The next wave of head-coaching prospects

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:40
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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videoJob security is a touchy subject in a league where coaches and executives are hired to be fired and the average player’s career is less than five years. But the dismissal of nearly half the NBA's head coaches last season was enough to send a shock wave through the league. A luminary like George Karl or a 56-game winner like Lionel Hollins could be cut loose in exchange for a younger, less expensive option. If guys like Karl and Hollins weren't safe, what did it mean for the future of the profession?

Denver and Memphis were just two of nine teams that started the 2013-14 season with first-time NBA head coaches. The composition of the Class of 2013 was diverse. There was a lifer assistant, a player who had been in uniform just weeks prior, another former player who had spent a couple of seasons as an assistant, the first big-name college coach to take an NBA gig in years, a winner of five minor league championships as a head coach, a couple of Spurs U. alums, a fiery defensive specialist and a Phil Jackson acolyte.

This season, the coaching search has already officially begun for three teams -- the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz. That list probably includes the Detroit Pistons and will likely grow longer as we move closer to the summer.

Several themes surfaced in conversations with team execs, coaches and league insiders about how teams size up a candidate who has never previously served as an NBA head coach:

Fewer obvious names
Those asked to reel off names who excited them struggled to come up with more than a couple. The same question last spring found no such hesitation. “The pond is a little bit fished out,” says one NBA general manager. “There aren't as many logical hires like there have been. Everybody’s more of a reach.”

Tell me who my owner is
League execs insist there is no consideration more important in hiring a head coach than whether he conforms to the sensibility of ownership -- not personal background, whiteboard skills, media relations, city or even pedigree. “If you’re asking me to put together a list [of head-coach candidates], first you have to tell me what the owner’s business philosophy is," a longtime NBA executive says. General managers have come to realize that the only thing worse than not getting their preferred choice installed as head coach is spending the season apologizing to their owner for that choice.

Will salaries bounce back?
There's a fair amount of debate about whether the trend toward smaller paychecks for head coaches has real staying power. Some believe that, with a few notable exceptions, the $5 million per season deal is an endangered species. “If you’re not close to a title, why pay?" says one general manager. Others feel that the new breed of NBA owner is easily lured by celebrity. The thinking goes that nobody buys an NBA team to hang out and share a bottle of wine with a low-cost alternative. The owner wants to be regaled with tales of the NBA by a name-brand legend -- and that costs money.

Spurs University
A call from Gregg Popovich to a team in the market for a head coach can be a decisive factor in a search. "Pop will reach out at the drop of a hat,” a league insider says. “But it’s not the call that does it. He speaks in a voice that a lot of people don’t always hear. He doesn't just praise them for their work, but who they are as people." The Spurs have always had credibility as an incubator of executive and sideline talent, but people around the league say the influence has grown even greater in the past year. “It’s gotten cult-like. ... Not that they don’t deserve it,” says a team executive.

So who’s ready to be a first-time coach?

We performed the exercise about a year ago, when Miami assistant David Fizdale and Memphis assistant Dave Joerger topped the list. Joerger is now coaching the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2014 postseason, while Fizdale continues to be mentioned as among the sharpest assistants in the league, one who will interview again this summer if he chooses to. TNT analyst Steve Kerr has been cited as a head coach in the making, possibly in New York. Though he was effectively ruled out by Flip Saunders on Wednesday for the Minnesota job, Iowa State coach and former Timberwolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg has become a popular name.

In addition to Fizdale, Hoiberg and Kerr -- each named frequently again this spring -- here are seven candidates who are viewed as capable successful NBA head coaches. These aren't necessarily those most likely to get an opportunity, just the guys who have the capacity to make it work if they do:

Ed Pinckney, Chicago Bulls assistant coach


Though they’d deign to admit it, some former players feel head coaches can farm out much of the grind that accompanies the position in the NBA. That wouldn't be the case for Pinckney, who has quickly established a reputation as an inexhaustible worker bee.

As an assistant for Tom Thibodeau, Pinckney has flourished under a serious coach who fetishizes preparation. At the same time, Pinckney has friends all over the game from a lifetime of building up goodwill in basketball as a pro's pro and a teacher.

“Guys would love to play for him,” an assistant NBA coach says. “Anyone who has been around him knows how hard he works and how much he cares. His players would go through walls for him and have a good time doing it.”

The Grizzlies brass was deeply impressed by Pinckney when it invited him in twice last summer during a search that ended with longtime assistant Joerger being elevated to the first chair. With his fluency in Thibodeau's defense, pleasant disposition and intuitive understanding of what it means to be a big man in the NBA, Pinckney is a smart bet to see the inside of a conference room again this summer.

Quin Snyder, Atlanta Hawks assistant coach


It seems like eons ago, but there was a time when Snyder was basketball’s boy king. After appearing in two back-to-back Final Fours as Duke’s starting point guard, Snyder earned a JD/MBA from Duke, served as an NBA assistant to Larry Brown and was named associate head coach for the Blue Devils by Mike Krzyzewski -- all by the age of 31.

Snyder fell from grace after nearly seven tumultuous seasons at Missouri, marred by rumors, allegations and investigations. The experience humbled Snyder, who went from being the most impressive basketball mind of his generation to a cautionary tale. One year after Mizzou, Snyder landed with the Austin Toros before the D-League (then still the NBDL) had any cachet.

“He was basketball royalty on the fast track,” says a front-office executive. “The next thing you know, he’s in the bus leagues.”

Snyder’s supporters and critics both speak of a man with an incomparable general and basketball intellect. By all accounts, Snyder has applied his intelligence to rebuild himself as a coach over the past eight years. He stayed in Austin for three seasons, gaining exposure to the Spurs’ organizational culture. He accepted a role as a player development director in Philadelphia and found a mentor in Ettore Messina, who opened up new windows to the game in Europe. Alongside Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, Snyder continues to expand his knowledge base with a coach who’s particularly good at conveying ideas to players.

The sense around the league is that if handed a roster of seasoned, cerebral ballplayers who could relate to his analytical instincts, Snyder could thrive as an NBA coach.

Adrian Griffin, Chicago Bulls assistant coach


Odd as it seems to pair a couple of Thibodeau bench assistants on a diverse list of seven prospective head coaches, Pinckney and Griffin both attracted heavy mention, usually independent of each other.

