Alonso quickest in China practice - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso welcomes his new team principal to Formula 1 by setting the pace in first practice at the Chinese Grand Prix. Nationals make 4 errors in 8-0 loss to Cardinals (Yahoo Sports) - The Cardinals' first batter sent a seemingly routine grounder to Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who failed to field the ball cleanly for one of his two errors on the evening. The next hitter's swinging bunt was grabbed by pitcher Taylor Jordan, but he could not manage to get the ball out of his glove. And so began the latest disastrous defensive showing by Washington, whose rookie manager, Matt Williams, made better fielding a point of emphasis this spring. The Nationals finished with four errors - raising their total to 20 in 16 games - and that was the last thing they needed Thursday, because Adam Wainwright was dominant while throwing a two-hitter to lead St. Louis to a 7-0 victory. Dodgers' Puig focuses on baseball despite issues (Yahoo Sports) - Yasiel Puig believes he has the support from his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates and the club to help him keep his focus on baseball despite challenges off the field. Puig returned to the starting lineup in right field for Thursday's series finale against the Giants amid reports that smugglers who helped him defect from Cuba had threatened his life. ''I'm only concentrating on the season and being the best teammate and helping my teammates,'' Puig said, speaking in Spanish during an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday morning at his locker in AT&T Park. While Puig won't address the details specifically because of a pending legal case, he said he will focus on baseball and on helping the defending NL West champion Dodgers keep winning. Wainwright's 2-hitter leads Cards past Nats 8-0 (Yahoo Sports) - Adam Wainwright threw a two-hitter Thursday night for his seventh career shutout, chipped in at the plate with a double and single, and St. Louis benefited from four errors by Washington in the Cardinals' 8-0 victory. Wainwright (3-1) allowed Ian Desmond's infield single in the second inning and Adam LaRoche's single to right in the ninth. Desmond, Washington's shortstop, made a pair of errors, raising his season total to seven. The Nationals have 20 through 16 games, an average of 1.25. Rangers score 3 in 3rd, top Flyers in opener 4-1 (Yahoo Sports) - Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals 47 seconds apart in the third period, and the New York Rangers beat Philadelphia 4-1 in the playoff opener on Thursday night to stretch their home-winning streak over the rival Flyers to nine games. The teams were locked in a 1-1 tie when Jason Akeson - playing in just his third career NHL game - was given a double high-sticking penalty for clipping Rangers forward Carl Hagelin with 7:35 remaining. New York quickly took advantage. Richards gave the Rangers their first lead of the night when a rebound of Martin St. Louis' shot came to him, and he fired it in from the right circle, punctuating the moment with an emphatic fist pump at 8:22. Source: Haith front-runner for Tulsa job (Yahoo Sports) - OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Missouri coach Frank Haith is in position to replace Danny Manning at Tulsa. Knicks' season over, focus is on Anthony's future (Yahoo Sports) - Carmelo Anthony said he wants to stay in New York, and said he wants to win. It will be up to Phil Jackson to convince him that he can do both. With the Knicks' season over and Anthony missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, he can begin thinking about his future. The Knicks never came close this season, going 37-45. Getzlaf plans to play in Ducks' Game 2 vs. Dallas (Yahoo Sports) - A day after Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf took a slap shot to the head, the Ducks had already found the lighter side of a potentially disastrous playoff injury. ''He's not trying to impress anybody with his face.'' Coach Bruce Boudreau was more succinct: ''I didn't want to look at him,'' he said. Nobody in either dressing room was surprised Thursday to learn Getzlaf plans to play against the Dallas Stars in Game 2 on Friday night despite that huge cut on his face. Getzlaf was hit by Tyler Seguin's shot in the final minute of the Ducks' 4-3 victory over Dallas on Wednesday night in the series opener, but the puck apparently broke no bones - which means it'll be almost impossible to keep Getzlaf off the ice. 'There's a secret language only us drivers know' - In his regular BBC Sport column, Lewis Hamilton talks about his thrilling Bahrain battle with team-mate Nico Rosberg Trott to take break from cricket - Jonathan Trott is to take a break from cricket because of a recurrence of the anxiety issues that forced him to leave England's Ashes tour.

