed about last night’s performance. We have to come in the next two days and try to fix some of the things that gave us problems. We all know obviously the effort plays, the secondchance opportunities — all those things really deflated our focus and our concentration and effort there in the second half. With all that said, and with all the evaluations about the game, we are still in a position to take control with a win on Wednesday. And this whole series will be about enduring and how long can you endure through the physical grind, but just as importantly, the mental grind, because it’s two very competitive physical teams.

Question: Udonis Haslem is the kind of guy, it would seem, if healthy, to offer exactly what you would need with hustle and rebounding and movement. Is he in a position to offer that, or is that simply not an option for you at this stage?

Spoelstra: It’s an option. I’ll evaluate everything. The reality is a lot of the rebound, secondchance effort plays were with our main guys on the court. And it’s something we can do much better. We’re a very good rebounding team. We’ve proven that all season long. We’ve got to revert back to our habits. And sometimes it’s the little things, finishing off your defense, the next rotation to block out, and just as important, finishing the offensive rebound possessions. They had five big threepointers after an offensive rebound that we could have gotten to shooters and make an extra effort. We weren’t able to do that.

Question: Similarly, Mike Miller is also another hustle kind of player. Very good rebounder, but also limited. Is he a guy who has the skill set that can help, or is he simply not in shape enough to be an impact player?

Spoelstra: He’s ready. All these things we’ll look at. We want to do it better as a group, and everybody that’s out there can do a better job of it.

Question: Two of your centers, Zydrunas and Dampier, are inactive. They offer a lot of size. Is that something you may need to rethink?

Spoelstra: I’ll evaluate everything. We could do normally much better than we did last night.

Question: Do you prefer to play sooner, or are you glad to have the two days off?

Spoelstra: Like I said in the previous series, you probably would rather get going. But that’s not the schedule we’ve been dealt. So we have to deal with it. And we can use the days to prep and work on some of these things.

Celtics sign coach Doc Rivers to extension

The Boston Celtics announced today that they have extended the contract of Head Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Multiple reports over the last week said the deal was for five years and around $35 million.

“We are extremely happy to have Doc at the helm of the franchise for the foreseeable future and we firmly believe that he is the best coach in the NBA,” said Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations.

Rivers is currently ranked third in Celtics history among coaching wins trailing on Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn.  Rivers has amassed a record of 336-238 (.585) in his seven years with the club and accomplished his 500th career coaching win earlier this season against the New Orleans Hornets (March 19, 2011).  In his time with the Celtics, Rivers has been honored by coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars twice (2008, 2011), has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month six times and guided the Celtics to their 17th NBA Championship.  He also was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year when he was in Orlando for his work during the 1999-2000 season.

“This is where I want to be,” said Celtics Head Coach, Doc Rivers. “This is where I should be. I have a great partnership with Danny and the ownership group. We are all dedicated to win.”

“Doc is a true Celtic and is one of the finest people I’ve had the privilege to work with,” said Wyc Grousbeck, Celtics Managing Partner and Co-Owner.

The AP reports:

Russian tycoon and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov says his decision to head a pro-Kremlin political party was an “uneasy” one.

Prokhorov said Monday he would head the Just Cause party - what he later called in televised remarks “an uneasy and somewhat surprising decision.”

Just Cause hopes to win legislature seats in December parliamentary elections.

Reuters reports:

A Russian billionaire declared on Monday he sought to lead a party backing a second term for President Dmitry Medvedev, a move that could undermine an unwritten rule that tycoons stay out of politics.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, expected by many to run for president again in elections next year, cracked down on powerful “oligarchs” during his eight years in the Kremlin. Oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was stripped of his fortune and imprisoned. Others have left the country.

Mikhail Prokhorov, one of those who has made his peace with the Kremlin, said on Monday he hoped to lead Right Cause, a party with a mainly middle-class constituency which supports a liberal free market economy. It has no seats in parliament and was formed only two years ago.

The AP reports:

Bulls take Game 1 from Heat with 103-82 rout

Derrick Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng contained LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls struck first in the Eastern Conference finals, pulling away to beat the Miami Heat 103-82 in Game 1 on Sunday night…

Rose settled down after committing three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all…

Luol Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals, seven rebounds and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting…

Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joakim Noah had 14 rebounds and the Bulls pounded the Heat on the glass, 45-33, grabbing 19 on the offensive end while outscoring them 31-8 on second-chance points…

Chris Bosh led Miami with 30 points and nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade scored 18 points, but the Heat simply were overmatched down the stretch…

The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third when the Bulls made their move, reeling off 10 straight and seizing the momentum.

Rose and Bogans started it by nailing 3-pointers. A steal by Bogans against Wade led to two free throws by Rose after he got knocked to the floor going for a fast-break layup.

