No. 1: Fizdale's helping Memphis get fired up for Game 3 -- Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was issued a $30,000 fine by the NBA for his postgame rant about officials after Game 2. Memphis' players stepped up to pay that fine, but the words he used have set the stage for a wild Game 3 tonight, writes Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal:
This is Memphis, where 18,119 have been known to chant “Whoop that trick” during a playoff game.
This is Memphis, where fans don’t want to put on official matching playoff T-shirts because they prefer the bootleg kind.
This is Memphis, where we don’t bluff, where belief in the face of long odds is less a cliche than a mantra, and where the new coach has inspired the populace by essentially telling the NBA and the universe to stick it.
“They’re not gonna rook us,” said Fizdale, in the postgame rant that launched a thousand T-shirts.
“Take that for data,” he said, which is also available on a T-shirt near you.
Indeed, the Grizzlies themselves have ordered a truckload of “Take that for data” T-shirts which will be available at FedExForum — and at the team store online — when the doors open Thursday night. All proceeds will go to the Grizzlies foundation, which is also typical of the franchise.
“It’s been fantastic,” Fizdale said, of the reaction to his rant. “If it rallies our fans, and it sounds like we’re selling T-shirts right now, and all the money is going back into our community, it’s worth it for me.”
This isn’t a city that has a lot of experience celebrating championships. But it may be unmatched at bearing a grudge. Feeling slighted should be added to the list of things we have mastered, along with blues and barbecue.
We felt slighted when Cleveland got the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We felt slighted when the NFL took a pass. We felt slighted when Forbes Magazine said we’re all miserable, and when Time called us a decaying backwater river down, and when John Calipari said coaching at the University of Memphis was like eating at the kids’ table, and when Phil Jackson — that flailing blowhard — said Memphis looked like Dresden after the war.
Fizdale didn’t just get off a brilliant rant about officiating Monday night, he tapped into the psyche of this place. Yes, the officials are out to rook us. Just like everyone else.
So there will be T-shirts. And there will be signs. And there will be bedlam at the first questionable call. But if this is really going to be a civic happening, there had better be a victory, too.
* * *
No. 2: Stephenson on LeBron: 'Just gotta tame him' -- LeBron James has more or less had his way with the Indiana Pacers in the first two games of their series. That has in turn led to a 2-0 Cavs edge and the Pacers searching for any kind of answer to slow down the MVP candidate. Indiana's Lance Stephenson -- never one to shy away from a challenge -- had some thoughts on James in an interview with USA Today's Michael Singer:
Stephenson was an integral part of those two Pacers teams that went to back-to-back conference finals in 2013 and 2014. Both times they ran into LeBron James’ Miami Heat, whose streak of six consecutive NBA Finals appearances is still ongoing.
Now, facing a 2-0 deficit in the first round and a different James-led team in the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stephenson is saying all the right things.
“It’s the playoffs. The playoffs get me hyped, wanting to get up every day and play each day,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s not just because of LeBron.”
Stephenson was hesitant to engage the topic of James, perhaps given his infamous ear-blowing incident in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. But the reality is that Stephenson was a pest on the defensive end then, and, to a lesser degree, he’s still an irritant to James and his teammates this time around.
Despite his circuitous NBA path, Stephenson was one of only a handful of players who ever had a chance at slowing down James. Aside from being physical, what’s Stephenson’s strategy?
“You just gotta tame him,” Stephenson said. “He’s playing so well right now. His jump shot has really improved. Just gotta get into him, make him pass the ball. Make his teammates make decisions.”
Stephenson slammed the ball out of frustration in the third quarter Monday night as the Cavs continued to exploit him on the defensive end. He also talked trash to Kyrie Irving, which backfired when the Cavs point guard tallied 37 points. Stephenson is a lightning rod, equally capable of sparking his team in either direction. That the Pacers, and George in particular, felt they needed someone to bring energy and toughness to their team says as much about Stephenson as it does about the state of the Pacers. And if they’re going to drag themselves out of their 2-0 deficit, they’re going to need Stephenson to channel his emotion.
That’s not to say they don’t want him to be himself.
“Just letting me play, letting me play without thinking,” Stephenson said of why the Pacers are a good fit. “Think a lot of teams had me playing, just thinking too much. I got here, just be yourself. Let me play through mistakes. Don’t sub me for every little mistake. They’re just letting me be myself.”
But before landing a three-year, $12 million deal in late March with the Pacers, Stephenson signed two 10-day contracts with the Minnesota Timberwolves in an effort to latch on somewhere. It was Pacers president Larry Bird who finally helped Stephenson find a more permanent home.
“(Bird) believing in me, being that he was such a great player," Stephenson said. "Him believing in me, giving me that confidence and letting me be myself. I feel like him doing that for me is making me a better player.”
