No. 1: Lowry says he'll make call on when he returns -- The Toronto Raptors have gotten by without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry since late February when he had loose bodies removed from his right wrist. Toronto has gone 14-6 during that stretch, including wins in nine of their last 11 games. As the playoffs near, the hope was Lowry would get back in action before that. However, as Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun reports, Lowry isn't beholden to any particular timeline:
Lowry has not played for the Raptors since Feb. 15, the final day before the league broke for the all-star break. He underwent surgery on Feb. 28th in New York. At the time of the surgery Lowry was told it would be a 4-6 week period of recovery.
But neither he nor his head coach had any intention of letting anyone in the media, or by extension the Raptors fan base, know exactly what the plan is for his return.
Lowry said the call, when it is made, will be made by him.
“It will be me, Kyle Lowry, who is going to clear me,” Lowry said.
Lowry admits not being able to play has left him bored, although he says he’s enjoying all the winning the team is doing without him.
“I’m really enjoying how well we’re playing,” he said. “It’s fun being out there and seeing how guys are going out there and getting it done. Wanting to be a part of it — it’s something I want to be a part of. It’s boring because I want to play, but it’s awesome because I see those guys going out there and being professionals and getting wins.”
Casey, for his part, made it very clear that updating the media (and by extension the paying public) is not something he will spend his time doing.
“I’m not going to go into a daily ‘When is Kyle coming back’ (interrogation),” Casey said. “This is about the Toronto Raptors, us getting ready for the next game and if you have questions about that, then that’s fine. But all the other questions I’m not going to get into specifics about when is Kyle coming back, when he’s not coming back, what did he do today, did he use the bathroom this morning, did he have breakfast this morning — no, I’m not getting into all that.”
When it was pointed out that perhaps Lowry’s much anticipated return is worthy of frequent updates, Casey disagreed.
“(Tuesday) night what is relevant for me are the Indiana Pacers,” Casey said. “I totally, respectfully disagree. To (media types) it is relevant. To us it’s relevant when he does come back. But I’m not waking up every day wondering if this is the day Kyle comes back ... and I don’t think his teammates are either. I think they are looking forward to the next challenge. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on Kyle or the team or whatever. I think the pressure should be on us getting ready for the Indiana Pacers.”
Lowry will not be rushed. He made that very clear in the eight minutes he spoke with the media.
He feels no urgency to get back in the lineup to forge some chemistry with the new Raptors in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker because he feels that will take care of itself.
“You could step on the court and play with Ibaka and Tucker?” Lowry is asked. “Yeah. They joined the team when I was here. They can figure it out. We can figure it out.”
When asked if that figuring out would take some time, Lowry shook his head from side to side.
“It ain’t going to take no time to figure it out,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m coming back, and they will adjust. They will adjust.”
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No. 2: Anthony: 'Chips will be on the table' in exit interview -- Carmelo Anthony isn't pulling any punches about his future with the New York Knicks, going so far recently as to say he sees the "writing on the wall." While he still holds the ability to veto any trade the Knicks might want to make for him, Anthony plans to be as honest as possible with team president Phil Jackson during his looming exit interview. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more:
These could be the last five games of Carmelo Anthony’s career with the Knicks, but before any trade is negotiated he expects a tell-all exit meeting with Phil Jackson.
To be a fly on the wall in that room.
“The chips will be on the table in that meeting,” Anthony said, smiling.
Anthony, as usual, was cryptic Monday about his future, leaving all his words up to interpretation. But gone from his mouth are all unwavering commitments to playing for the Knicks beyond this season and that “Trust in Phil” mantra he adopted last season.
If anything, Anthony’s latest media session felt like a game of riddles leading to his departure from New York.
“I see the writing on the wall,” he said. “You don’t know what the writing is on the wall, though, but I see it.”
A postseason and draft needs to take shape before any deals can take place, but candidates for Anthony’s relocation include the Clippers, Cavs and Heat.
Anthony, 32, has to waive his no-trade clause, but he’s already indicated that’s something he’s willing to do if presented the right deal. He has benefited from a swell of public support regarding the way he’s been treated by the Knicks and Jackson.
Even one of Jackson’s former great players — Scottie Pippen — took Anthony’s side while calling for the Zen Master’s ouster.
“I’m just glad people are speaking up,” Anthony said Monday. “Whether it’s good or bad, people are speaking up having their opinion rather than me trying to convince or not convince people of the situation of what’s going on and I can just play basketball. Everybody sees what’s going on. So they’re going to have their own opinion.”