The AP reports:

Durant, Thunder beat Grizzlies to reach West finals

Kevin Durant scored 39 points for his best offensive outing of the series, Russell Westbrook had his first playoff triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 105-90 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 on Sunday…

“Durant is a special player, one of the best players in the NBA,” said Memphis star Zach Randolph, who was limited to an inefficient 17 points and 10 rebounds…

Westbrook, criticized throughout the playoffs for taking too many shots, was at his all-around best with 14 points, matching his season-high with 14 assists and producing extra possessions with 10 rebounds. It was only the fifth triple-double in a Game 7, according to information provided to the team by the Elias Sports Bureau. Larry Bird, Jerry West, James Worthy and Scottie Pippen also accomplished the feat…

Mike Conley scored 18 points to lead Memphis, which had never won a playoff game before this year and made a bid to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the West finals…

James Harden added four 3-pointers and 17 points for Oklahoma City, and Nick Collison had 12 rebounds.

O.J. Mayo scored 14 for Memphis but couldn’t provide the same amount of room for Randolph as he did after moving into the starting lineup in Game 6.

Dan Barry of the New York Times reports:

Last month, in a Midtown office adorned with sports memorabilia, two longtime friends met for a private talk. David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, sipped his morning coffee, expecting to be asked for career advice. Across from him sat Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had come to New York not to discuss careers, but to say, finally, I am gay.

In many work environments, this would qualify as a so-what moment. But until now, Mr. Welts, 58, who has spent 40 years in sports, rising from ball boy to N.B.A. executive to team president, had not felt comfortable enough in his chosen field to be open about his sexuality. His eyes welling at times, he also said that he planned to go public.

By this point, Mr. Welts had already traveled to Seattle to share his news with another friend, Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players ever and the recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had also met with Val Ackerman, the founding president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, in New York, and would soon be lunching in Phoenix with Steve Nash, the point guard and leader of the Suns and twice the N.B.A.’s most valuable player…

Growing up in Seattle, he was the industrious kid who landed a coveted job with the SuperSonics basketball team, first as a ball boy, then as an assistant trainer. By the time he went to the University of Washington, he had enough good-will clout to have Lenny Wilkens, then the coach of the Sonics, visit his fraternity for a chat.

But for all the fraternal respect this earned him, Mr. Welts felt isolated. What little he knew of gay culture was stereotypical, and unappealing, he recalled. “In my mind, it was effeminate: a way that I would not define as masculine.”

His growing responsibilities with the Sonics allowed him to miss class dances and other awkward obligations, but even alone, he felt out of place. Late one night, he walked two miles to slip a long confessional letter under the door of a young minister at his family’s church, but the well-intentioned minister could not help him. So he resigned himself to adapt, in private.

The AP reports:

Charles Oakley sues Las Vegas resort over `beat down`

Charles Oakley, one of the NBA’s all-time tough guys and now a Charlotte Bobcats assistant, has sued a Las Vegas resort over what he calls a May 2010 “gang-style beat down” by security guards who injured him.

Oakley filed the lawsuit Thursday in Clark County District Court against the Aria hotel-casino at MGM Resorts International’s CityCenter complex, the Las Vegas Sun reported. Five security officers also were named in the lawsuit.

Oakley was an invited guest at Aria’s VIP pool area May 28 when he left the area, the complaint says, but security officers and staff prevented him from re-entering.

After a “verbal altercation” with officers, Oakley attempted to return to his room when he was “assaulted” by them in a secluded area of the resort, the lawsuit alleges.

Read fan reaction and discuss your own opinion in this forum topic.

There have been some wild rumors flowing from all sorts of interesting directions about Pau Gasol and some alleged trouble with his girlfriend.

shannon brown

The latest has been squashed by Lakers teammate, guard Shannon Brown on his verified Twitter account late Saturday night.

Brown announced the following: “”Ok let me put a end to this right now before it goes any further. I DID NOT SLEEP WITH @paugasol woman!!! First and last time addressing it!”

So, there you have it.

Brown coming out and admitting this has inspired me to also admit that I have not slept with Gasol’s woman, either. It’s true. In fact, I’ve never even met her.

Wild fan discussion of this latest item is in this forum topic.

Sam Young car stolen during ATM visit

WMC TV reports:

Sam Young car stolen during ATM visit

According to a Memphis Police report, Sam Young’s Chevy Camaro was stolen while he visited a walk-up ATM at South Main and Peabody Place.  Witnesses saw a man with dreads drive away.

Police say the car thief might not have “scored” if Young had not left his car running.

Fortunately for Young, GM vehicles like his come equipped with the On-Star communications and security system.  Police used it to track Young’s Camaro to the 1400 block of Breedlove in North Memphis.  It was found unoccupied before being returned to the basketball star.

