Thunder reach West Conference Finals

The Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the 2016 Western Conference Finals after defeating the San Antonio Spurs, 113-99, Thursday night, winning the second-round series 4-2. The third-seeded Thunder will now play the first-seeded Golden State Warriors in Oklahoma City’s fourth Western Conference Finals appearance in the past six seasons.

The Thunder and Warriors will face off starting on Monday, May 16, in Oakland at 8 p.m. (CT) followed by Game 2 on Wednesday, May 18, at 8 p.m. (CT) at Oracle Arena.

The series will then shift to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 will take place on Sunday, May 22, at 7 p.m. (CT) and Game 4 on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. (CT) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. If necessary, Games 5, 6, and 7 will be played at alternating sites beginning with a road contest on Thursday, May 26, followed by Game 6 in Oklahoma City on Saturday, May 28, and concluding with Game 7 in Oakland on Monday, May 30. The game times for Games 5, 6 and 7 will all be 8 p.m. (CT).

The defending champion Warriors will be considered the favorites in the series, but OKC poses a very respectable threat. And from an entertainment perspective, the point guard matchup of Russell Westbrook versus Stephen Curry makes the series must-watch. Kevin Durant against anybody is also top-notch viewing. It’ll be interesting to see who Golden State sticks on Durant. It could be Harrison Barnes for some stretches but Draymond Green for others. Like the point guard matchup, Green against Durant would also be must-watch — at least when Durant’s the guy with the ball.

We’ll of course post more on the series this weekend.

DeMarre Carroll day-to-day with wrist injury

The Toronto Raptors announced Thursday tests taken following Wednesday’s game on forward DeMarre Carroll’s left wrist were negative. Carroll left Game 5 versus Miami in the third quarter with a left wrist contusion.

He will be treated symptomatically and is questionable for Game 6 on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Carroll has averaged 9.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 31.5 minutes in 12 playoff games this season. In five games versus the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, he has averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 35.7 minutes in five contests.

Scott Skiles resigns as Magic coach

Scott Skiles resigns as Magic coach

Scott Skiles has resigned as head coach of the Orlando Magic, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today. The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I and I alone, have come to the conclusion that I am not the right head coach for this team,” said Skiles. “Therefore, effective immediately, I resign my position as head coach of the Orlando Magic. I realize this type of decision can cause much speculation. The reality though is in the first sentence. It is simple and true. Any other rumors are pure conjecture.”

“I sincerely apologize for any unintended consequences that may adversely affect anyone associated with this decision,” Skiles continued. “The Magic are a world-class organization that employs world-class people. I wish them nothing but great success. I will always be thankful, especially to the DeVos family, for the opportunity.”

“While we understand it was a challenging season, we reluctantly have accepted Scott’s (Skiles) resignation,” said Hennigan. “We appreciate Scott instilling a culture of accountability and certainly wish him and his family well.”

According to ESPN.com, “While philosophical issues appear to be the central reason Skiles resigned, sources tell ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst that he was also unhappy that an option year in his contract was not picked up. Skiles’ contract with Orlando was set to run through the 2017-18 season with a team option for 2018-19. In what can now be interpreted as a split with the organization, Skiles was not with the Magic delegation interviewing draft prospects at the combine in Chicago Wednesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.”

Skiles, 52, became the 12th head coach in Orlando Magic history on May 29, 2015. He has an overall NBA regular season record of 478-480 (.499) as head coach with Phoenix, Chicago, Milwaukee and Orlando. During his 14 seasons as a head coach, his teams have reached the NBA Playoffs six times.

During his first season with the Magic (2015-16), Orlando finished with a 35-47 record, which was a ten-game improvement from the 2014-15 campaign, the fifth-largest increase season-over-season in franchise history. The Magic went 9-6 during November, marking their first winning month since March 2012, then an Eastern Conference-best 10-5 during December. Skiles was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for December 2015, marking the fourth time he has won the monthly honor (Jan. 2005, Apr. 2006, Feb. 2010).

The Bulls finished 42-40 this past regular season and failed to qualify for the playoffs. A profound disappointment. Their leading scorer was shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who in 67 games played averaged 20.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals in 36.9 minutes per outing. Butler is also the team’s most valuable asset should management decide to make big trades, blow this whole thing up and rebuild the squad from scratch. Will it happen? Here’s the Chicago Tribune with the latest:

Jimmy Butler will reportedly represent Bulls at Draft Lottery

It might be time to hold off on those Jimmy Butler trade rumors.