Griffin is not yet 40 -- 39 until July, he's more than 11 years younger than Pinckney -- which means there are a bunch of people in the game who have watched him grow up from youth camps to his stint now as a lead assistant to Thibodeau. Those who have say that, since high school, Griffin has displayed a polished maturity that screams NBA head coach.

He had barely filed his retirement papers in 2008 when Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks offered him a job as an assistant. After two seasons with the Bucks, Griffin joined Thibodeau, with whom he’s developed a close relationship. After coaching the Bulls’ summer-league squad, Griffin stuck around Las Vegas to pitch in at Team USA’s minicamp.

“You combine that kind of professionalism with that kind of mentorship and you’re going to have a good chance to succeed,” a general manager says.

The result is a coaching prospect who was characterized by one league insider as “a player-friendly Tom Thibodeau.”

Kevin Ollie, University of Connecticut head coach


With a few waivers granted for region or diploma, much of the NBA was rooting for UConn the night of the 2014 NCAA title game.

Ollie was one of the league’s citizen leaders during his 13 seasons as a player, a remarkable length of time for someone with such marginal talent. He was the guy a team keeps around as a graduate assistant and a calming force in the locker room. Now Ollie is a head basketball coach with an NCAA championship to his credit and is a legitimate candidate for openings this spring and summer.

In a league populated by some real sourpusses, there's surprisingly little debate over Ollie's readiness. To the extent there is skepticism of Ollie, it resides in a predisposition against college basketball as good terroir for NBA head coaches.

“He’s gotten along with guys at every level -- college, pro, players, coaches,” says an NBA general manager. “He has high character, knows his stuff, and he’s actually won. Does that mean he’ll succeed in the league? Maybe, maybe not. But what more do you need to see?”

A page at Basketball-Reference may not have as much currency as it used to for head-coaching candidates, but a playing career and a proven track record as a coach is a pretty potent combination.

Tony Bennett, University of Virginia head coach


Brad Stevens maintains a high approval rating around the NBA, but the league wants to see a few more case studies before it designates college basketball as safe for fishing. Wherever one may fall on the question of how translatable college coaching is to the pro game, there’s near unanimity that part of the problem has been the NBA’s attraction to NCAA cults of personality.

“We’re not going to see the sociopathic, I’m-in-charge control freaks,” a team executive says of the next wave of NCAA coaches in the NBA. “It’s going to be the guy who doesn't make it about him, understands basketball philosophy and understands how to build a basketball culture.”

A profile of Bennett fits this general description. At Virginia, Bennett has built a defense-oriented program that wins with less superstar talent than its counterparts in the ACC. He’s a composed sideline presence who looks the part and during the '90s had a sufficient-sized cup of coffee in the NBA. Though some worry that Bennett's half-court style defies current trends in the NBA, there's little doubt he has the acumen to pull it off.

“He loves the craft of coaching as a discipline,” the exec says. “And like Brad, he knows it’s about the players.”

Many around the league like Billy Donovan and Hoiberg as the next two NCAA coaches off the board. If the next college hire goes well and Stevens maintains a positive culture in Boston, then expect to start hearing more about Bennett.

David Vanterpool, Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach


It’s rare in the NBA for someone on the fast track toward management to get off and join a much longer line to become an NBA coach. Yet that’s what Vanterpool did when he left the Thunder front office to join Terry Stotts’ staff in Portland.

Vanterpool was a quick study and likely a future executive in the league, but it tormented him to know there was high-grade basketball development going on in his midst, only it wasn't happening in his department.

“He has a way with players,” a front-office executive says. “He was a tough overseas player who worked at his game.”

Vanterpool both played and coached for Messina in Moscow, an affiliation that means something in an increasingly international league. The two-year stint in the Oklahoma City front office is also the kind of interdisciplinary experience valued by shops like San Antonio. Add to all that a penchant for independent thought, a willingness to admit what you don’t know and a reputation as a solid, agreeable person and a young team could have a head coach to grow up with.

Jim Boylen, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach


Thanks to the success of Steve Clifford in Charlotte, the nomadic, 50-ish, affable, well-respected grinder has come into fashion. And if you’re looking for a prototype, Boylen might be it.

Boylen, not to be confused with former Bulls and Bucks head coach Jim Boylan, sat alongside Rudy Tomjanovich for over a decade and was a lead assistant to Tom Izzo. After four rough seasons at the University of Utah -- “The guy hates recruiting, what can you say?” says a Boylen sympathizer -- he landed with Frank Vogel in Indiana, where he restored his rep as a guy who truly loves to get on the floor and work with players and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty with game preparation.

“He’s been the best guy on almost every staff he’s ever been on,” an NBA general manager says last week prior to Ty Corbin’s departure from Utah. “And the fact that Pop hired him gives him the ultimate stamp of approval.”

An owner looking for sex appeal won’t want to see a glossy image of Boylen on the cover of a season-ticket appeal packet. But there’s a strong consensus that Boylen is an extremely capable lifer who rarely has trouble connecting with players or peers.

Point-guard battle for the ages

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:09
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Chris Paul, Stephen CurryJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsChris Paul and Stephen Curry are succeeding with different styles at the NBA's glamour position.
“Point guard” evokes a certain kind of romance that other positions on the basketball floor don’t hold. Even if the league’s two best players are “small forwards,” the “SF” designation doesn’t mean as much to people. The point guard is the floor general, the quarterback, the engine of the offense, the head of the snake.

Perhaps the idea of a team’s smallest player as its offensive fulcrum is outdated, but it endures. Equally enduring is the idea that there’s a “right way” to be a point guard. “He’s a pure point guard” gets said a lot more often than “he’s a pure power forward,” for instance.

Chris Paul and Stephen Curry may be the league’s two best at the position, and this series could serve as a contest in whose style is paramount. Paul is the archetypal floor general, heir to a rich tradition of how to run a team. Curry is something different, something new. While Paul attacks defenses “the right way,” Curry’s distance shooting bends defenses in ways we haven’t seen before.

Let us establish their similarities, though. Each hails from North Carolina and played college ball at a private school in his home state. Each claims excellent vision and an exquisite handle. On the face of it, these are similar players. Their differences are stark, though, and are probably rooted in personality traits that can manifest on the court.


CP3: The Controller



After a loss in Game 1 against the Warriors, Doc Rivers was asked about the status of Paul.