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No. 3: Thunder's 3-point defense faltering of late -- For all of Russell Westbrook's triple-double pyrotechnics of late, the Oklahoma City Thunder have not been lights out when it comes to defending the 3-point shot. As the Milwaukee Bucks come to town tonight (8 ET, ESPN), Erik Horne of The Oklahoman looks into what the Thunder must do to slow 3-point barrages from here forward:
Even with two wins last week, it's been a five-game stretch of substandard play as Milwaukee comes to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night. The offensive numbers have looked the worst, the Thunder posting just 100.4 points per 100 possessions in the last five games, tied for 24th in the NBA in that span.
But those struggles don't exclude what have been defensive lapses. OKC has actually been a better offensive team since the All-Star break (107.6 points per 100 possessions), while a smidge worse in points allowed per 100 possessions (105.8).
The loss to Houston skewed opponent 3-point percentage since the Thunder allowed 20-of-39 shooting from 3, but OKC has still conceded 11.8 made 3-pointers per game in its last five games, the fourth-highest mark in the NBA.
The attempts are more alarming. Thunder coach Billy Donovan emphasizes denying 3-point attempts, but OKC has given up 31 per game in that span, third-highest in the league. Twenty-nine against Dallas, 30 to Orlando and Charlotte, 27 to San Antonio — all exceeding the Thunder's season average of 24.9 opponent 3-point attempts per game.
The Thunder gave up a 13-4 run in the final two minutes against the Spurs, and a 13-0 run to start the third quarter against Charlotte. It wasn't just offensive ineptitude, but the Spurs and Hornets crossing the Thunder up defensively.
Spacing at the center position was killer against both teams. Pau Gasol hit a key 3-pointer against OKC in the final two minutes off some quality ball movement (and lack of movement from Westbrook).
The downfall against Charlotte was the Thunder taking bad routes in defending screens and switching defenders too late.
The backbreakers were two possessions in which the Thunder didn't defend Charlotte screens properly.
If the Thunder clinches the No. 6 seed and faces Houston in the postseason, it won't be able to outscore arguably the league's best offense.
It's no secret the Thunder lacks offensive weaponry to get into shootouts with Golden State and Houston.
While Westbrook's run at a triple-double average will be what's remembered this season, the Thunder's postseason could end swiftly due to inconsistencies defending the 3.
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No. 4: Veterans rising at right time for Warriors -- In adding Kevin Durant in the offseason to their star-laden cast, the Golden State Warriors were making peace with the fact the rest of their roster would be filled by veterans and untested youngsters. In winning 11 of their last games, the Warriors' elder statesmen have made their presence felt as the team rounds into playoff form. Conner Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:
The savvy of Shaun Livingston, David West, Andre Iguodala and 37-year-old Matt Barnes has been a driving force behind the Warriors’ 11-game winning streak. With Kevin Durant sidelined by a left knee injury, that cast has scrapped for loose balls, set textbook screens, made timely stops and shouldered heavier scoring loads.
After a nine-game stretch in which he averaged 1.8 points on 18.8 percent shooting, Livingston is averaging 7.3 points on 82.1 percent shooting over his past seven. West, who has missed only eight of his past 21 shots, is excelling as the offensive fulcrum of the second unit. Iguodala has been so indispensable on both sides of the court that head coach Steve Kerr has twice touted him for Sixth Man of the Year in the past four days. Though far from a scorer the caliber of Durant, Barnes has helped replace Durant’s defensive versatility.
“It’s exactly what we need down the stretch and going into the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We need everybody playing at a high level. It bodes well that those guys are in a good groove.”
The NBA is fickle, thanks to the annual influx of college players and international prospects. The average NBA career lasts 4.8 years.
West, who is eight years removed from back-to-back All-Star appearances, has used his intellect to decipher defenses and find open teammates. Long after his days as a go-to scorer for Philadelphia, Iguodala pushes through an achy back and a nagging hamstring injury to lock down opponents’ No. 1 options. Barnes, one of the league’s most volatile players in his youth, is learning how to channel his fire.
Once a potential franchise point guard for the Clippers, Livingston has found his niche as a leader of the Warriors’ second unit by playing to his strengths. He bypasses open three-point shots to hoist mid-range jumpers and post up smaller defenders.
“He’s one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met,” Green said. “He never gave up and continued to fight. I look at it from the standpoint of the entire body of work, from where he was to where he fell to, then to get back to where he is now. It’s amazing.”
Livingston, West, Iguodala and Barnes have logged a combined 3,548 NBA games. To play some of their best basketball so late in the season, they have been committed to self-preservation. Postpractice meetings with the training staff are their staples. When Kerr asks them to rest the occasional game, they don’t argue.
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