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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 3:38 pm]
The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test One year ago, the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks met in a first round series that was ridiculed for his boring play, Indiana’s inability to close out what felt like a lesser Hawks squad, and it’s relegation to the NBA TV end of things rather than a more nationally sponsored showcase. This … this doesn’t figure to change in 2014. Indiana, at its best, is a fearsome outfit. The group admirably paid tribute to its own fans and own potential while coming out of the gates swinging last autumn, re-stating a point with both words and play that the team treated home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference bracket as a priority, an understandable goal considering the outfit’s Game 7 loss in Miami to the Heat in 2013. The Pacers held the NBA’s best record for a goodly chunk of the season’s first half, it more than held its own in both Indianapolis and Miami meetings with the defending champs, and it finished the season with both the top seed in the East, and a 35-6 record at home. It’s also finished the season on a 23-19 run, hardly a mark befitting a championship contender working with a healthy starting lineup and designs on knocking off the two-time champion Heat. Its offense sunk terribly, its particulars whined and moaned about each other on record to the media, and its top players fell off in ways that made the midseason summations of their respective seasons seem almost laughable in retrospect. Paul George won’t be battling Kevin Durant and LeBron James for All-NBA honors, much less MVP honors. Lance Stephenson doesn’t feel like much of a fringe All-Star anymore. Roy Hibbert may even lose out to Joakim Noah for

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 3:09 pm]
The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) for the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test So we’re doing this again, eh? Oklahoma City and Memphis don’t have nearly the same enmity or respect or mixture of the two that the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers have, or the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat boast. There’s not a level of disgust there that will carry over into fisticuffs or even furrowed brows. These teams are meeting for the third postseason in four years, though, and we’d call this turn the rubber match if we didn’t think both outfits had a strong chance to hook up in 2015 or 2016 as well. The Thunder has been hot from the outset, even if the team hasn’t truly turned into a fully realized version of itself until the dawn of spring. Guard Russell Westbrook only recently returned to form, struggling in response to a torn meniscus suffered nearly a year ago in a playoff series against the Houston Rockets, and the two follow-up surgeries that the frightening injury necessitated. Westbrook, as is his custom even when he is healthy, marked his return with equal amounts brilliant and too-forced play in the bouts between operations, though his fulminations rarely took away from the Thunder’s chances at a win. Unless the team was on national TV, of course. Over the last month, though, Westbrook has been playing the finest basketball of his career. Just 25, he still notches an assist on 40 percent of the possessions he uses up, his rebounding has never been better, and though he’s tossing up more shots per minute than ever before, it’s hardly taken away from the work of his more-tenured teammate. Because Kevin Durant has come through with an MVP season. He came through with it without Russell, and wi

The 10-man rotation, starring the 38-win Atlanta Hawks [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 2:02 pm]
A look around the league and the web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. C: HoopsAnalyst. Are the 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks the worst eighth playoff seed of the modern era? Somehow, strangely, no. PF: The Detroit News. In contrasting a previous television report, Vincent Goodwill is telling his readers that Grant Hill has no interest taking on a gig as Detroit Pistons general manager. Whatever his interest, anything would be better than Grant Hill slumming on ‘Inside Stuff.’ SF: SB Nation. Holy lord I don’t know where to start just watch this brilliant thing Jon Bois did with Kobe Bryant meeting up with a version of himself from 16 years ago via a video game please watch this. SG: Sports Illustrated. This is Lee Jenkins writing about Joakim Noah, with both of them in their primes. Assuming Lee Jenkins will ever move out of his writing prime. You should probably read this. PG: Minnesota Star-Tribune. As we discussed last week, we’ve probably watched Rick Adelman coach his final NBA game. 6th: SB Nation. Yes, it’s true that Carmelo Anthony is frustrated with the New York Knicks. Anyone should be, after a season like that. This is also a man who would have to turn down a five-year, $129 million contract to play for a storied franchise in a wonderful city under Phil Jackson. It’s April. We’ll come back to Carmelo in July. 7th: New York Post. Full disclosure: Clarence Gaines Jr. is the uncle of one of my best friends, but it’s not bias that is influencing me in telling Knicks fans that he is a scout and executive that can truly help Phil Jackson in so many beneficial ways as he works toward his first offseason as Knicks personnel boss. 8th: Grantland. Zach Lowe represents us silly League Pass folk in breaking down all the wonderful and not-so-passable things about the NBA’s 2013-14 regular season. A lovely read that I’