“Typical Chris,” Rivers said. “Very hard on himself as usual. Very focused. I don’t know well in that, but I’m learning as this year goes on that if he has a game he didn’t like he gets real hard on himself. And I don’t always know if I like that or not yet, to be honest. That’s something I’ll have to find out.”

Earlier in the season, after going 5-of-15 against the Warriors, Paul engaged in a lengthy late night shooting practice on the Staples floor. This was after a game the Clippers won handily.

It’s no surprise Paul’s haunted by failure, as he’s so detail-oriented about success. He’s famously competitive and a total control freak in manner. He constantly works the refs throughout a game, and lobbies with a viciousness that a taller man couldn’t pull off.

Every edge must be leveraged, every market inefficiency must be exploited. The head whips back when the defender makes contact, lest the ref ignore the foul. Those 2-for-1 opportunities are all getting used, as though Paul is accumulating frequent flyer miles with each of them. He’s a coupon-clipping point guard, always seeking to save what less committed men might squander.

The refs aren’t the only recipients of his competitive fury. Coworkers get an earful too. “I swear I hate a dude who get there, and feel like they done made it,” Paul once groused of an unnamed slacker teammate.

He isn’t lying in telling younger players, “When I step out on the court, Bron, Melo, D-Wade, they know not to take the ball from me.” Some defenders would sooner rather reach into an active garbage disposal than reach in for a steal on CP3. His hands are too strong, too quick. He also doesn’t panic. Defenders try to hound their marks into “speeding up,” but Paul refuses to hurry. The little man sticks his butt out, widens his stance, occupies as much space as possible.

You adjust to him, not the other way around. When defenders chase after him, he’ll delight in slowing down to bludgeon them with his backside, or draw contact for the foul. Knowing full well he has total control of the ball, Paul operates at his own pace, probing the defense until it falters.

If he’s the quarterback of an offense, he’s Peyton Manning -- obsessively studious in the impossible pursuit of perfection. The study leads to minimized risk, meaning fewer interceptions, or in Paul’s case, turnovers.

Like Manning, Paul’s greatest strength -- that tight control -- might be his greatest weakness. Similar to how the Denver quarterback has been criticized for ignoring his running backs, the ball can stick in Paul’s hands at times. While Paul tends to end possessions with brilliant passes, he can phase teammates out during the search.

On balance, though, Paul’s method produces result. It’s also worth noting that he’s ceded a measure of control to Blake Griffin's creative powers this season. It should also be noted that some Paul passes are more triumphs of imagination than feats of problem-solving.


SC 30: In the Flow



When asked about how he feels after a loss as rough as Game 2 to the Clippers, Curry said, “Once I go home, I’m the same guy. I try not to let anything on the court affect anything at home and that kind of deal.” He later added, “I don’t go home and quarantine myself.”

Curry is certainly competitive, and, like Paul, has a renowned workout ethic. But his approach is a bit more relaxed, perhaps more zen. Laughter is the steady metronome of his shooting drills. He jokes and banters his way around the arc. His quest for perfection might be more about getting in tune with something than exerting control over it.

To David Fleming, Curry described: “I love everything about shooting, but mostly that perfect form, when your body is in rhythm from the time you plant your feet to the time you release the ball. When it happens, everything is very smooth and calm from your feet through your release. Everything moves through you like a wave, almost. It's a beautiful thing."

Though he can’t claim a better handle than Paul, he certainly looks more comfortable out there. He’s more upright, preferring regular walking form to Paul’s jutted crouch.

Only defenses are subject to Curry’s wrath. “If you don’t get along with Steph, then the problem is you, not Steph,” Mark Jackson said when asked if Curry ever chewed out a teammate. Refs are mostly free of Curry’s scorn too. Whereas Paul collected 10 technicals this season, Curry went the whole season without one until Monday night’s blowout loss. “I would get very tired talking every possession, every play," Curry explained of his lack of lobbying. Perhaps it’d all be a distraction from the pursuit of that perfect shooting wave.

If Curry has a quarterback comparison, then it’s Packers-era Brett Favre. As the Favre cliché went, Curry’s “just having fun out there.” He might pull up from 35 feet if the inspiration strikes, or he might, in full gait, zip a one-handed pass across the court. The bold decisions are animated by a whimsy that seems to insulate him from pressure.

Perhaps his carefree style is born out of being a prodigy. Nobody can shoot like he can off the move. It may come so easily to him that the game seems less a quest for minute advantages and more a testing ground for a superior talent.

Like Favre, Curry’s gunslinging style brings big risks and big rewards. This season, Curry leads all players in turnovers while also leading all in 3-pointers made. On the balance, he’s super efficient, but that efficiency comes with some horrific looking giveaways.

The gunslinger’s approach is most pronounced in Curry’s passing, where he’s doing some of the most daring work around the league. Two examples stick out, both from a tightly contested regular season game against Memphis. Notice here how Curry throws Harrison Barnes open with a pass that whizzes between four Grizzlies. From the media row angle, it was difficult to see why the pass was going that particular trajectory until Barnes rose up for the dunk. To make this play, you can’t be playing scared. There’s more evidence of Curry’s “no fear” approach later in the game, when with less than a minute to go and a 3-point lead, Curry threw a no-look over the shoulder pass to Jermaine O’Neal.

At the time, the game was considered crucial in helping the Warriors get a playoff seed. The stakes didn’t dissuade Curry from going Harlem Globetrotters when inspiration struck. They ended up winning and Curry scored 33 points to go with eight assists.


The Choice



If you’re choosing between these two players for one game, you’re probably taking Paul. He’s marginally more efficient in his offensive output, and his defense is superior. Curry might find it difficult to prove his value in this series, as the Warriors are likely to struggle without the injured Andrew Bogut.

That’s today, but Curry could well rule the future. He’s two years younger and he twists defenses in a way Paul does not. Right now, the Clippers are trapping Curry with everyone but the ball boy, for fear he’ll hit 3-pointers off the dribble. The Warriors are mostly playing Paul straight up with Klay Thompson. Curry’s singular ability to hit 3-pointers off the bounce represents a shift in what the position can be, and how it will get teammates open. Paul’s command and controlling style harken back to a past of great point guards getting in the lane and expertly micromanaging their teams to success. Curry’s free-wheeling, long-bombing style -- which you can see flashes of in the emerging Damian Lillard -- promises new space for offenses to explore. Paul is a “true point guard” today. Curry might be what a “true point guard” becomes.