In a sign of commitment not present at management’s season-ending postmortem, the Bulls have asked their two-time All-Star to represent the franchise on the dais at the May 17 NBA draft lottery, sources said.

Butler, who has been working out in Los Angeles, is headed back to Chicago soon. He then is scheduled to travel to New York and join longtime media relations official Matt Yob, who will be the Bulls’ presence in the lottery’s backroom.

The Bulls, sitting 14th as the non-playoff team with the best record, have just an 0.5 percent chance at the top pick and a 1.8 percent chance to move into the top three.

Here’s the Akron Beacon Journal reporting comments from Cavs superstar LeBron James, who has no objection to Warriors superstar guard Stephen Curry winning another league MVP award:

LeBron James says Stephen Curry deserved to win MVP

“I think he definitely deserved it,” said James, who finished third behind the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. “Look at Steph’s numbers. He averaged 30, he led the league in steals, he was 90-50-40 and they won 73 (games). Do you have any debate over that, really, when it comes to that award?

“But when you talk about most ‘valuable’ then you can have a different conversation, so, take nothing away from him, he’s definitely deserving of that award, for sure.”

The Rockets have lots of major roster decisions to make. The team was good enough to just barely qualify for the playoffs, but then were quickly sent packing and looked ready for vacation before their first round sweep at the hands of the Warriors was even complete. The team’s future is confusing. They are nowhere near being a serious playoff competitor, yet as long as a super offensive talent like James Harden is on board, an absolute full rebuild is difficult and unlikely. Oh, and they need a head coach. Here’s ESPN.com reporting:

Rockets reportedly interview Kenny Smith for head coach job

The Houston Rockets interviewed Jeff Hornacek and Kenny Smith for their vacant head-coaching position Tuesday, according to a source.

So far, the Rockets have interviewed David Blatt, Sam Cassell, Chris Finch, Mike D’Antoni, J.B. Bickerstaff, Hornacek and Smith. Bickerstaff pulled his name from consideration for the position last week.

The team has plans to interview Charlotte assistant coach Steven Silas and also has interest in Frank Vogel, who was fired last week as Pacers head coach.

Kent Bazemore hopes to stick with Hawks

Small forward Kent Bazemore averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 27.8 minutes per game for the Hawks this regular season. He started 68 of the 75 games he played in. Will Bazemore remain on the squad? Here’s the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporting:

Kent Bazemore hopes to stick with Hawks

In 2013, the Hawks signed [DeMarre] Carroll to a $5 million contract. He started at small forward for two seasons before leaving last summer to play for the Raptors on a four-year, $60 million deal.

In 2014, the Hawks signed [Kent] Bazemore to a $4 million contract. He replaced Carroll in the starting lineup this season. Now, he enters unrestricted free agency.

According to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, players who sign contracts for less than four years are not eligible for extensions. They must enter free agency at the conclusion of their deal. Last summer, Paul Millsap and Carroll both were unrestricted. Millsap returned and Carroll left.

“I would love to return here,” Bazemore said this week during an exit interview following the Hawks’ playoff loss to the Cavaliers. “I think the past two years I’ve taken a tremendous leap. Not only my professional year but personally. I’m growing more into myself and figuring out life. This place as a special place in my heart. I grew up right up the street in North Carolina. Super close to home. Not close enough. Has its perks here. The weather is great. Golf is great. God is great.”

Shaun Livingston regrets Game 4 ejection

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle reporting on Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, a fantastic contributor to the squad and a key member of the supporting cast who was needlessly ejected last game. Fortunately, Stephen Curry came back that same day and steadily rose to the occasion, helping Golden State secure a dramatic overtime win to take a 3-1 series lead:

Shaun Livingston regrets Game 4 ejection

Shaun Livingston was back to his usual calm and introspective self on Wednesday morning, two days after the first ejection of his 12-year career.

The Warriors’ backup point guard joked that he did some yoga and meditation and will listen to some soothing music after getting two technical fouls in the second quarter of Monday’s Game 4 victory at Portland.

“You don’t ever want to leave your brothers out there, so I was wrong for that,” Livingston said following the Warriors’ shootaround. “Definitely, it was a mistake on my behalf to get ejected. I lost my cool. I made a mistake.

“Intentionally, I was going for the technical. I wasn’t going for the ejection.”