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 11:59 am]
The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) for the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test It’s sad and more than a little enervating that the Golden State Warriors’ chances at a championship are exactly where we pegged them a year ago. They’re the same as when we left them following their second round loss to San Antonio, and last autumn when 2013-14 sparked up. The team is only going as far as the relative health of Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut will allow, and no amount of bench woes, coaching intrigue, and dodgy shooting can drag the narrative and scouting report from where it belongs. It needs Curry to dominate offensively, and Bogut to do the same on the other end, and while this may come off as too simple, one would have a hard time arguing otherwise. This is why the revelation of Andrew Bogut’s most recent significant injury is such an absolute downer, such a killer for a team that truly could have made some postseason noise had the matchups been in place, and the threes-and-defense philosophy fully executed. Bogut may not even be his team’s best defender, all-around demon Andre Iguodala probably takes that prize, but in spite of some intriguing defensive depth in the pivot and the possibility that the team’s brilliant shooting backcourt could still make wonderful work out of April, May and June, the Warriors’ hopes were just about dashed when it was announced that the big man would be out indefinitely with a rib injury. The Los Angeles Clippers don’t have their own injury woes, not to that extent, but it is always worth biting a nail or two when discussing the durability of all-world point guard Chris Paul. CP3 isn’t exactly a ligament-tearing charity case, but he has missed solid chunks of some of his NB

The Toronto Raptors release a striking new 'We Are North' clip in anticipation of a playoff run (Video) [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 11:17 am]
Even as an outsider, even if you’ve just looked on from afar as an unholy confluence of unknowing sportswriter disses, unfortunate injury timing, and downright terrible executive work from a series of general managers takes the Toronto Raptors and their followers down a peg, you kind of know what it’s like to live life as a Raptor fan. It started with an embarrassing logo in 1995, the first realization that Isiah Thomas might not be cut out for such things, sportswriters just assuming that Vince Carter would not want anything to do with the fantastic city as a would-be free agent, Rafael Araujo, the post-Chris Bosh decline, on and on … You feel for them, which is why you feel great when the team makes it back to the playoffs, when it wins its division in spite of a year that was supposed to drive team deep into the NBA lottery, and when you warm to the fact that this young and learning Raptors team could down a batch of NBA luminaries over the next few weeks, it could move on to attempt to shake the Miami Heat in the next round, and it might serve as a destination spot under new GM Masai Ujiri. This is why this recently-released Raptors video was such fun to watch: From there, you should be convinced to read James Herbert’s fantastic take on a team gone right, in a city that’s always deserved so much more from its professional basketball club.

The Toronto Raptors release a striking new 'We the North' clip in anticipation of a playoff run (Video) [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 11:17 am]
Even as an outsider, even if you’ve just looked on from afar as an unholy confluence of unknowing sportswriter disses, unfortunate injury timing, and downright terrible executive work from a series of general managers takes the Toronto Raptors and their followers down a peg, you kind of know what it’s like to live life as a Raptor fan. It started with an embarrassing logo in 1995, the first realization that Isiah Thomas might not be cut out for such things, sportswriters just assuming that Vince Carter would not want anything to do with the fantastic city as a would-be free agent, Rafael Araujo, the post-Chris Bosh decline, on and on … You feel for them, which is why you feel great when the team makes it back to the playoffs, when it wins its division in spite of a year that was supposed to drive team deep into the NBA lottery, and when you warm to the fact that this young and learning Raptors team could down a batch of NBA luminaries over the next few weeks, it could move on to attempt to shake the Miami Heat in the next round, and it might serve as a destination spot under new GM Masai Ujiri. This is why this recently-released Raptors video was such fun to watch: From there, you should be convinced to read James Herbert’s fantastic take on a team gone right, in a city that’s always deserved so much more from its professional basketball club.

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 17, 2014, 9:36 am]
The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test If you’re just checking in now, you’d be forgiven for wondering just how the Brooklyn Nets made it to the 2014 NBA playoffs. Actually, if you’re just checking in now, you likely missed the early season swoon these Nets cobbled together while you were paying attention to various brands of football. A team featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams would seem to be a postseason lock, as the springtime championship attempt commences. The Nets had to work through an extremely challenging set of conditions before righting the ship, though. Lead assistant coach Lawrence Frank was booted from rookie head coach Jason Kidd’s staff in the first month for allegedly watering down Kidd’s touch, tone and impact from the bench. Brook Lopez, by far the best player on the team at the time, was lost for the season to a foot injury in the days before Christmas. The team played a hellacious schedule, working up a series of back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-nights runs in anticipation of the team’s midseason “vacation” jaunt to play a contest in London. Kevin Garnett was aging before our eyes, Paul Pierce needed months to top 40 percent from the field, many questioned Kidd’s abilities as a head man, no help via draft picks was forthcoming, and Deron Williams’ once-stellar game was nowhere to be seen. The team then railed off five wins in six tries in the last days before the London trip. The break surrounding the game in England helped, the schedule de-stiffened, and the wins started piling up. Kidd had his team of oldsters playing small, with Pierce at big forward, and even the loss of Garnett (who played just five contests