Why the Thunder will lose

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
10:45
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe doesn't think the Thunder, as presently constructed, will beat the Grizzlies.

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No bluff: Thunder are Grizzlies' best rivals

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
10:06
AM ET
By Chris Herrington
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Durant and Tony AllenAP Photo/Alonzo AdamsThe Tony Allen-Kevin Durant matchup has become the heart of one of the NBA's best rivalries.
If NBA fans around the country played word association with “Memphis Grizzlies” and “rivalry,” they’d probably see images of Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin rolling around on the floor. But while the recent battles between the Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers have generated more heat, the rivalry with the Oklahoma City Thunder has proven more momentous to Memphis.

On Thursday night, at Memphis' FedExForum, these teams will play for the 30th time over the past four seasons, including three playoff series (counting this one). The Grizzlies hold a 15-14 edge in that span, but the clashes between these two teams have provided much more than that. The series has given Grizzlies fans six overtime games and the franchise’s first Game 7, and has paved the way for a first trip to the Western Conference finals.

Most of the lexicon of Grizzlies fan culture has also emanated in opposition to OKC: The boast-as-threat “We Don’t Bluff” traces to an altercation between Randolph and Kendrick Perkins in November 2012. The crunch-time penchant for converting “growl towels” into "Norma Rae"-style signs materialized organically during a Game 3 comeback against the Thunder in May 2011. Even “grit and grind” first came about on the sidelines of Chesapeake Energy Arena in February 2011. When Rudy Gay was traded, the team’s next game -- a loss, the “champagne taste on a beer budget" game -- was against the Thunder. When Marc Gasol returned from injury this season, unexpectedly, in a win, it was against the Thunder.

If the Grizzlies-Clippers rivalry is embodied in Randolph vs. Griffin -- a prize fight of relative equals, made more compelling by their radically contrasting styles and personalities -- then the Grizzlies-Thunder rivalry is embodied in Tony Allen vs. Kevin Durant: an ostensible mismatch, the role player and the MVP, David and Goliath.

Last season, Allen was suddenly deemed too short for the assignment despite ample evidence to the contrary. He was kept off Durant for the first seven quarters of the teams’ second-round series, in which the Grizzlies lost one game and were headed toward losing a second. Finally let loose in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Allen held Durant scoreless for seven minutes in a close win, stealing the ball for a meaningless-to-most exclamation dunk in the final seconds and then running by the scorer’s table, yelling, “First team, All-Defense!”

Was he taunting his opponent? More likely speaking to some mixture of the basketball gods, himself and his coach. The Grizzlies swept the remaining games against the Thunder, with Durant increasingly overburdened.

This season, upon returning from injury, Allen reluctantly moved to a reserve role and averaged fewer minutes per game than increasingly limited starter Tayshaun Prince. But against the league’s most dominant scorer on Monday night, Allen played 35 minutes, while Prince played only 14. The Grizzlies won 111-105 in overtime to tie the series. As they say in Memphis, No. 9 when you need him.

Allen’s first couple of months with the Grizzlies didn’t go well, either. When he first came to the team, in 2010-11, he played behind rookie Xavier Henry and totaled nearly a dozen DNPs. He blackened the eye of teammate O.J. Mayo in a squabble over a card game. The first game after that incident was at home against the Thunder, and Allen spent the first quarter botching uncontested layups and suffering ballhandling misadventures. He ended it with 16 second-half points, a clutch 3-pointer (followed by a backpedalling shimmy), a violent block on a Russell Westbrook layup attempt, and several thousand new fans.

In Memphis, this became known as “The Tony Allen Game.” A February rematch in Oklahoma City, in which Allen had 27 points (still his high with the Grizzlies), five steals, three blocks, zero turnovers and brilliant late-game defense on Durant, rendered it “The First Tony Allen Game.” Following the overtime win Monday, Allen turned a postgame interview into an impromptu sideline soliloquy, warning of the dangers of the Ibakas and Sefoloshas of the world, but not before a now-familiar rallying cry: “It’s all heart. Grit. Grind.”

Oklahoma City brings out the best in Tony Allen. And now here he is again, matched up against arguably the best player of the 2013-14 season.

Grizzlies fans can work up a feverish, fun “sports hate” for Griffin and Chris Paul. Maybe even for smirking Westbrook or frowning Perkins or old-and-in-the-way Derek Fisher. But Kevin Durant? Not a chance. Grizzlies fans, by and large, don’t -- can’t -- dislike Durant. They regard him with a mix of awe and admiration, fear and resentment.

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTony Allen has come off the bench to find himself in a familiar role: locked up with Kevin Durant.
Instead, Durant’s greatness creates more of a sour taste. Memphis has never had a player like Durant, perhaps never will. Yet for Thunder fans, Durant is all they have ever known. Grizzlies fans (and the players they love most) often feel as if they’ve come up the hard way. They think Thunder fans have had it too easy.

The fan cultures also seem so different in these small, middle-American markets.

Oklahoma City’s crowd acts more orderly. Everyone dutifully puts on their themed T-shirts, bearing sincere, agency-sublimating slogans.

Memphis’ crowd seems more unruly. The Grizzlies used to try T-shirts come playoff time -- the “whiteouts” and “blue-outs” and what have you -- but had to spend too much time before games shaming reluctant fans into putting them on. The lockstep look didn’t fit, especially with unofficial Tony Allen T-shirts erupting into a local cottage industry. People preferred the towels. They lend themselves to more boisterous, physical expression.

It’s easy to be snarky from a distance, of course. To roll your eyes in the abstract. But Grizzlies fans who make the trip to Oklahoma City inevitably come back impressed by the intensity and the dedication Thunder fans have for their team, by the family atmosphere at games, and by the graciousness bestowed upon guests.

These are two great fan bases. But they are different.

And if Durant and Allen embody their teams -- the gifted favorite and the scrapping underdog -- they’re also, perhaps, fitting reflections of their communities.

Allen might not make sense as a cult hero in every NBA city, but he fits in colorful, big-hearted but rough-edged Memphis, where he’s embraced his “The Grindfather” persona so fully that he displays the nickname on a vanity plate on the front of one of his cars.