The Knicks finished 32-50 last season. For vast improvement to be expected, major roster changes would probably have to take place. Will veteran star forward Carmelo Anthony still be the heart of the team? Seems likely. Here’s the New York Post reporting:

Do not expect a Knicks, Carmelo Anthony trade

Carmelo Anthony gave an assurance he won’t waive his no-trade clause this summer.

Anthony spoke for 15 minutes Thursday, at a TechCrunch conference at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, about Melo7 Tech Partners, the company he started a year ago that invests in tech start-ups, then took questions from a couple of business-news outlets.

When asked by Yahoo Finance if he will be on the Knicks next season, Anthony said, “Oh, yeah, you’ll see me here for the Knicks. Absolutely.”

Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer with insight on the Sixers, whose relatively new president of basketball ops appears to have been fully prepared for the job:

One might think that Bryan Colangelo is way behind in the evaluation process for the NBA draft.

After all, the June 23 event will come just 74 days after he was officially introduced as the 76ers president of basketball operations.

But Colangelo will tell you that he’s far from behind. The 50-year-old said he never stopped scouting prospects in college and Europe after stepping down as Toronto’s president on June 23, 2013. In fact, the two-time executive of the year said he carried on as if he was still running an NBA team, keeping a close eye on the day-to-day happenings around the league.

“I was prepared because I needed to be prepared in the event that one of those other [jobs] that I was being considered for happened,” said Colangelo, who along with Sixers coach Brett Brown and other team officials are here this week at the NBA draft combine.

Devin Harris has surgery on toe and thumb

Devin Harris has surgery on toe and thumb

Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris had a busy morning, undergoing surgery on the big toe of his left foot and on his left thumb.

The surgery on Harris’s left big toe was performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley while the surgery on his left thumb was executed by Dr. Michelle Carlson. Both surgeries were performed at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Harris (6-3, 185) recently finished his 12th NBA season and averaged 7.6 points, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 20.0 minutes in 64 games with the Mavericks.

Stephen Curry wins 2015-16 NBA MVP award

Stephen Curry wins 2015-16 NBA MVP award

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who led the team to the best regular-season record in NBA history, has won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for the second year in a row, the NBA announced today. He is the first unanimous winner in the award’s 61-season history. Curry, the 11th player to win back-to-back MVP awards, joins Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Steve Nash as the only guards to earn the honor in consecutive seasons.

Curry swept all 131 first-place votes (1,310 points), including 130 from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters in the United States and Canada, and one from the MVP fan vote.

The San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard finished second with 634 points, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James was third with 631 points. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook (486 points) and Kevin Durant (147) rounded out the top five. Players received 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five points for each third-place vote, three points for each fourth-place vote and one point for each fifth-place vote.

The 28-year-old Curry helped the Warriors finish a historic 73-9 by leading the NBA in scoring (30.1 ppg), three-pointers made (an NBA-record 402), free throw percentage (90.8) and steals (2.14 spg), along with averaging 6.7 assists and a career-high 5.4 rebounds in 79 games. He shot a career-high 50.4 percent from the field, the NBA’s highest mark among guards, and made 45.4 percent from three-point range, good for second in the league. Curry became the seventh qualifying player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the foul line.

Behind Curry, the reigning champion Warriors opened the season with 24 straight victories – one of many NBA records they broke on their way to the all-time single-season wins mark. They set NBA records for single-season road victories (34) and consecutive home regular-season wins (54, including 18 to finish last season). Golden State also became the first team in NBA history to go an entire season without losing back-to-back games or losing to the same team twice.

In yet another NBA record, the Warriors made 1,077 three-pointers, becoming the first team with 1,000. Curry powered the attack with his 402 three-pointers, shattering his own single-season league record of 286 set last season – an increase of 116. Along with leading the NBA in three-pointers made for the fourth season in a row, Curry extended his streak of regular-season games with a three-pointer to an active league record of 152 straight games.

Curry’s other accomplishments this season included:

· He became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals in a season, joining Rick Barry (1974-75), Michael Jordan (three times) and Dwyane Wade (2008-09).

· He became the first Warriors player to lead the NBA in scoring since Barry in 1966-67.

· He improved his scoring average by 6.3 points from last season (23.8 ppg), the largest year-over-year increase in league history for a reigning Kia NBA MVP.

· He matched the NBA single-game record for three-pointers made, hitting 12 (including the last-second game-winner) in a 121-118 overtime victory over the Thunder on Feb. 27.

Curry receives the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, which is named in honor of the NBA’s first commissioner, who served from 1946 until his retirement in 1963.

The Toronto Raptors announced yesterday that center Jonas Valanciunas will miss the remainder of the Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series versus Miami with a sprained right ankle.

