No. 1: Rondo ruled out for Game 6 -- The Chicago Bulls are staring down elimination tonight in Game 6 at home against the Boston Celtics (8 ET, ESPN). Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo flirted with the idea of playing in Game 5, but that didn't happen and now it looks like Game 6 is a no-go for him as well. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more:
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t just being cautious when he said the return of Rajon Rondo was a “longshot” on Wednesday night.
The team announced yesterday that the point guard, looking more and more like the prime reason the Bulls won Games 1 and 2, will not play tonight in Game 6 due to lack of improvement in his fractured right thumb.
“He’s a really good player — certainly they’ll run an action or two when he’s on the court versus when he’s off of it,” Brad Stevens said before last night’s practice at the United Center, “but it’s not going to change how we play at either end of the floor. As we evaluated after Game 2, we determined a course of action, before we knew he was out.”
Bradley remembers well another time when Rondo played with an immobilized arm, after a yank from then-Miami guard Dwyane Wade dislocated his left elbow. Rondo played two games with the injured arm essentially dangling by his side.
“He’s tough. It just shows — we used to say back then, ‘You always want to play with your dogs,’ people that are gonna play hard no matter what,” said Avery Bradley. “You just want to go out there and compete at a high level, and that’s Rondo. If he’s hurt, he’s gonna try to help his team no matter what. I know that. It just makes the game that much fun. That’s what it’s all about, competing against the best players.”
Had Rondo played, Bradley’s sure he would have been effective despite the injured hand, and that Celtics defenders would not have tried to overplay against his right hand.
“I don’t think you look too much into it. You’ve just got to go out there and play hard,” said Bradley. “He’s a professional basketball player, so if he’s coming back he’s gonna find other ways to be able to work around that injury and try to make plays for his team, so we just have to go out there and play our game and focus on what we can control, and that’s guarding him as best as we can.”
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No. 2: Wizards happy with Gortat's defense -- Solid screens and points in the paint have been the hallmark of Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat's game all season long. While he's leading the NBA playoffs in screen assists, his offense hasn't been up to its levels it was during the regular season. But the Wizards will take his intangibles -- and his defense -- as they look to close out the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 tonight (7:30 ET, ESPNU/NBA TV). Ava Wallace of The Washington Post has more:
“Yeah, he rebounds and he makes our offense work,” Washington Coach Scott Brooks said. “I know he would like to have more attempts, and I would like to give [him] more opportunities. But you get what the game gives, and right now, they’re not giving him any opportunities because Howard’s in the paint, and he’s clogging up the paint and he’s not getting out of the paint, so we have to figure out ways to get him some opportunities to score … but I like when he just plays. And if the shot comes to him, it comes to him.”
As the Wizards head back to Atlanta holding a 3-2 series edge, there is little the Hawks are doing to surprise Brooks anymore. Likewise, Atlanta has had time to figure out Washington on defense, and Howard is playing better after a revitalization on his home court. Gortat started the series with consecutive 14-point performances in Games 1 and 2 before he scored just nine points in the past three games combined.
Even without Gortat scoring in double digits, the Wizards have praised their center for contributing on defense — particularly so on Wednesday night, one of the stronger defensive outings for the team in the entire series.
While he scored just two points in Washington’s Game 4 loss in Atlanta on Monday, Gortat pulled down a game-high 18 rebounds and led the team with three blocks. He had nine rebounds the previous game.
“I mean, everybody wants to feel involved on the offensive end, I get that — I was frustrated for 11 years playing — but it’s part of being a team, you’ve got to sacrifice,” Brooks said when asked if Gortat feels any frustration over his lack of output. “There’s gonna be games, there’s gonna be series that, the way teams are scheming, you might not get looks. They’re not giving Otto any air space on the three-point line, and they shouldn’t, he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the league. You think John or myself only want to give Otto two or three threes? I want Otto to shoot 10 threes a game. But they’re not giving those opportunities. And they shouldn’t. And the same thing with Marc. But it’s about doing other things to help your team win, and I think he’s done a good job doing that defending, rebounding, setting screens, just being a guy that can clog the paint.
“The scoreboard is more important than his stat line, and that’s how I feel with all the guys. We had four more points than them, and he’s a big part of those four points.”
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No. 3: Clippers focused on next win, not their looming demise -- Once Blake Griffin was lost for the playoffs after Game 3, it became en vogue to question the LA Clippers' roster future. When the Clippers lost Game 5 at home on Tuesday, that put them in a 3-2 series hole to the Utah Jazz and talk about their future got louder. As Game 6 of the series looms tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN), the Clippers have basically tuned all that out. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has more:
Trailing three games to two in the best-of-7 series, L.A. must win Friday or Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick sail into free agency, sloshing through the wake of another inexplicable playoff exit.