Grizzlies beat Thunder 95-83 in Game 6

The AP reports:

Grizzlies push Thunder back to OKC for Game 7

The Memphis Grizzlies may have finally figured out how to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder from smothering Zach Randolph.

O.J. Mayo moved back into the starting lineup, and his scoring threat from the outside gave Randolph enough room to score 30 points and grab 13 rebounds Friday night as the Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Thunder 95-83 to push their Western Conference semifinal to a deciding Game 7…

Mayo moved from the starting lineup to the bench at the start of January, though he did start the final two games of the regular season with the Grizzlies resting for the postseason. But the Thunder had held Randolph to 31.9 percent shooting since he scored 34 points in Game 1 of this series, so Memphis coach Lionel Hollins started Mayo in place of Sam Young…

Mayo scored 16 points for Memphis. Conley had 11 points and a franchise playoff-record 12 assists, and Tony Allen added 10 points. Now the Grizzlies are 5-1 on their home court this postseason, this win celebrated by sellout crowd that stood the entire second half cheering to keep this stunning run going at least one more game…

Memphis outscored the Thunder 51-29 in the second half and 46-38 in the paint overall.

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 27 points, and James Harden had 14. Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer in the regular season, was held to a season-worst 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. It was his lowest scoring game since he had six points in eight minutes Feb. 27, 2009, at Dallas.

Live fan discussion of the game took place in this forum topic.

The AP reports:

Doc Rivers agrees to five-year contract extension with Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was approaching his postseason news conference when his cell phone rang.

He smiled and told reporters it was from his new coach, then ducked into the nearby workout room to take the call. But he was only half-joking: It was Doc Rivers calling, and he had just agreed to a five-year contract extension that would not only give him another run at a title with the current roster but keep him in Boston to help rebuild the franchise when the Big Three era is done…

Rivers contract was set to expire - he had an option for next season - and he said after the Celtics were eliminated by the Miami Heat on Wednesday night that he was “leaning heavily” toward coming back. But he was expected to return on a short-term deal to make one more run at a title with the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Instead, the five-year contract worth a reported $35 million would give him the chance to lead the franchise with a rebuilt roster that probably won’t include any of the thirtysomething stars who led Boston to its 18th NBA title - and Rivers’ first - in 2008.

Mavs have newfound phenomenal foursome

There is some rhyme and reason as to why the Dallas Mavericks are even hotter in the NBA playoffs than they were during the regular season. It has something to do with several of the best players on the team actually getting to be on the floor together, healthy and happy. Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas reports:

Dirk Mavs forward

A quartet that got minimal burn together during the regular season has been a major key to the Mavericks’ playoff run.

The foursome of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and J.J. Barea has already played more minutes in the playoffs than it did the entire regular season. And the results have been remarkable.

That group with Brendan Haywood is the second-most used lineup by the Mavs this postseason, putting up a net rating (points per 100 possessions) of plus 28.54, according to NBA.com’s Stats Cube. The net rating with Tyson Chandler manning the middle with that quartet in the playoffs is plus 29.87.

On the rare occasions that quartet played during the regular season, it was actually most effective with Ian Mahinmi at center. That lineup had a net rating of plus 55.70 in 47 minutes. It was a mediocre lineup with Haywood in the regular season (minus 0.14 in 41 minutes) and didn’t play a second with Chandler at center until the playoffs.

The Mavs continue to sit waiting for the winner of the Thunder-Grizzlies series. Oklahoma City leads Memphis 3-2, with Game 6 coming tonight.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

“Day by day, I’m getting better. I felt great,’’ Boozer said, sounding like a guy who was getting close to 100 percent on the health front. “The 15-, 17-footer was there and I just shot it.’’

As far as the Big Three facing off against the Big Two, Boozer wasn’t getting caught up in that.

“All of us have to do our jobs,’’ Boozer said. “We’ve been a team all year long. It’s not a one-man show, but our one man [Rose] is pretty good. We rely on everybody.’’

Give Boozer credit. Even with the game, over he did have one more shot to take, and it wasn’t with a ball in his hand.

Asked about facing Miami’s Big Three, he responded, “They have two great players in D. Wade and LeBron. We look forward to the challenge.’’

No mention of Bosh?

There it was, one more body blow.

Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area reports:

Warriors reach out to Lakers assistant Brian Shaw

The Warriors have officially reached out to Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw about their head coaching opening, CSN Bay Area has learned.

According to two league sources, the Warriors called Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak earlier this week and asked for permission to talk to Shaw, the lead assistant to Phil Jackson.

Shaw, an Oakland native, is considered a leading candidate to succeed Jackson, who retired this week after the Lakers were swept in the Western Conference semifinals by Dallas.

At the same time, the Lakers’ front office has indicated it will interview other candidates, too. Shaw is under contract with the Lakers until June 30, but they have given him the OK to interview with other NBA teams.

