Pacers Put Struggles Behind Them
The Indiana Pacers didn’t look like a contender over the final two months of the 2013-14 season. Indiana struggled mightily down the stretch, stalling on the offensive end and dropping nine of 13 games at one point. Even worse, the Pacers seemed to implode, with Roy Hibbert calling his teammates “selfish” and Lance Stephenson and George Hill reportedly having to be separated during a blowout loss.
The stretch was ugly, but the Pacers still managed to finish the season as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and they recently picked up an impressive win against the Oklahoma City Thunder to regain some of their confidence heading into the postseason. The Pacers believe that their slump is over, and the message coming out of their locker room is that they have what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, especially now that they have homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals.
Being the top seed in the conference was a goal for the Pacers all season, and it does give them a significant edge in the playoffs. Last season, Indiana lost a tough Game 7 on the road against the Miami HEAT. They were so close to advancing to the NBA Finals, but couldn’t take down Miami in their building. Now, teams will have to come through their building in the event of a Game 7, which gives them a lot of confidence considering their 35-6 home record was the best in the NBA this season.
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Despite the late-season slump, the Pacers still think this could be their year. When asked if Indiana now has what it takes to win it all, Paul George nodded.
“Yeah, I think so,” George said. “We have another year of experience, you add in some veterans like [Luis] Scola and Rasual [Butler], you add a sharpshooter like [Chris] Copeland, you add some great players like Evan [Turner] and Lavoy [Allen], we’ve assembled a great roster this year. I think Larry [Bird] and the front office did a great job going all-in on this year. … [Homecourt advantage] gives us a better opportunity, a better chance. We like our chances being able to play a seven-game series with the advantage being at home. It’s huge. We understand that we’re going to have to win tough games and win in some tough arenas on the road, but it gives us the great advantage of playing at home in each Eastern round. We have the best record playing at home, and we like our chances playing at home.”
“That’s what we’re hoping,” David West added. “We want to be almost unbeatable in our own building and we’ve been able to do that, for the most part, throughout the year. With the playoffs approaching, we want to keep that going.”
“It’ll be good for us, but we have to win on the road too,” Hibbert said. “We’ve had trouble with that in the latter part of the season, but we’re up for the challenge. We’ve been tested. In the playoffs, you’re playing the same team a number of times and it’s not like you have back-to-backs or four games in five nights. It’s going to be a process, it’s going to be a grind, but we’ve been through that so we’re ready.”
A number of Pacers players said that the team’s recent issues were overblown and media-driven. However, they did admit that they were able to learn some things from the struggles.
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“Sometimes adversity is just thrown [around] by the media,” Evan Turner said. “We still have a great team, we still have one of the best home records in the NBA and we still ended up getting first place in the Eastern Conference. Every team hits their hurdles. We just need to stay together and stay focused. … I think we learned that our communication was big, and that our belief in each other was even bigger. That’s the biggest thing.”
“We definitely learned to never take anything for granted,” George Hill said. “No matter how high we get or how low we get, we need to stay together and play every game like it’s our last. It’s a new season now, we’re 0-0 and it’s first to 16 [wins]. We need to go out there and play each game, and try to be the first team to win 16. That’s our goal right now.”
“I thought we stayed the course,” West said. “The NBA has a long season, 82 games is a grind, but I thought we did a good job of staying the course and staying connected. We didn’t get too low, even when things looked really, really bad. I thought we did a great job of pulling for one another and ultimately we were able to win enough games down the stretch to accomplish our goal [of securing the East’s top seed].”
“We had our struggles, but we still ended up being the number one seed,” Hibbert said. “We did what we had to do in the beginning of the season. Every team has their ups and downs, we just had our downs at the end. Now, we’re ready to move on and just play good basketball in the playoffs.”
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The Pacers will open the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. George believes that Indiana’s elite defense and ability to take away a team’s strengths make the Pacers a scary team in the postseason.
“We’re smart,” George said. “Our IQ as a whole is great. Throughout a series, we do a great job of limiting things that teams like to go do and limiting guys. [We’re capable of] really just neutralizing them.”
With their recent struggles, Indiana is no longer the sexy pick to win it all like they were earlier in the season. However, Indiana is still capable of playing elite basketball, as we’ve seen throughout the course of the season. The players are confident that the dominant, early-season Pacers will show up in the postseason rather than dreadful, late-season Pacers. If that’s true, this could be the year that Indiana takes down Miami and plays on basketball’s biggest stage in June.
James Has Most Popular Jersey
Miami HEAT forward LeBron James once again tops the NBA’s list of most popular jerseys, where he has reigned as No. 1 since winning his second NBA title. The two-time NBA Finals MVP, who has held the top position six times, is joined by nine players that will compete in the 2014 NBA Playoffs beginning on April 19. The rankings are based on overall retail sales on NBAStore.com since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
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Rounding out the top five are the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant (No. 2), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (No. 3), the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose (No. 4) and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (No. 5). Bryant and Rose appear in the top five despite only playing in a handful of games due to injuries.
Since winning back-to-back championships in 2013, the HEAT has held the top spot for best-selling team merchandise, followed by the Lakers at No. 2, the Bulls at No. 3, the Thunder at No. 4 and the Knicks at No. 5.
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Here are the lists for most popular jerseys and the most popular team merchandise:
Most Popular Jerseys
1. LeBron James, Miami HEAT
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
6. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
7. Dwyane Wade, Miami HEAT
8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
9. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
12. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
14. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
15. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Most Popular Team Merchandise
1. Miami HEAT
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. New York Knicks
6. Boston Celtics
7. Brooklyn Nets
8. Golden State Warriors
9. San Antonio Spurs
10. Los Angeles Clippers
Clifford, Joerger Named Coaches of the Month
The Charlotte Bobcats’ Steve Clifford and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Dave Joerger today were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month, respectively, for games played in April.
Clifford guided the Bobcats to the league’s best record in April at 7-1 (.875). Charlotte notched wins over three playoff teams during the month, beating the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. The Bobcats were a perfect 3-0 in overtime games in April. Clifford’s team, which posted a 43-39 record for the year and garnered the seven seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak.
Joerger led the Grizzlies to a 6-2 (.750) mark in April, including a perfect 4-0 record at home. Memphis topped the Miami Heat on April 9, their first of five consecutive wins to finish the season. Included in that streak was a 97-91 win over the Phoenix Suns on April 14, which sewed up the Grizzlies’ playoff berth, and a 106-105 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks on April 16, which vaulted Memphis from the eight seed to the seven seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Other nominees for Coach of the Month were Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, New York’s Mike Woodson, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Washington’s Randy Wittman.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN