WASHINGTON— Instead of a focus on the league's exciting postseason, the alleged comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling are the talk of the NBA right now.
TMZ reported that Sterling made numerous racist remarks in a phone conversation with a former girlfriend—who is of African-American and Mexican descent—regarding his prejudice toward people of different ethnicities. Sterling, who has been accused of discriminatory housing practices in federal lawsuits in the past, is white.
While Heat superstar LeBron James made strong comments prior to Miami’s first-round playoff game Saturday—"There's no room for Donald Sterling in our league," said James, who was backed, in a statement, by team owner Mickey Arison—the Bulls took a more cautious approach in the wake of the NBA issuing a statement saying the league is in the midst of an “investigation” of the situation.
“I really don’t know what was said, not said,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a close friend of Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “Before I comment, I want to find out what was said.”
Mike Dunleavy Jr.—whose father was once the Clippers’ head coach and general manager under Sterling; coincidentally, the elder Dunleavy also sued the owner for an unrelated matter—added: “Yeah, I haven’t read it or seen the stuff that’s going on, so I don’t know enough to comment, but it sounds unfortunate.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah had perhaps the strongest take on the issue, while bringing some levity in the process.
“I don’t know enough about the situation to pass judgment. I don’t know if it was him or what was going on. But it’s an unfortunate situation,” said the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s really sad that there’s still people who think that way. But right now, my focus is on this team and controlling what I can control. That’s my eggs Benedict.”
Sterling has countered by saying he sued the woman on the call with him for the embezzlement of $1.8 million from him, while the Clippers’ players didn’t address the issue, letting Rivers speak on their behalf as they continue their series against the Warriors.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is scheduled to address the situation in a press conference Saturday night. Here's hoping the first-year commissioner does the right thing and takes serious action against Sterling.
Wizards affecting Noah’s offensive game
Noah has his hands full defending Nene, but an added benefit to the Wizards’ big man’s upcoming Game 4 absence might come on the other end of the floor. Nene and Washington as a whole have done a great job crowding Noah in the high post, taking away his passing lanes, forcing turnovers and generally preventing the “point center” from excelling as a playmaker.
“You’ve got to take what the game gives you. I thought he had a lot of good quick decisions. He didn’t get assists for them. But I thought he got the ball moving for us. That was probably more important than anything else,” Thibodeau said. “For him, he’s going to handle the ball a lot. Would I like [Noah’s turnovers] to be less? Yeah. I also know that can happen. We want him to take care of it, but we want the team to take care of it as well… Joakim helps us in a ton of ways. His screening I thought was terrific yesterday. His defense was very good. He doesn’t have to shoot and score to play well.”
Noah himself acknowledged: “They’re pressuring me a lot more than usual. I have to do a better job of taking care of making sure I don’t turn the ball over. They’ve been doing a good job with that and I think it’s been giving them a lot of easy points in transition, so I have to do a better job of not turning the ball over.”
Dunleavy, Butler hope to keep it going
Dunleavy’s playoff breakout game of 35 points Friday was not only a season-high and a playoff-high performance—the veteran’s postseason experience is limited—but one point off his career-high of 36 points. Understandably, he was besieged by well-wishers after the outing, which saw him knock down eight out of 10 three-pointers after a relatively quiet start to the series.
“Yeah, my iPad actually broke because I had too much stuff coming in and it shut down on me. But it’s a fun time of year. Everyone is watching, it’s the biggest stage and it’s just fun to be a part of it,” Dunleavy revealed. “I couldn’t sleep last night, like we lost. Just a late game, that type of thing. Getting up this morning, though, wanted to make sure my body felt good, and really just thinking about Game 4. The prior games are behind us and it’s onto the next one.”
Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson said the sharpshooter’s big game will likely benefit the rest of the team’s scorers moving forward, as it wouldn’t be surprising to see Washington overcompensate for Dunleavy, but another key for the squad will be strong fourth quarter put forth by teammate Jimmy Butler.
“It helps out so much. It opens up the game. We should have been running plays for him. He’s hot. He has been shooting the ball well all year. When he does that, it opens up the lane for Joakim and D.J. to get the screen and roll, for Jimmy to get open looks as far as being an attacker at the rim.” Gibson explained. “But the main thing was just Jimmy. Once Jimmy went through that little spell, he just took his looks. He didn’t shy away from it. “
Butler had a relatively modest 15 points, but after struggling with his shot in the series’ first two contests, hitting clutch shots late, including a triple with under a minute remaining to put the Bulls ahead for good, did wonders for his confidence, especially since teammates such as Gibson encouraged him to look for his own offense.
“I knew it, but it definitely helped to hear it from teammates. It made it almost reassuring. I’m back, so I don’t have too much to worry about,” Butler said. “I wasn’t looking for it for the most part. I was just too worried about just playing defense. That can’t happen. I have to be a threat. For as many minutes as I play I still have to be able to produce on offense. But I think it’s easy, especially when I put my mind to it and think, ‘Hey, score the ball.’
“It was huge. More importantly, it was what the team needed to get the win. I’m not worried about myself, I’ll be OK, but as long as we’re pulling out wins, we’re good.”