Kevin Durant’s persona, of course, would play anywhere. But more befitting pious, respectful Oklahoma City, Durant has declined the similarly fun and intimidating moniker “Slim Reaper,” asking instead to be called “The Servant.”

Now it’s back to Memphis, with Allen’s team holding home-court advantage and his matchup with Durant squarely in the spotlight. In what has become one of the NBA’s most compelling rivalries, the best is yet to come.

Chris Herrington is an entertainment editor and NBA contributor for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Follow him, @HerringtonNBA.

First Cup: Thursday

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
4:41
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: As the Portland Trail Blazers walked off the court, leaving a sold out noiseless crowd in disbelief after just taking a commanding 2-0 series lead with a 112-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, they were greeted by some familiar faces in route to the locker room. In the hallway, adjacent to their locker room, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, GM Neil Olshey, Assistant GM Bill Branch and the entire coaching staff waited for every player to make their way back from the court. Each one was greeted with a round of applauds and words of encouragement. ... They brought it, and so did LaMarcus Aldridge for the second consecutive game. He supplied a game-high 43 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks. He became the first player to have back-to-back 40-point games in the playoff since LeBron James did it May 24, 26 in 2009. ... Kevin McHale made very little adjustments on the defensive end despite two whole days to prepare. Portland scored at will. Dwight Howard is stuck trying to clean up the broken assignments of his teammates. That falls on McHale, who is focusing more on offense rather than the area that’s hurting them most. Plain and simple, Terry Stotts is kicking his ass.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: The rust that plagued Rockets guard James Harden on Sunday night was still hanging around Wednesday. The leading scorer had another poor shooting performance, going 6-of-19 from the field for 18 points in the Rockets 112-105 loss to Portland in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets now trail 0-2 in the series as they head to Portland for Game 3 on Friday night. Harden missed the final game of the regular season to rest. There were six days between that and the start of the playoffs. When the postseason began, Harden said he was a little sluggish. He went 8-of-28 in Game 1 and scored 27 points. The Rocket lost that one 122-120 in overtime and Harden took the blame. “I have to play better,” he said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well. I was rusty. I have to pick it up.” ... Despite the two rough nights for the team’s star, McHale said he thinks Harden will find his rhythm and be a factor in this series. “We have to move the ball and attack,” McHale said. “We can’t hold it. We have to set better picks. We have to have more flow. James will get it going if we get it going. James is at his best when we are moving up the floor."
  • Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News: We know what can happen when you grab a 10-point lead on the Spurs with 7:45 to play. Bad things can happen, at least if you're a Mavericks fan. In Game 2, we saw what can happen when the lead is 20 and there are just under six minutes to play. That’s when Spurs fans start filling the exits and heading out of the AT&T Center. The Mavericks emptied the building and evened the series with a stunning 113-92 victory that was, in stretches, a spotless offensive showcase. Everybody got in on the act and, more important, the debate over which point guard coach Rick Carlisle needs to feature in this first-round series followed those Spurs fans right out those exits. ... The teams don’t meet again until Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Dallas, but hopefully there will be little discussion as to the Mavericks having gained home-court advantage in this series. When Dallas knocked off the West’s No. 1 seed Wednesday, it made road teams 8-7 in these playoffs. And with higher seeds heading out on the road now, you have to expect home court to remain a difficult "advantage" to protect. "The only way we’re going to win this series is by having guys play at full capacity," Carlisle said.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the Spurs’ performance was Kawhi Leonard’s no-show. Hampered by first-half foul trouble, the third-year small forward had easily his worst performance after perhaps the best two-month stretch of his career with six points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. He didn’t make his only basket until the fourth quarter, well after the game had been decided. Perhaps most telling of all, he didn’t have a single steal or blocked shot, an unacceptable activity from a player capable of wreaking so much havoc. Popovich wasn’t concerned, however, and Leonard left early without speaking with reporters.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Charlotte likes to call itself the Queen City. So let’s keep this simple: King trumps Queen. The Heat superstar with the monarch’s nickname and ruler’s game is too much for the Charlotte Bobcats, seemingly by himself. LeBron James has been too much for the entire NBA the past two seasons, and he certainly is that for Miami’s opponent in the first round of these playoffs — and we saw it yet again here Wednesday night. “You have to be honest with yourself,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford had said before Game2. “Sometimes the other team is just that good.” Especially when the other team’s player is the best there is, and when he treats this particular opponent like his personal plaything. Miami has a commanding 2-0 series lead with Wednesday’s 101-97 victory/escape, and it was mostly because James led the way with 32 points. That was after he’d led the way in Game 1 with 27 points. Which means that in six games against Charlotte this season James has now scored 210 points, an average of 35 per game.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Bobcats proved Wednesday they won’t be pushovers to the Miami Heat. Now will they get past the “feisty” and “scrappy” descriptions to actually win a game? That question hung over a 101-97 loss in Game 2 of this best-of-seven series. The Bobcats overcame a horrible first half and had a potentially game-tying possession with just over 10 seconds left. That’s when Miami’s aggressive defense blew up a Bobcats play. Gary Neal turned down a closely-guarded 3-pointer, electing to throw the ball to Chris Douglas-Roberts. He got trapped in the corner, committed Bobcats turnover No. 15, and effectively ended the Bobcats’ threat. That a turnover would be the Bobcats’ demise was illustrative of both these games: They keep throwing away the ball in ways they can’t afford.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: First, there has to be some type of sanction against McRoberts for his fourth-quarter shoulder shiver against LeBron James. That was many things, but a basketball play wasn't one of them. For all the stoppages this postseason to review flagrant fouls or out-of-bounds calls, how could the officials not rule that a flagrant initially, if only to go to the video? And if they did review it, it is safe to assume that LeBron would have gotten his free throws and the Heat would have retained possession, reducing further stress. Was it a Flagrant 2? You certainly could consider it within the realm. At the least, expect an upgrade to a Flagrant 1 and a fine for McRoberts. But that one was awfully close to crossing the line. Without McRoberts, I can't see Charlotte do anything but go small, considering they didn't even play Bismack Biyombo in Game 2.
  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James confirmed he has signed with William Morris Endeavor, a Hollywood talent agency. The news was first reported by Hollywood Reporter. James said the move had been in the works for a while. "Obviously, my management team is handling that right now," James said. "I'm focused on some more important things for me, personally, with the playoffs starting. They're taking care of that and we're looking forward to the relationship." James in the past said he has interest in developing film and entertainment projects. He recently teamed with comedian Kevin Hart to produce a comedy series for the Starz.
  • Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes the new attitude of transparency in the NBA. The NBA has begun acknowledging bad calls or officiating mistakes following games even though it doesn’t alter the outcome. Cuban believes it the first step in accountability, allowing NBA to get the calls right initially in the future while helping eliminate the talk of conspiracy and rigged games. “I’m happy with what they’re doing,” Cuban said before Wednesday’s playoff game against the Spurs. “We’re not allowed to talk about any specifics of it — you have to ask the league about that. But I think we’ve made huge steps. You can always improve, but you’ve got to take that first step before you can improve. With transparency you get rid of that conspiracy theories, and that’s the whole goal. And you want to send the message that we get them right too, because we do."
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: “The group down in Miami agreed to take less money to play together so that’s, I think, a precedent that’s been set,” Phil Jackson said. Yes, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all took less to play together in a warm-weather city with no state income tax. Let’s not make it seem like they’re playing for minimum wage. Anthony has broached the subject of playing for less, but a person close to him maintains that Anthony wants to hear what Jackson has planned only for next season, not 2015-16. After missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, Anthony isn’t interested in wasting another season, especially at a discount. Say this for Jackson: he isn’t going to beg Anthony to stay. You can admire that. But publicly asking Melo to take a pay cut may be the beginning of the end of Anthony’s time in New York.