Talk about your brief strolls.
However, Rivers said that’s not what weighs on his mind going into Friday’s Game 6 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, nor on those of the players who have endured one playoff disappointment after another.
“We don’t think about the story,” Rivers said dismissively. “We think about the process. Our job is to go in thinking about what we have to do better.”
In NBA history, the team with a 3-2 advantage wins the series 84.4 percent of the time.
“What does that have to do with these guys?” Rivers said.
He added that “guys don’t don’t think about that crap,” although he’s probably wrong about that.
“Jamal (Crawford) and I were recounting the times in our career where we’ve been down 3-2 and won the series,” J.J. Redick said. “Not just here, but in Atlanta (for Crawford) or Orlando (for Redick). It’s happened before, so I’ve been a part of that 20 percent.”
The Clippers and Jazz were deadlocked after two games and four games. Will they return home for a Game 7, knotted at 3-3?
“You can’t go up to Utah to win two games,” Redick said. “You can’t win two games tomorrow. We only have to win one game tomorrow. That’s all we have to do. … The task of winning one game is a little less daunting than the task of winning two games at once.”
Redick said a playoff series is a game of “micro-adjustments” rather than major narrative swings.
“You can’t think about any other option,” Redick said. “That’s really our only choice, I guess, is just to put everything into tomorrow and then we’ll worry about preparation on Saturday for Sunday’s game.”
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No. 4: No disgrace in Grizzlies' Game 6 loss -- The Memphis Grizzlies had a Game 7 all but put in pen on the calendar last night, only to watch it disappear behind the San Antonio Spurs' tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Memphis' playoff run is done, but what a run it was and, as Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal writes, this season and playoff showing was something to be proud of:
There will be no Game 7. There will be no more games at FedExForum. The Spurs took care of that by rallying to defeat the Grizzlies, 103-96.
“It’s hard, the season’s over,” said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. “It’s going to be one of those nights, a long, long night where the game keeps replaying in your head. You’re going to go over every play about a thousand times. When you try to close your eyes, whatever that time is, it’s going to keep replaying in your head.”
“We had the game in our hands,” said Gasol. “We were getting ready to travel tomorrow and getting ready to play, in our minds, Game 7.”
The Grizzlies gave up too many (16) offensive rebounds. Gasol didn’t take a single shot in the fourth quarter.
Said Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, by way of explanation: “Turnovers, bad possessions offensively, mental mistakes defensively.”
The Spurs have now bounced the Grizzlies from the playoffs four times. They are the better, deeper, more talented team.
Beyond that, the Grizzlies were missing Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons, an original member of the Core Four and the max player who was supposed to put the Grizzlies over the top.
So the Grizzlies took on the Spurs with two rookies (Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden) playing significant minutes, and with 40-year-old Vince Carter starting at the wing.
And the Grizzlies still gave the Spurs everything they could handle, in large part because Conley played the games of his life. Conley scored another 26 points Thursday, the fifth straight game in which he scored at least 20 points.
“Every night I would close my eyes and envision this from Mike Conley when I thought about our team,” Fizdale said. “I think he showed people in this playoffs. He’s a big-time player that’s not afraid of the moment, that loves competition.”
Said Popovich: “Mike Conley has always been a heck of a player, he has never gotten his due. He’s been the most underrated point guard in the league for a while. Everybody talks about point guards and they mention four or five guys and it’s always the same guys. But this kid has a high basketball IQ, he shoots it, he drives it, he passes, he runs his team, he’s incredible.”
It must be satisfying for Conley to hear those sorts of compliments. He has fought for the smallest scraps of recognition for ever so long. But in the wake of Thursday’s loss, Conley was less interested in hearing what other people said about him than he was in saying some things about his team.
“It was a pleasure to play with a group that really leaves it out there like that,” he said. “I left everything I had out there and I know my teammates did the same. It’s been such a pleasure to play with guys like that, knowing that not only myself but everyone else is laying it on the line. It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer says he's 'not afraid' to pay the luxury tax if it will bring his team closer to a title ... Speaking of the Clippers, there's a chance Paul Pierce could start in Game 6 ... Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey knows his squad is at its best when the cards are down ... Quick idea of some to-dos for the Golden State Warriors before the Western Conference semifinals ... There's no denying how Rudy Gobert's return has changed the Utah Jazz's playoff run ... Denver Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray had successful surgery on a core muscle-related injury ...