Kevin Durant's game-winning dunk finishes off a likely MVP season (Video) [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 11:49 pm]
Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is the NBA's likely MVP for the 2013-14 season. While LeBron James might still be the league's best player, depending on how you rate such things, there's little question that Durant has put forth the best campaign of any player. Apart from winning his fourth scoring title in five years, Durant has improved in virtually every aspect of the sport and carried OKC through several lengthy periods of absence for co-star Russell Westbrook. It's hard to imagine him having done more to help his team. In Wednesday night's regular season finale against the Detroit Pistons, Durant put an exclamation mark on his already amazing year. With the Thunder needing a win to lock down the West's No. 2 seed for the playoffs, the lackluster Pistons held a meaningful lead for much of the contest. Then, in the fourth quarter, Durant took over. With OKC down 111-110 and under 20 seconds on the clock, Durant took an inbounds pass, went to his left, and dunked on both Kyle Singler and Greg Monroe for the game-winning dunk. Watch it here:   The Thunder's 112-110 win secured a 59-23 record and a first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. Durant finished with 42 points on 14-of-30 shooting, plus six assists and four rebounds. He also had a fantastic dunk over Andre Drummond earlier in the game. Naturally, Durant will not rest on his forthcoming MVP trophy. He has designs on his first title, and the Thunder figure to have roughly as good a chance as anyone else to get it. We'll find out over the next two months. - - - - - - - Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @FreemanEric Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL and "Like" BDL on Facebook for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.

Knicks finish with 37 wins, just as projected by computer system that team made fun of before season [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 10:05 pm]
Heading into the 2013-14 NBA season, many observers and prognosticators expected the New York Knicks to take a step back from the 54-28 record they put up en route to winning the Atlantic Division and making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. (I mean, when you add Andrea Bargnani in the offseason, you've got to take some type of hit.) Here at BDL, we pegged the Knicks at 49-33 — a five-game drop-off that would make it tough to maintain their spot atop the Atlantic, but still figured to keep them comfortably in the top eight of the Eastern Conference. Others were a bit less bullish, picking the Knicks to fall closer to .500. One preview, though, raised an awful lot of eyebrows by projecting Mike Woodson's club to sink like a stone in the standings. ESPN Insider's prediction for the Knicks' season, as forecast using Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection system, included a record of 37-45 — a staggering 17-win decline predicated heavily on an anticipated drop in 3-point shooting accuracy after losing the likes of Steve Novak, Chris Copeland and Jason Kidd, cramped spacing resulting in fewer and lower-quality looks for Carmelo Anthony, and the onset of age taking its toll on the many veterans that made up the Knicks' roster. As you might expect, the Knicks didn't take too kindly to a prediction that they'd free-fall from division champs and No. 2 seed in the East all the way down to well-below-.500 and near the bottom of the playoff bracket. From ESPN New York's Matt Ehalt: "Sometimes there's glitches in the computer," said Anthony, who added he doesn't pay attention to predictions. "That's all I got to say." [...] “Do they play? It’s a computer system. So I don’t think computers run up and down the floor. You still gotta play the game," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "I don’t get caught up into that. Bottom line is we take it one game at a time and put our best foot forward and we try to win. That’s what it’s all about. "I have no control o