Dwight Howard, posting up

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
4:58
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Amin Elhassan joins us to talk about how good Dwight Howard is at posting up, and how often he should do it.

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Lowry sees a 'band of brothers' in Toronto

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
4:32
PM ET
By James Herbert
Special to ESPN.com
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DeMar DeRozan, Kyle LowryAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan DenetteDeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry agree -- the camaraderie in the Raptors' locker room is special.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan chatted and laughed at their neighboring lockers following Tuesday’s Game 2 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Toronto. Backs to the media members awaiting a postgame interview, this is a standard sight after Raptors games.

When DeRozan headed to the podium to meet the press, Lowry hung back in an Air Canada Centre hallway, holding his backcourt mate's daughter in his arms.

“Honestly, we talk every single day,” DeRozan said after practice on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after scoring 30 points to help tie the series with the Nets at 1-1. “We figure out ways to make each other better, make this team better. We constantly talk.

"I always come to his house, freeload [off] his refrigerator, whatever his chef is cooking. Go over there, eat, take my daughter over there, play with his son. They play cars, race cars, whatever, do little kid things. Just that bonding has grown with that. That’s definitely cool.”

Lowry was reportedly almost traded to the New York Knicks in December, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July. He’s been the Raptors’ most productive player, putting up 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in the regular season, and one of the driving forces behind this run to the playoffs.

The Raptors recovered from a 6-12 start to rattle off a franchise-record 48 wins, but things would have been drastically different if they had traded Lowry after they dealt Rudy Gay. As Raptors coach Dwane Casey said last week, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

While Lowry generally avoids talking about his future, he’s been nothing but positive about the present of late. He said he’s never been on a team with this kind of camaraderie.

“I love my team,” Lowry said. “I’ll tell anybody that firsthand. I really appreciate being [here] every day with these guys. Every day I look forward to talking to them and joking with them and having fun with them because it’s rare that you get a team like this. So you take advantage of the full opportunity that you have. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have this year with these guys.”

Both Lowry and DeRozan referenced a conversation about chemistry they had the previous night. It’s no surprise they’d be in a good mood after earning Toronto’s first postseason win since 2008, but it seems they sincerely see something special here.

“It’s not just being politically correct or nothing like that,” DeRozan said, adding that he’s never worried about what might happen this summer. Lowry already knows DeRozan wants to keep building something here, and DeRozan has repeatedly given his point guard credit for his own success.

Lowry called the Raptors a “band of brothers,” and he appreciates that the environment is conducive to constructive criticism. He can tell DeRozan when he messes up a play, and DeRozan will say he’s right. It’s not just one dominant voice, Lowry said, and bench players are free to contribute ideas. As he described Toronto’s locker room, it sounded like a place he wouldn’t mind staying.

“The chemistry, it’s unbelievable,” Lowry said. “I can pick up my phone and call any one of my teammates and have a conversation. Serious, jokingly, it’s just cool. It’s just great to have a group of guys who just really get along. You’d never think a group like that, with so many different personalities, that everyone really just feeds off each other and everyone genuinely likes each other.”

James Herbert contributes to ESPN.com. Follow him, @outsidethenba.

TrueHoop TV Live

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
11:16
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Talk over all the latest playoff news and storylines with ESPN Insiders Tom Haberstroh and Amin Elhassan. The action begins at 2 p.m. ET.

