Nothing in the NBA playoffs is going like it’s supposed to. The Pacers look like they’re all done, the Spurs struggled to get past the Mavs, the Warriors-Clippers game was a mess of missed free throws and turnovers, the Wizards are winning games… yeah, it’s a little weird.
Of course, we’re only one game in. There’s going to be lots more. But right now, if I were a Pacers fan, I’d be worried. Losing to a Hawks team without Al Horford, a Hawks team that finished the regular season with a losing record, on your home court is not the way #1 seeds should be opening the playoffs.
The last two years, top contenders have had their star point guards go down to knee injuries in the first round. Russell Westbrook recovered, but we’ve barely seen Derrick Rose since. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen this year. The playoffs are better when the stars play.
There’s still one game to go tonight, and it should be a good one. Can the Rockets guard Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge? They’re considering bringing back a strategy they tried briefly for this series. Read on to find out what it is.
First, though, let’s get to the rest of the NBA’s latest news:
WHAT DOES A CAP INCREASE MEAN FOR MELO’S SUITORS?
The NBA has informed teams that it is projecting a rise in the salary cap of nearly $5 million for next season, which could aid clubs such as Chicago and Houston in their attempts to steal free agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, according to sources familiar with the forecasts.
Sources told ESPN.com that all 30 teams were informed this week via league memorandum that an increase in the cap from this season’s $58.6 million to $63.2 million in 2014-15 — thanks to increased revenues — is now expected. A corresponding rise in the luxury-tax threshold from $71.7 million to $77 million is also projected, sources said.
The Knicks remain unquestioned favorites to re-sign Anthony after the March hiring of the decorated Phil Jackson as team president and given the fact that only New York can offer the 29-year-old a five-year deal — one year longer than any other team — in the $130 million range.
But sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Bulls — even before these developments came to light Friday night via noted NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon — were already feeling increasingly optimistic behind the scenes about their chances of convincing Anthony to leave the Knicks in the wake of New York’s failure to make the playoffs. This is the first season Anthony has failed to reach the playoffs in his 11-year career.
It’s believed that the Bulls would still have to shed some veteran salary in addition to releasing former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause this summer to be able to make a competitive offer that could persuade Anthony to leave the new Jackson-led Knicks and the Madison Square Garden stage he loves so dearly. But a higher cap figure than anticipated would naturally make things easier for Chicago.
And Houston has quietly expressed confidence for months that it could make the moves necessary — such as trading center Omer Asik and/or guard Jeremy Lin — to thrust itself into the heart of the Anthony bidding depending on how the forthcoming playoffs play out.
AL JEFFERSON HAS STRAINED PLANTAR FASCIA
Bobcats forward Al Jefferson required multiple injections after suffering a strained plantar fascia in his left foot during a 99-88 Game 1 loss to the Heat in Miami on Sunday.
Jefferson began moving gingerly late in the first quarter. He departed for the locker room but returned to the court, laboring throughout the second half. He told reporters during his post-game comments that he received one injection when he first left the game and a second injection at halftime.
“I just heard something pop,” he said. “It was a lot of pain. I really don’t know all the details. I know I’ll be OK. It’s something you have to play through … I don’t like needles. It was very uncomfortable for me. I got [an injection] one right when it happened … and I got one at halftime. It felt a lot better in the third quarter. … It was something I had to get used to.”
Asked if he felt he would be limited by the injury as the rest of the first-round series unfolded, Jefferson did his best to keep a positive outlook.
“You’ve just got to suck it up, man,” he said. “I’ll be fine for the remainder of the playoffs.”
ROCKETS CONSIDERING PLAYING ASIK WITH HOWARD
Rockets coach Kevin McHale would not directly say he would play Asik and Howard together again, elevating it only from a topic he would not discuss to “it’s possible.
“We haven’t done it a lot lately,” he said. “They were effective earlier at stages, and this might be one of those games where if we’re having a heck of a time with Aldridge we might try one of our big centers on him.”
The Rockets would rather have Terrence Jones produce at the position. They are a different team when he is aggressive and effective, with Jones averaging 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins; 7.8 points and 5.8 in losses.