This is a huge blow to the squad. Jonas has been one of their best performers this postseason.

Valanciunas sustained the injury during the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 in Miami. He has averaged 15.0 points, shooting .550 (61-111) from the field, with 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 28.5 minutes in 10 playoff games this season. In the series versus the Heat, he has averaged 18.3 points on .649 (24-37) percent from the floor, 12.7 rebounds, 1.33 blocks and 33.7 minutes in three contests.

Kings hire Dave Joerger as head coach

Sacramento Kings Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Vlade Divac announced today that the team has hired Dave Joerger as their new head coach.

“I am thrilled to welcome Dave to the Sacramento Kings,” said Divac. “He is a strong and passionate leader with a proven track record of producing results. Dave shares our focus on creating a long-term culture of winning and I look forward to a bright future ahead for the Kings with his leadership on the court.”

Joerger joins the Kings after spending the previous three years as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, where he accrued a 147-99 regular season mark (.598) and guided the franchise to postseason berths in each of his seasons at the helm. Following three straight 50-win campaigns for the first time in club history (2012-13 thru 2014-15), two under Joerger, Memphis again qualified for the playoffs even after injuries forced the team to dress a league-record 28 players last season. Until then, no NBA team had reached the playoffs utilizing 24 or more athletes on its roster in a single season.

Prior to entering the NBA ranks, Joerger won accolades as one of the most successful minor league coaches in history, piloting five teams to championships in three different basketball leagues from 2000-07. Demonstrating strong player development skills, Joerger sent 18 of his players to the NBA during his time in the minor leagues. By the time he was hired by the Grizzlies as an assistant coach in 2007, Joerger had collected titles in the NBA Development League, CBA (Continental Basketball Association) and IBL (International Basketball League).

Kemba Walker undergoes knee surgery

Kemba Walker undergoes knee surgery

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker underwent successful surgery today to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The procedure was completed by Hornets Team Physician Dr. Marcus Cook at Novant Orthopedic Hospital in Charlotte. Walker is expected to resume basketball activities in early July.

The 6-1 Walker finished second in NBA Most Improved Player balloting in 2015-16, after averaging a career-high 20.9 points per game in 81 games (all starts) and shooting career highs of .427 from the field and .371 from beyond the three-point line. The Connecticut product also added 5.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Walker was one of only five players in the NBA to total at least 1,600 points, 400 assists, 300 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers on the season. He had a career-high 13 games with 30 points or more and led the NBA in scoring in late and close situations (the last two minutes of the fourth quarter when the game is within four points). Walker led the Hornets to the fifth-best season in Charlotte NBA history (48-34, .585) and the best record in the Eastern Conference from Feb. 1 through the end of the season (25-9, .735).

Walker has spent all five seasons of his career in Charlotte, appearing in 364 games (319 starts) with averages of 17.3 points, 5.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Walker finished the 2015-16 campaign ranked second in Charlotte NBA history in career three-point field goals (552), third in assists (1,946) and fourth in scoring (6.307).

San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford has been named the 2015-16 NBA Basketball Executive of the Year, the NBA announced today. Buford, in his 14th season as the team’s general manager, previously won the award in 2013-14.

Buford totaled 77 points and received nine of 29 first-place votes from a panel of fellow team basketball executives throughout the NBA.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Neil Olshey finished second with 63 points (10 first-place votes), and 2014-15 winner Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors was third with 38 points (five first-place votes). Executives were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote.

Buford assembled a roster that produced the best record in franchise history (67-15). The Spurs won at least 50 games for the 17th consecutive season and captured their fifth Southwest Division title in the past six years. San Antonio finished the regular season 40-1 at home, matching the NBA record set by the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

Fueled by two-time reigning Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio led the NBA in points allowed (92.9 ppg) and defensive rating (96.6 points per 100 possessions). Leonard, acquired by San Antonio on draft night in 2011, also averaged a career-high 21.2 points, ranked third in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (44.3) and earned his first All-Star selection. He re-signed with the Spurs last July, just as Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili did.

Also in July, San Antonio’s salary-cap management enabled Buford and Head Coach/President Gregg Popovich to sign free agent LaMarcus Aldridge to a team that went 55-27 in the 2014-15 season. Aldridge averaged 18.0 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds and shot a career-high 51.3 percent from the field in his first season with the Spurs, earning his fifth consecutive All-Star selection.