First Cup: Wednesday

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
4:36
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: The Pacers are a much better team when George Hill is aggressive. He knows it, his teammates say it and coach Frank Vogel is doing what he can to reinforce it. In the team’s 101-85 Game 2 win on Tuesday, Vogel used a backcourt of Hill and C.J. Watson for much of the game, which worked defensively and freed Hill up to be himself. The Indy native doesn’t like being dubbed as a point guard but simply as a “guard.” “That’s what I’ve been my whole life, a scorer at the wing spot,” Hill said after scoring 15 points all in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter on 5-of-6 shooting. “With C.J., I don’t have to worry about play calls or trying to set guys up and figuring out who’s getting touches. It gave me an opportunity to be aggressive and play my game.” Vogel’s move was in part made to allow Hill to play his natural position. But he also did it for defensive purposes. “You got to have speed to contain the basketball down there and to scramble to shooters,” Vogel said. “That’s what we were trying to achieve.”
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: For whatever reason, the Teague onslaught finally abated. The Hawks’ point guard had scored 25 points in the regular-season victory here April 6 and 28 in Game 1. He had 12 points and four assists in the first half of Game 2, and he made his first shot of the third quarter — a driving hoop inside the first two minutes. He wouldn’t score again. The Pacers believed that Hill’s surges served to tire Teague. Said George: “Make or miss, we want (Hill) to shoot and to drive. That tires Teague out.” Asked if he had in fact gotten weary, Teague’s answer was the essence of brevity. “No,” he said.
  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: Desire is not just a Chicago commodity, purveyed by this city’s ultra-resilient pro basketball team. It also lives in the chests of Wall and Beal, pounding his heart after another jump shot of silk behind the arc. It lives in the torso of Nene, his 6-foot-11, beefy frame going to the floor for loose balls, his stroke as pure as they come in overtime. That desire lives in the combined and committed resolve of the Wizards, who Tuesday night overcame the brawn and desperation of the Bulls to secure the most impressive road victory of the John Wall era. Do you believe they found a way to win this, to take a 2-0 series lead on these physically imposing Brahmas, who so badly tried to turn this into a Greco-Roman match and failed? The series shifts to the District on Friday for Game 3, where they are distributing T-shirts with the words, “DC Rising.” After quieting the Madhouse on Madison, DC Risen is more like it. ... I’m not saying this series is over. I am saying the Wizards have just as much resilience as the heretofore most resilient team in the NBA. And they have more offensive weapons.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Losing the first two home games of a best-of-seven series is tough enough. Blowing double-digit, second-half leads in both is even more demoralizing. "Demoralizing?" Joakim Noah said. Then, in the direct aftermath of Tuesday's shocking 101-99 overtime loss to the Wizards, he thought of a different word. "It sucks," Noah said. "I hate losing. Everyone on this team is giving everything that they have. I feel like they hit big shot after big shot. You have to give credit where credit is due. They're playing at a high level. Throughout the year, it hasn't been pretty at times. But we're a team that finds a way." If the Bulls find a way this time, they will become just the fourth team in NBA history to rally after losing the first two home games.
  • Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: He needed the moment alone, not caring what it looked like, not concerned at all that he was violating a team rule. DeMar DeRozan sat alone on the bench, just after picking up his fifth foul, looking disconsolate, pulled from a one-point game with just under seven minutes to play. He knew what he needed most: He needed to calm down. "My competitive spirit," said the Raptors' all-star guard. "I was calming myself down. I was a little frustrated I couldn't be out there with my team, especially at that critical moment. "Just me. I had to keep myself together." The Raptors were up by a point and he was on the bench with five fouls. Not knowing what was about to happen. Not knowing when he would get back. Seven minutes to go. And internally and externally pleading to stay in the game. Then he did what he's watched Michael Jordan do on television growing up, what he used to watch Kobe Bryant do in the fourth quarter and final minutes of playoff games: He took over. With three minutes and 48 seconds to play, with the Raptors up a moment, he made it all about him, the way the great players always do.
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: It's not just the Toronto media, the Raptors and its fans who are crying conspiracy. Disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy claims the league is pushing its officials to call a victory for the Nets. "(The Raptors) are not only going against the Brooklyn Nets but going against the league office," Donaghy said in a radio interview in Canada. "They have a very talented team and have to be that much better than the Brooklyn Nets. "In this situation, Brooklyn would be put at an advantage. A Brooklyn-Miami matchup (in round 2) would bring great ratings and that's what this is all about for the NBA and the league offices — bringing in as many dollars as they can. … Some of the things that the league does and continues to do puts these teams at a disadvantage — like the Toronto Raptors — because moving forward they won't bring in the big dollars for the league. It's terrible for the fans (of) Toronto. They go and support that team but really they're going to have trouble moving on based on talent and what takes place on the floor when they're really going against the refs and the league, along with the Nets." Donaghy, of course, lacks credibility in the morality department, having been sentenced to 15 months in prison for fixing NBA games. But Donaghy's contention became relevant because the Raptors were complaining about the officiating, among other things, after Saturday's 94-87 loss. An NBA spokesman issued this statement: “Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon looking for any opportunity for people to listen to his baseless allegations. For Mr. Donaghy to continually try to challenge his former colleagues’ ethics is distasteful and says more about his own integrity than it could ever say about our referees, who are the best and most scrutinized game officials in the world.”
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Phil Jackson's formidable task of rebuilding the Knicks and establishing a professional, winning culture at Madison Square Garden has already hit a familiar roadblock: James Dolan. Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees. According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit. But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.
video

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who is covering Clippers-Warriors for ESPN.com, discusses the 40-point blowout in Game 2, what the Warriors need to do to answer in Game 3, and mouthguards gone wild.

Getting gas with the Big Ticket

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
3:12
PM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
ESPN.com
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Writer and illustrator Shea Serrano and his collaborator, Sean Mack, put their spin on the NBA.

KG Cartoon 2Shea Serrano and Sean Mack
Previously: Heat check-out line »   Also see: Shopping with the Big Ticket »

In defense of the Bulls

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:46
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Was the media wrong in picking Bulls over Wizards? Amin Elhassan is here to defend those who picked Chicago.