Against the Blazers, however, he was unable to keep Aldridge from his spots, Aldridge scored easily and Jones averaged just four points and two rebounds.
If Jones needs help at the position again, the Rockets could turn to backup Donatas Motiejunas or go small with Omri Casspi. But the strengths of the Blazers are Aldridge’s scoring and the team’s offensive rebounding. Asik’s strengths are defense and defensive rebounding. Aldridge made just 35.7 percent of his shots with Asik on the floor.“It could help because they got a guy, Robin Lopez, who is a great offensive rebounder,” Howard said. “He’s a big body. Me and O, we are two of the best inside defenders on our team. Having us matched up on LaMarcus, making it tough for him to get to the basket, but also getting physical for him for seven games, that’s going to be tough.”
ANDRE MILLER IS HAPPY IN WASHINGTON
Just three months ago, Miller was home in Denver, working out on his own and waiting for the Nuggets to trade or release him. Golden State, Minnesota and Washington were in the mix, but the Warriors nabbed Steve Blake and the Wizards swooped in with an offer of Jan Vesely to get Miller, a move that allowed him to reach the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.
“This was my first option, just looking at the roster, previous history with Martell [Webster], Nene and Al [Harrington],” Miller said. “This was my first choice. It was granted and I’m just happy to get here and try to get comfortable with the situation. It’s been a good experience so far. I’m going to enjoy my time here for as long as they want me here. I’m just happy to be in the playoffs, happy to be able to contribute to this team.”
The Wizards have a player option of the final year of Miller’s contract next season. Miller can be bought out for $2 million of his $4.6 million salary but he has helped solidify the Wizards’ bench and completed the team’s long and frustrating search for a backup to John Wall.
BRIAN SHAW TALKS PLAYER MANAGEMENT
“Middle of the pack. If you would ask the players, I think they all genuinely like me. They probably would all say he would be one of the coolest coaches we played for. But with that being said, I also feel like that was taken advantage of at times. Because I’m laid back by nature and I try to leave a lot of things up to them to decide for themselves, and I need to be more directive when it comes to that. Obviously I feel that I was always open to communicate with them — I kept it real with them. But there were instances where the players felt like … like the Andre Miller situation. He didn’t feel like he was communicated with.
“I wasn’t aware that he had a streak of never gotten a DNP (did not play) before. I should have been more aware of that. I don’t know if it would have changed anything. So there were instances where I clashed with guys. But I thought it was important that I got the way I wanted to do things established, got that foundation laid. So I stuck to my line. Some of it was good, some of it was not.”
NEW BUCKS OWNERS TALK KEEPING THE TEAM IN MILWAUKEE
Q: Both of you know the metrics of this past season. Last in attendance, worst record, one of the smallest markets, if not the smallest market, in the NBA. Tiny TV ratings. What convinces you that this market can come back and you can bring fans into the arena.
A: Edens: First of all, I love underdogs, and I think Marc loves underdogs. The notion of buying into a team at this time in some respects is perfect. There is no doubt there is a tremendous fan base in Milwaukee and in the Wisconsin area for sports. All you have to do is look at the attendance figures for the Brewers. Go to a Packers game. There is no doubt there is a huge fan interest for it. We just have to create a product that everybody is excited about…In the NBA you can become competitive in a very short time if you get the right people in charge and you get the right players on the court playing the right way. I think it’s a great opportunity.
Lasry: I agree with Wes. Part of this for us, you can only go up, right? If you look at this, if we do the right things. If we pick the right players. If everything works the way hopefully it will and we can follow the model of San Antonio or the (Oklahoma City) Thunder. I think, look, all everybody wants is the same thing we do. Everybody just wants a winner.
If you’re winning, people show up. If you’re losing, people get discouraged.
I think in Milwaukee, you’ve had one championship and sort of everybody talks about the glory days…When you’re talking to your kids about the glory days, your kids look at you and say, “You’re fricking crazy.” When we talk about the Knicks in New York, they’re like, “The Knicks suck. They haven’t done anything lately.”
Dan Malone is currently in graduation limbo after finishing his journalism degree at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and spent last summer as a features intern at the Cape Cod Times. He blogs, edits and learns things on the fly for Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on Twitter.