Check out the first-round matchups for the 2014 NBA Playoffs [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 9:00 pm]
After nearly six full months and 82 games for each of the NBA's 30 teams, the regular season now gives way to the postseason. With no clear favorite, a massively competitive Western Conference, and two big rivals atop the Eastern Conference, this year's playoffs figure to be worth the wait. Without further ado, let's take a quick look at the first-round matchups, along with some quick analysis. (We'll publish in-depth previews for every series later this week.) Game 1 start times and television channels are listed where available (all times Eastern). WESTERN CONFERENCE No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (49-33) Game 1 scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Sunday on TNT The eternally effective Spurs bounced back from last June's heartbreaking NBA Finals loss to finish with the league's best record, due in large part to the strenghts of head coach Gregg Popovich and the mainstay trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. The Mavericks return to the playoffs after a one-year absence and boast Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis as offensive leaders. San Antonio swept the season series 4-0 and looks like the favorite this year, as well. No. 4 Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers (53-28) Game 1 scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Sunday on TNT With All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden, plus a strong supporting cast that includes the multi-talented Chandler Parsons, the Rockets have a not insubstantial chance at representing the West in the NBA Finals. The Blazers cooled down after a scintillating start to the season, but All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard present a formidable challenge for any opponent. Expect a high-scoring series from two of the NBA's most efficient offenses. No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers (57-24) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (50-31) Game 1 scheduled for Saturday New head coach Doc Rivers guided the Clippers to their second-consecutive division title as Chris Paul provided his usual peerless point guard play and Bla

Rajon Rondo honors Boston Marathon bombing victims with 'Boston Strong' sneakers for finale [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 8:14 pm]
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of two pressure-cooker bombs exploding near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, an attack that killed three people and injured 264 others. It was an unspeakable tragedy that shook Boston — and the country — to its core, and touched countless lives. But the city's response to in the aftermath of the attack — the tireless work of Boston police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel, the selfless heroism of civilians like Carlos Arredondo, etc. — also showcased the very best of the character and fortitude that Boston could offer. As Boston and its residents began the long and difficult journey of returning to normalcy, the city's sports teams — the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins and perhaps most of all the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, led by the famously quotable David Ortiz — played a significant role in giving Bostonians something to band together and rally behind, common colors and causes to celebrate. After the bombings, the Celtics donned special warm-up shirts and jersey patches to honor the victims and survivors alike, and with this year's model of the Celtics set to close out their season on Wednesday night at home against the Washington Wizards, point guard and captain Rajon Rondo took it upon himself to show a similar sign of support. While Rondo was ruled out of Wednesday's season finale due to a strained hamstring, he still went ahead with his plan to wear the special sneakers that Anta, the Chinese apparel brand with whom he has an endorsement deal, made specifically for this occasion. The sneakers feature the initials of every victim of the attack, with the now famous "BOSTON STRONG" slogan and the number "41513" — representing the date (April 15, 2013) of the tragedy — on the tongue. Here's one look, from the Instagram account of Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo: Here's another, from Comcast SportsNet New England sideline reporter Abby Chin: Ra

Kobe Bryant went to France before the Lakers finale, refers to season as 's---' [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 6:29 pm]
This Los Angeles Lakers season was always going to be a trying one full of challenges, but the reality has been something akin to a worst-case scenario. L.A.'s most popular squad enters Wednesday night's season finale at the San Antonio Spurs with a 26-55 record, second-worst in the Western Conference and sixth-worst in the entire NBA. The franchise will have to consider many options this summer as they attempt to reload and return to relevance. The most bizarre aspect of this terrible season, though, has been the relative absence of Lakers icon Kobe Bryant. In his 18th season, Kobe managed to participate in only six games as he struggled to recover from a torn Achilles tendon and subsequent injuries. He has been a presence around the Lakers, but he hasn't been the sort of ever-present force that has made him the NBA's most popular active player around the world. It now appears that Bryant has ended his 2013-14 responsibilities with the Lakers a little earlier than originally intended. As reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Kobe has left the country ahead of both the team's home finale at Staples Center and Wednesday's season finale: Bryant went to France with family members either Tuesday or Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times has learned. The Lakers conclude their season Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. A team spokesman said he was unaware of the situation and referred a reporter to Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, who did not immediately return a phone call. Bryant has been in a surly mood since the team's fortunes started sagging, muttering under his breath at last month's team photo that he doesn't like associating with a team so many games under .500. [...] Bryant was supposed to address Lakers fans before the team's home finale Sunday but showed up at Staples Center near halftime because of a migraine headache, a Lakers spokesman said. Instead of Bryant, Nick Young grabbed a microphone before tip-off against Memphis and called Lak