* * *
No. 3: No guarantees for Bucks playing at home -- April 30, 2015 marked the last time the Milwaukee Bucks hosted a playoff game. On that night, the Bucks went out with a whimper in a Game 6, series-ending 120-66 first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls. Tonight's Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors (8 ET, NBA TV) is a chance for Milwaukee to take a 2-1 edge, but that's no given. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel has more:
“We have to be the desperate and aggressive team,” coach Jason Kidd said. “I think we learned that in the month of March, that there’s never a time to be comfortable.
“It’s not about home court. Things happen. Look at hockey, and in the NBA you have (eighth-seeded) Chicago going to (top-seeded) Boston and winning two games.
“You have to go out there and take it or protect it.”
Yet after hearing all the noise from the energized “We the North” crowd in Canada, it will be nice for the young Bucks team to have a big crowd on its side.
Veteran guard Jason Terry said the Bucks must be smart in the way they approach it.
“Just coming home is not going to get the job done,” Terry said. “We need to have precise execution and really go after it and get this game.”
The Bucks were not a great home team during the regular season while compiling a 23-18 record, and they were nearly as good on the road at 19-22.
So the Bradley Center is not necessarily the most intimidating venue for a playoff opponent.
Terry said, however, it can be “rowdy, loud and proud,” and as usual the 39-year-old will not be hesitant to fire up the fans.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’ve got my wife coming into town, my sister and my brothers. The whole family is here.
“I don’t know how many more of these opportunities I’ll get, so I want to live in the moment. And me being the fan-friendly person that I am, I’m going to get them going early.
“It excites me and it excites my team.”
Matthew Dellavedova gained plenty of post-season experience over the past two seasons while reaching the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning the league title last year. He knows the home court only plays a part in the playoff equation.
“We’re excited to be back here on our home court, but we have to play better on the defensive end,” Dellavedova said. “I think the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 for us was our execution on the defensive end.”
* * *
No. 4: Report: Porzingis says he wants to stick with Knicks -- The future success of the New York Knicks rests mostly in the hands of young star Kristaps Porzingis. Keeping him happy with the direction of the team and his place in that future success remains job No. 1 for the Knicks' brass. There was understandable concern among Knicks fans when Porzingis skipped his exit interview, but he told the New York Post's Marc Berman yesterday that he has no thoughts of leaving NYC:
Kristaps Porzingis will leave for Latvia on Thursday without meeting with Phil Jackson, but he said blowing off his exit meeting with the team president is not a sign he doesn’t want to play at the Garden next season.
“Of course,” Porzingis told The Post at his luxury apartment complex in Manhattan, when asked if he wants to be a Knick next year. “I love New York. I love New York.”
According to a source, the Knicks were not given an explanation behind Porzingis’ decision to skip his scheduled exit meeting with Jackson on Friday. Sources have told The Post the 21-year-old franchise pillar is upset with the way the franchise has been run — with Jackson looking to trade Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis’ mentor, and going full tilt on a triangle offense that Porzingis has publicly supported but has mixed feelings about.
On Wednesday, Porzingis declined to address why he missed the meeting with Jackson.
“It’s not the right moment to comment on anything [about it],” he said. “I don’t want to say anything.’’
According to sources, Jackson and the coaching staff have dispersed for a brief respite now that the season is over. Team brass is in the dark on why Porzingis declined to show.
“It wasn’t right,” said one individual familiar with Jackson’s feelings on the blow-off. “But Phil went through this with Kobe [Bryant] and Andrew [Bynum], when they were still young but started to sprout their opinions and rebelled. It worked for Kobe. Hopefully this will make Kristaps better in the long run.”
After working out Wednesday with Sasha Vujacic at that gym, Porzingis and his brothers, Martins and Janis, filmed the last scenes of a documentary of his life that will air on ESPN before June’s draft.
Porzingis said the crew had filmed most of it in Latvia last summer when he staged his basketball camps, but the producers wanted the final scenes of Porzingis at his Midtown apartment, where he lives with his brothers. It is another signal Porzingis doesn’t want to go anywhere. Porzingis’ two brothers also love New York after previously living their whole lives in Europe where both played basketball professionally.
“It’s my last day here,” Porzingis said. “I’m very excited. We started filming in the summer. I didn’t really finish it. A whole season went by and now we’ll finish it today.”
* * *
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami Heat boss Pat Riley has a lot of hope for the team's future ... J.R. Smith (hamstring) remains questionable for Game 3 tonight ... Giannis Antetokounmpo is being featured in a new line of Nike commercials ... Is there a new big three growing up for the Chicago Bulls? ...