Shaw interviewed last offseason with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but decided to return to the Lakers. He also interviewed for the Chicago Bulls’ heading coaching position in 2008, a job that went to Vinny Del Negro.

Shaw is considered among the best of an assistant coaching crop that also includes: San Antonio’s Mike Budenholzer, Dallas’ Dwane Casey, Boston’s Lawrence Frank and New Orleans’ Mike Malone.

Pacers increase season ticket prices

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reports:

The Indiana Pacers are increasing their ticket prices for the first time in five years.

The Pacers are offering full- and half-season packages and taking deposits on 11-game packages for the 2011-12 season at rates that are about 9 percent higher than this season.

Single-game ticket prices have yet to be determined.

“The ticket packages we’re selling today are higher than last year’s packages, but they’re still less than what they were five years ago,” said Rick Fuson, Pacers Sports & Entertainment chief operations officer.

Yao Ming sues Chinese sportswear maker

Reuters reports:

Yao Ming sues Chinese sportswear maker

China’s NBA all-star Yao Ming has sued a Chinese sportswear maker over alleged name and image infringements, local media reported Friday.

The towering Houston Rockets center has filed a lawsuit against the company for using the label “Yao Ming Era” on its shoes without his consent, Yao’s management said.

Lu Hao claimed the sports maker also used Yao’s signature and portrait on their products while promoting them across the country.

Bulls eliminate Hawks in six games

The AP reports:

carlos boozer

Carlos Boozer scored 23 points, Derrick Rose doled out 12 assists in more of a supporting role and the Bulls cruised past the Atlanta Hawks 93-73 on Thursday night, wrapping up the East semifinal in six games…

As if to prove his point, Rose took a playoff-low 14 shots and finished with 19 points, his second-lowest total of the postseason. This was a textbook performance by the guys around him, each of them comfortable in a supporting role, each of them willing to do the dirty work at the defensive end.

The most impressive number: Chicago had assists on all but seven of its 41 baskets. Or, come to think of it, maybe it was this stat: The Hawks shot just 37 percent (27 of 74) and rarely got an open look…

Luol Deng hit some big baskets early and finished with 13 points, plus five steals. Joakim Noah scored 11 and stifled the Hawks with three blocks. Omer Asik chipped in with two swats of his own. Keith Bogans made only one basket, but it was a big 3-pointer as the Bulls put it away in the third quarter…

“What goes underrated about them is the depth of their team,” said Atlanta’s Al Horford, who had a miserable night and a tough series overall. “They just wear on you. They just kept coming, kept coming every game. It seemed like their starters were fresh.” …

Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 19 points. Josh Smith was the only other player in double figures with 18. The Hawks went 1-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc.

InsideHoops.com notes: Jeff Teague hurt his wrist and finished the game with just four points (2-of-6 shooting) and three assists… Al Horford, playing power forward, was awful and shot 2-of-10 for seven points and four rebounds in 37 minutes… The Bulls dished 34 assists. The Hawks had just 14… Like the Hawks, the Bulls were lousy from three-point range. But Chicago shot 53.2% overall from the field, while the Hawks hit just 36.5% of their shots… The Bulls barely went to the free throw line, hitting 8-of-10.

Live fan discussion of the game took place in this forum topic.

Thursday night in Atlanta the Chicago Bulls eliminated the Hawks in six games. Winners of an NBA-best 62 regular season games, the Bulls now advance to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals where they will face the Miami Heat (who won 58 regular season games).

To reach the Conference Finals, the Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics in five games.

Here is the complete series schedule (all times Eastern / ET)

Game 1 - Sun May 15 Miami at Chicago 8:00PM TNT/R
Game 2 - Wed May 18 Miami at Chicago 8:30PM TNT/R
Game 3 - Sun May 22 Chicago at Miami 8:30PM TNT/R
Game 4 - Tue May 24 Chicago at Miami 8:30PM TNT/R
Game 5 * Thu May 26 Miami at Chicago 8:30PM TNT/R
Game 6 * Sat May 28 Chicago at Miami 8:30PM TNT/R
Game 7 * Mon May 30 Miami at Chicago 8:30PM TNT/R

Discuss the upcoming Heat vs Bulls series in this forum topic.

A tragedy in the Chicago sports media world has developed.

WGN News reports:

A sportscaster for NBC 5 Chicago was found dead in a hotel room this morning in Atlanta.

Daryl Hawks was covering the NBA playoff game between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, in Atlanta.

NBC Chicago reports:

“We are all stunned right now. Daryl was a great member of our sports team, and was so excited about covering the Bulls during this playoff run,” said Frank Whittaker, Station Manager and Vice President of News.

Hawks was 38 years old.  He was a three-time Emmy Winner and former Marine.

We’re sorry for Daryl’s friends, family as well as his station and co-workers.

Read fan reaction and share your own opinion in this forum topic.

Basketball blog