The 10-man rotation, starring Patrick Beverley on his defense: 'I'd probably want to fight me too' [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 4:11 pm]
A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. C: Sports Illustrated. Patrick Beverley tells Lee Jenkins what he wants his opponents to experience when he defends them — "It's going to be something you don't like. It's going to be hell." — in a predictably fantastic piece on what makes the hard-nosed point guard such an integral piece of the Houston Rockets' championship hopes. PF: SB Nation, Hardwood Paroxysm, GQ and The Triangle. James Herbert, Andrew Lynch, Bethlehem Shoals, Andrew Sharp and Danny Chau sing songs of praise for the dearly departed 2013-14 Phoenix Suns, who gave us more than we had any right to expect, never let us forget that we didn't expect anything, and head into the summer of 2014 with a remarkably bright future. SF: Bleacher Report. A great read from Howard Beck on how the Chicago Bulls "have become, essentially, the San Antonio Spurs of the Eastern Conference," and how their real-life practice of all those coaching clichés coming out of every NBA locker room makes them the kind of team that nobody — not Miami, not Indiana, not anyone — wants to see in the postseason. (Steve Aschburner of NBA.com has a similarly themed banger that's worth your time, too.) SG: Eye on Basketball. Matt Moore can't help but notice that, for all the talk this year about tanking, most of the league's worst teams are ones that actually wanted to be good this year: "If you want to lament the horror of bad basketball this season, recognize that it's the same as it's always been in the NBA: There will be bad basketball somewhere because playing at this level is hard, the competition is fierce, and the season is long." PG: Regressing. Which NBA players and teams most often take shots late in the shot clock? Who's best and worst at converting them, and which defense are most and least effective at fo

Gregg Popovich 'really impressed' with Spurs putting aside Finals flameout, soaring to No. 1 seed [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 3:25 pm]
If the San Antonio Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their regular-season finale on Wednesday, they will finish the year at 63-19, tying a franchise record for wins. Even if they don't, they will enter the postseason this weekend as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NBA playoffs, having earned home-court advantage in every series by virtue of posting the league's best record. They've been sensational all year, weathering a wide variety of storms by simply going about their business, calmly and completely crushing opponents en route to a fourth straight Southwest Division title, a 15th straight 50-win season, a 17th consecutive postseason berth and a franchise-record 19-game winning streak that spanned five weeks from late February through early April. In yet another season replete with impressive individual and team statistical accomplishments, though, the Spurs' legendary head coach has found himself most impressed by an achievement that can't be measured or quantified: his squad's commitment to exorcising an extraordinarily (and understandably) persistent ghost. From the great — and award-winning! — Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: For all those benchmark successes, coach Gregg Popovich believes nothing has been more remarkable than the ability of the 11 holdovers from last season to get beyond the crushing disappointment of the final two games of last year's NBA Finals. To Popovich, simply moving ahead resolutely after just missing on the franchise's fifth championship in Game 6 against the Miami Heat — and then losing Game 7 — is nothing short of amazing. “What does impress me about the group is the fact they've competed and gotten themselves in this position after a devastating loss in the Finals last year,” Popovich said. [...] “I thought they were pretty amazing after Game 6 to play as hard as they did in Game 7, when I think a lot of teams would have just given in,” he said. “Beyond that, they came back, put it aside and ha

The Milwaukee Bucks have been sold for $550 million, and will remain in Milwaukee [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 2:07 pm]
The Milwaukee Bucks were designed to make the playoffs, and instead of returning to the postseason the roster responded with 15 wins. The group is under the NBA’s salary cap, but it also boasts a series of long term contracts to middling or disappointing players that nobody is in a hurry to deal for. It boasts a coach in Larry Drew that followed one uninspired turn in Atlanta with an initial season in Milwaukee that left all involved stifling a yawn. The team’s franchise player is serving a drug suspension. Its general manager isn’t highly regarded, following his latest offseason buildup at least. It has just a 25 percent chance the top overall selection in this year’s draft. Its arena is dilapidated and sometimes barely playable. Two men just bought this team for $550 million. ESPN’s Marc Stein broke the news on Wednesday. The Bucks will be sold to a pair of investors, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, and the team will stay in Milwaukee. The team’s previous owner, former Senator Herb Kohl, has made a massive return on his $18 million investment from 1985, when he purchased the franchise, and he’ll follow through on his promise to keep the Bucks in Wisconsin. Holy cow, though. That’s $550 million for arguably the worst investment in the NBA. Here’s Stein’s initial report: In January, Forbes valued the Bucks at $405 million, last among the league's 30 franchises. Sources told ESPN.com that the deal, subject to league approval, will be confirmed in an afternoon news conference. Kohl, a longtime U.S. senator who bought the team for $18 million in 1985, made keeping the team in Milwaukee a condition of the sale. It's also believed Kohl, while relinquishing majority control, will retain a significant percentage of the team. And here’s a snippet of the team’s press release, via their official website: Furthermore, consistent with his commitment to the Bucks and Milwaukee, Senator Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift for the development of a new