San Antonio’s moves for this season also included signing two-time All-Star David West, three-time Serbian Super League MVP Boban Marjanovic and undrafted rookie Jonathon Simmons, who was the MVP of the championship game at Samsung NBA Summer League 2015. All three players, along with 2014 first-round pick Kyle Anderson, contributed to the Spurs’ bench, which led the NBA in net rating (outscoring opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions) and ranked third in scoring (39.2 ppg).

Raptors win Game 3 vs Heat

Kyle Lowry got his game back at the perfect time for the Toronto Raptors.

And the Miami Heat are in all kinds of trouble.

Shaking off epic playoff struggles, Lowry scored 33 points - including five straight to break a late tie - in a duel with Dwyane Wade to lift the Raptors to a 95-91 victory over the Heat on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The Raptors lead the series 2-1. Game 4 is in Miami on Monday night.

“I felt like it was just a matter of time,” Lowry said.

He was a career 34 percent playoff shooter coming into Saturday, and was shooting 31 percent in these playoffs. But he connected on 11 of 19 shots, 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

– AP

Grizzlies fire coach Dave Joerger

Grizzlies fire coach Dave Joerger

Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace announced today that Dave Joerger will not return as head coach next season.

According to the Memphis Commecial Appeal, Joerger had one guaranteed season remaining on his contract, and the team held an option on him for the 2017-18 season.

“After careful consideration, I concluded that a change was needed to foster the strong culture required to achieve sustainable, long-term success for this organization, the city and our fans,” said General Manager, Chris Wallace.

“On behalf of the Grizzlies organization I would like to thank Dave for his work and time in Memphis,” Wallace continued. “We wish Dave and his family all the best and success as he moves forward in his career.”

Joerger started with the Grizzlies as an assistant coach with the Grizzlies prior to the 2007-08 season, eventually replacing Lionel Hollins as head coach on June 27, 2013. Joerger owns an overall career head coaching record of 147-99 (.598), including three NBA Playoff appearances with the Grizzlies. In 22 career playoff games, he holds an overall record of 9-13 (.409).

The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.

According to ESPN.com, “Grizzlies management believed Joerger was not fully invested in coaching in Memphis and had been getting indications of that all season, sources said. The Grizzlies were also frustrated by Joerger’s veiled swipes at the front office in the media. Joerger, on the other hand, felt that he did not have management’s full support, according to sources, a sentiment he believes began when he interviewed for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head-coaching job two years ago.”

The Utah Jazz are signing third-year head coach Quin Snyder to a long-term contract extension.

“With this contract extension, we are declaring our confidence in Coach Snyder’s ability to continue to develop the Utah Jazz into a championship team,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “The Miller family recognizes the significant progress made under his leadership and we are excited about the direction we are headed.”

“Our relationship with Quin, and this extension, reflect our shared passion for building a championship team,” said Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz. “With long-term contracts now in place for Quin, Dennis and other key front office personnel, we are well-positioned for the future.”

“We have continued to take significant steps as a team under Quin’s direction,” said Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey. “His work ethic, basketball intelligence and ability to connect with and develop our players make him the ideal head coach of the Jazz.”

Snyder, who will enter his third season at the helm in 2016-17, became the eighth head coach in Jazz history, and only the fifth since the franchise moved to Utah in 1979, when he was hired on June 6, 2014. Under Snyder’s tutelage, the Jazz have become one of the elite defenses in the league, allowing the second-fewest points in the league over his first two seasons (95.4/game) and holding opponents to 90 points or less a league-high 57 times. The Jazz have also improved their win total by 15 games over the team’s record the year prior to his arrival despite being the league’s youngest and least experienced team.

“I am very grateful for this gesture by the Miller family and the Utah Jazz and appreciative of their belief in me to continue to lead this team,” Snyder said. “Amy and I are fortunate to be a part of a franchise and family that cares deeply for our community, stays true to its values and is committed to winning. More than anything, it is confirmation of our collective commitment to building a championship team.”

Blake Griffin will not play for 2016 Team USA

Clippers forward Blake Griffin won’t participate in this summer’s USA Basketball Team training camps and exhibition tour. That’s the team that will play in the summer Olympics.

Griffin underwent a bone marrow procedure on his left quad tendon on April 27 and has already begun the rehabilitation process with the expectation that he will be ready for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season.

The five-time NBA All-Star originally injured the quad on December 25, 2015 against the Lakers.

In 35 regular season games this season, Griffin averaged 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 33.4 minutes. In four playoff games, he averaged 15.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

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