First Cup: Tuesday

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
4:53
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: This just in. The Memphis Grizzlies play some defense. Tony Allen has taken up residence inside Kevin Durant’s No. 35 jersey. Mike Conley stays in front of his man. Marc Gasol was the reigning NBA defensive player of the year until Monday. The Grizzlies guard you. Which means the Thunder better do it, too. Memphis reversed momentum in this Western Conference playoff series with a 111-105 overtime victory over the Thunder on Monday night, and the Grizzlies did it as much with offense as their beloved defense. ... These Grizzlies are made for the playoffs. They slow it down, they play tough, they defend like crazy. Memphis makes it hard to score. If you don’t do the same, you go home.
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: A pair of teams that put together a playoff classic three years ago might just be working on another. That could have easily been a prevailing notion Monday night following the Grizzlies’ 111-105 Game 2 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime at Chesapeake Energy Arena. After a breath-taking display on defense by a certain No. 9, five periods and a miraculous yet clutch four-point play, the Griz head back to Memphis with their best-of-seven first-round series knotted at 1-1. ... The Griz had to work long and hard to rebound from a demoralizing Game 1 defeat. But that’s what many onlookers predicted how this Western Conference playoff matchup would be: long and hard. This marked the sixth playoff overtime game the Griz have played against the Thunder. Memphis won four of the previous five. The Grizzlies’ only loss so far when these teams grace the fans with extra playoff basketball came in that three-overtime classic in FedExForum during the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Lost in the hysteria of Kevin Durant drilling the most miraculous shot in Oklahoma City history was another gem of a play by the game’s biggest pest, a player with a penchant for throwing a wrench in the Thunder’s plans. Just before Durant hit a corner 3-pointer while falling out of bounds and on his bottom, Tony Allen once again blew up a Thunder possession. He tipped a pass from Russell Westbrook to Durant, forcing OKC into scramble mode and Durant into delivering on a desperation fling. Though the impact of Allen’s defense wasn’t felt when Durant’s shot splashed through the net, a bucket that led to a four-point play and gave the Thunder new life with 13.8 seconds remaining in regulation, it was apparent before and after that basket. And it’s among the biggest reasons why the Thunder is headed to Memphis on Thursday needing a win to regain home-court advantage after a 111-105 overtime loss to the Grizzlies in Game 2 on Monday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. ... Allen is that face of Memphis’ style. And now it appears the Thunder has a problem.
  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers needed an answer, and quick. They gave one, and wow. Their response Monday night to a playoff-opening debacle against the Golden State Warriors was powerful enough to temporarily subdue thoughts of the historic Clippers jinx while empowering dreams of a landmark Clippers spring. The answer was visible across the Staples Center sky in a flying Blake Griffin, and across the Staples Center floor in a skidding Chris Paul. The answer was audible on the Staples Center sideline with a screaming and confrontational Doc Rivers, and in the stands with thousands of red shirts whose owners' roars lasted deep into the sweaty night. More than anything, the answer could be felt in the slumped shoulders and blank stares of a Warriors team that was warned these might not be same old postseason Clippers, and this is not going to be your usual first-round dance. "They are who I thought they are," said Rivers afterward of his team, his voice filled with relief.
  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Can the Warriors get Curry free? Can Thompson stay out of foul trouble while defending Paul? Will Lee, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes or anybody else step in and give the Warriors what Danny Granger (15 points) and Matt Barnes (13 points) gave the Clippers in Game 2? That's up to coach Mark Jackson and it's up to the Warriors players. They don't have a lot of time to figure this out, and they certainly know that the Clippers have more talent and made the right adjustments on Monday. The series got real for the Clippers in Game 2, and it suddenly got into serious danger territory for the Warriors.
  • Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle: The San Francisco Bay wins. That's what Joe Lacob and the Warriors learned. Their plans for a waterfront arena foundered, despite endless bluster, almost from the start of planning and now apparently have been abandoned. The Chronicle reported online Monday that the Warriors have purchased property from Salesforce.com farther south, on Third Street in Mission Bay. They will own the property, rather than lease from the Port of San Francisco. So the arena battle lines no longer will be drawn between pro-development types and environmentalists. Now the line is placed squarely between San Francisco and Oakland, which badly wants to hold onto the only NBA team in the Bay Area. The Warriors might argue that red tape and intransigent politics foiled their plans for a showcase, showboat building plopped far out on two dilapidated piers in the bay. But, really, it was the bay itself that thwarted the Warriors.
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: I was on the record as believing the Atlanta Hawks had a very good chance — as good a chance as a No. 8 seed ever has — before the series began. With it beginning the way it did, I like their chances even more. I think the Indiana Pacers are more apt to collapse than to cohere, but I have, as we know, been wrong. ... Game 2 is essentially the season for the Pacers, who can’t afford another home loss. On desperation alone, you’d have to think they’ll prevail. But the Hawks clearly know how to hurt the Pacers, and it wouldn’t be a major shock if the hurting continued. Which is another way of saying: I really, really like the Hawks’ chances in this series.
  • Mark Montieth of Pacers.com: A zone defense? Paul George guarding Jeff Teague? A different starting lineup? A revised playing rotation? The Pacers' loss to Atlanta on Saturday would seem to demand some changes in coaching strategy heading into Game 2 on Tuesday. Losing the first two games on your home court, after all, isn't a highly regarded way to kick off a playoff series. Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming. “Of course we're going to make changes,” he said. “We're not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.” Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility. “I prefer not to make major changes,” he said. Are you willing? “Of course.” Do you think you will? “We'll see.”
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The way Paul Pierce took over in the final minutes of Saturday’s 94-87 Nets win in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series with the Raptors understandably garnered all of the headlines. But, as he often does, Joe Johnson flew under the radar, though his 24 points on 8-for-13 shooting — almost all of which came in the paint — were what kept the Nets in position for Pierce to slam the door shut. ... The Nets are expecting the Raptors to change things up in Game 2 after the success Johnson had Saturday. But whether he’s able to have the same kind of scoring output again or if he is turned into more of a facilitator because Toronto keys on him, you can be sure he will be a big part of the Nets’ plans as they try to come home up 2-0 in the series.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: There is so much more to these NBA playoffs for the Raptors than just the post-season. There are messages to be delivered and notices to be served. If general manager Masai Ujiri might have been a bit intemperate with his “Eff Brooklyn” statement before Game 1 of the series with the Nets, he was simply standing up for an organization that needs to command respect from a league that hasn’t shown much of it in the past half decade. There is more public fight to this group, more feistiness, more standing up for itself than it’s shown, more “We’re fed up and we’re not going to take it any more.” From front office personnel to players, coaches and support staff, it’s as if they’ve finally had enough of being slighted. The first post-season appearance since 2008 is a perfect avenue to get that out.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: In Game 1, Joakim Noah didn't look like the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, an award he was given Wednesday at United Center. That's where Nene, the Wizards' versatile big man, had his way with his Chicago Bulls counterpart. Nene played 35 minutes -- his most since Feb. 11 -- after a game-high 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. It was his first start for the Wizards since Feb. 23, when he went down with a left knee ligament strain. "I’m tired. I’m sore today," said Nene, as he strapped on his knee brace. "But tomorrow’s another day. We’ll see." In other words, that minutes restriction he's on will be relative to how well he's playing.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t in the business of pointing fingers. In his world, it’s a "five-man offense, five-man defense, and everyone is connected." He reiterated that again Monday, one day after the Bulls lost Game 1 of their first-round playoff series to the Washington Wizards. "To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here," Thibodeau said. But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time. ... According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Trash talk

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
5:50
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Is it OK for a GM to publicly curse about the other team? Or is it just plain fun? Amin Elhassan examines the war of words between the Raptors and Nets.

TrueHoop TV Live

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
11:27
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive

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