Jim Barnett is calling his final regular season game on Wednesday, which is a shame [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 12:56 pm]
On Wednesday night, the whole of NBA fandom will sit in front of their beaming League Pass packages to take in the last game of the league’s regular season. It will start the night in Charlotte and Orlando, as it usually does, and end up somewhere in California, or Oregon, as is League Pass custom. Tweets will be shared, games will be watched, and fans across the country will wave goodbye to 14 of the league’s 30 teams as the season finds its end. Many fans outside of the Bay Area will also be forced to wave goodbye to Golden State Warriors color analyst Jim Barnett, who is basically being asked to step down as one of the voices behind Warriors telecasts in order to take on an ambassador’s role with the team. That decision was made last autumn, and was hardly noticed outside of GSW-blog circles, a move that I regret missing and then lamenting as we prepped for the slog of an 82-game, five and a half month season. Jim Barnett is fantastic at what he does, and it truly is a shame that those of us who won’t be able to take in local Warriors broadcasts during their playoff run will have to stop hearing Jim Barnett call basketball games following Wednesday night’s Golden State/Denver pairing. Digging in to hear Jim Barnett work Warriors games has long been a marvelous late night treat, a ladle-full of ice cream for those of us that should be in bed soon, and I can’t for the life of me imagine what drove the organization to remove the longtime voice – the 29-year voice – of the franchise. There are certain realizations that hit those of us that obsess over League Pass that we’ll never quite get over. When I plunked down way too much money to secure the package in 2000, I was straightaway struck by the richness and depth of the league’s announcing crews, something that ran far deeper than a league then-situated at a particularly low ebb. There were Chick Hearn and Hot Rod Hundley, calling the simulcast action as if a radio listener’s life depended on

National Guard soldier returns from Afghanistan, surprises 8-year-old son on court at Suns game (Video) [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 12:54 pm]
The Phoenix Suns were eliminated from the playoffs on Monday night, but their 97-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies did still manage provide a heartwarming moment for one Arizona family. During stoppages in pay at home games at the U.S. Airways Center, the Suns often hold a "Hot or Cold?" contest, in which a contestant is plucked from the stands, brought to the court and blindfolded, and then has to find the inimitable Gorilla, who is holding a pizza. The arena crowd is asked to help the contestant out by yelling "HOT" when he or she is close to the Gorilla, and "COLD" when he or she isn't. Find the Gorilla, get free pizza for a year. (This is a pretty solid deal.) When 8-year-old Logan Bledsoe finally got close, though, he found something even better than the Gorilla or free pizza. (Which is saying something.) Logan's blindfold came off, and there standing before him was his father, Specialist Jamie Bledsoe of the California National Guard, who had just returned from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. Natalie Brand of AZfamily.com has more: “It’s been really hard, just to live by myself with my mom, grandma and grandpa,” Logan said. Logan and his father Skyped as often as possible during deployment, but obviously nothing replaces seeing his dad in person. “Mostly excitement,” Logan said of his initial reaction. [...] Grateful for his own reunion, Bledsoe has this advice for his friends and fellow service members still deployed: “Talk to your family, regardless, any chance you can get,” he said. Military reunions at sporting events have become increasingly common over the years, but that doesn't necessarily make them any less emotionally stirring. Welcome home, Specialist Bledsoe. Wear those dog tags in good health, Logan. - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YourManDevine Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, "Li

Kyle Lowry turns the corner: 'you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re the one who needs to change' [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 12:16 pm]
Nobody wanted to call him a “head case,” but the scouting report was still out there. Kyle Lowry has undeniable talent, a track record of putting teams on his shoulders for quarters at a time, and more off-record whispers than a closed Hollywood set. He entered 2013-14 with an expiring contract, a team that was designed to lose, and a coach in Dwane Casey that didn’t seem long for Toronto. For whatever reasons, all of them tightly packed and wonderful, the Raptors’ season went according to script. Casey excelled in the final year of his contract, new general manager Masai Ujiri held off on completely dismantling the team that former GM Bryan Colangelo left for him, and Toronto ended up winning its division. Along the way, despite trade rumors, Lowry turned in a career year, nearly making the All-Star team and strengthening his position as the go-to 2014 free agent target for teams looking for point guard help. Of course, Lowry may not want to leave the confines of southern Ontario, as Ujiri looks to re-tool on the fly with his unexpected division winner. And to hear Kyle tell it, a figurative and literal look in the mirror helped turn things around, prior to 2013-14. First, he got his “hire a personal chef and trim the pounds”-game on point. Then, he re-focused his efforts in a productive, team-embracing fashion. From Cathal Kelly at the Toronto Globe and Mail: A bunch of reasons have been mooted as the catalyst for this shift – a heart-to-heart with GM Masai Ujiri, getting married, having a kid. Lowry lists them all off. “Sometimes, you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re the one who needs to change,” he says. […] “I’m happy,” Lowry says, trying to drill down to what this season means. “I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy.” He should be. Toronto could end its season with 49 wins with a victory on Wednesday, with Lowry the driving force behind most of them. He’s averaging a career high in points and assists per game

NBA playoff picture update: What's still up for grabs on the last night of the 2013-14 season [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 11:37 am]
The 2013-14 NBA regular season ends Wednesday, and all 30 teams will be in action on the final night of the 82-game campaign. For 14 squads, it'll offer an opportunity to say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehn and goodbye — until the draft lottery, at least. For the 16 teams that'll enter postseason play this weekend, it offers one more potential pitfall, one last night to survive without incident or injury before loading up for the long, arduous journey to hoisting the O'Brien trophy come late June. That journey will begin with opening-round quarterfinal matchups, a number of which have yet to be officially determined and will be locked in on the final night of the season. Here's a quick refresher on what's up for grabs and left to play for as we head into the 15-game Wednesday that will set the table for the playoffs. *** What we already know for sure EASTERN CONFERENCE • The No. 1 Indiana Pacers, who will have home-court advantage for as long as they're alive in the Eastern Conference playoffs, will take on the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks. • The Miami Heat will be the No. 2 seed. • ... That's it. WESTERN CONFERENCE • The No. 1 San Antonio Spurs will have home-court advantage in every series they enter, by virtue of having the best regular-season record in the league. • The No. 4 Houston Rockets will face the No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers. • The Golden State Warriors will be the No. 6 seed. • ... That's it. *** What's at stake on Wednesday EASTERN CONFERENCE • The Toronto Raptors can secure the No. 3 seed by beating the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Even if they lose, they can still finish third if the Chicago Bulls lose their road game against the Charlotte Bobcats. • If the Raptors lose the Knicks and the Bulls beat the Bobcats, Chicago finishes third and Toronto finishes fourth. If both teams win or both teams lose, the Raptors end up in the No. 3 spot by virtue of winning the Atlantic DIvision, pushing the Bulls down to the No. 4 seed.

Blake Griffin gets 16th technical, likely to miss Clippers' finale with suspension (Video) [Yahoo! Sports: Blogs: April 16, 2014, 1:39 am]
The battle for playoff seeding in the Western Conference could determine several teams' fates this spring. With all eight playoff teams having looked very dangerous at some point this regular season, first-round matchups figure to go a long way in figuring out which franchises avoid upsets or put themselves in position to surprise NBA fans. There are many quality teams in the West, so seeding might mean less than the ideal matchup. Heading into the final day of the regular season, it appears that the Los Angeles Clippers will be without a star player as they determine whether they enter the playoffs with the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. With 3:23 remaining in the second quarter of Tuesday night's eventual 117-105 win over the Denver Nuggets, Clips All-Star power forward Blake Griffin earned a technical foul for swinging his right arm at Timofey Mozgov in an attempt to knock the ball away after the play had been whistled dead. Check it out below (via EOB): This tech marked Griffin's 16th of the season, which triggers an automatic one-game suspension. (It also puts Griffin at the top of the league's technical foul leaders with Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins, who will also miss his team's season finale.) Unless the decision is rescinded on Wednesday — which is possible, given that the action didn't take place long after the referee's whistle — Griffin will miss the season finale at the Portland Trail Blazers that same night. With the Clippers one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the West's No. 2 seed, Griffin's absence would put the team at a disadvantage in pursuing that goal. Or maybe the team isn't so concerned with finishing third in the conference. As noted by Jovan Buha on Twitter, Griffin and teammate J.J. Redick will not travel to Portland. While their absences don't necessarily put the Clippers on the path to a loss, they do indicate that they're not going all out or waiting to see if Griffin will be made available. This decision makes some se





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