Posted Date: April 23, 2014

Did Goran Dragic deserve to win Most Improved Player? History suggests …

Goran Dragic, Most Improved Player, Paul George, Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic; Paul George

Goran Dragic won 2014 Most Improved Player award after Paul George (left) claimed it last year. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The purpose of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award is to recognize a player who has made “a significant improvement from the previous season.” At least, that was the language used in Wednesday’s official press release announcing Suns guard Goran Dragic as the 2013-14 recipient.

Dragic won handily, just as Paul George did in 2012-13. The Pacers’ forward posted sizable increases in virtually every major statistical category last season while leading Indiana to 49 wins, the team’s most since 2003-04, and a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. George was such a convincing winner that he earned four times as many first-place votes as runner-up Greivis Vasquez.

Voting for the Most Improved Player award isn’t always as clear-cut, though. Sometimes there are a number of candidates with a viable claim to the honor. And further complicating matters is the lack of clear criteria to win the award.

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Posted Date: April 23, 2014

Suns’ Goran Dragic wins NBA’s Most Improved Player Award

Goran Dragic, Most Improved Player, Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic averaged a career-high 20.3 points per game in 2013-14. (Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Suns guard Goran Dragic was named the 2013-14 Most Improved Player on Wednesday after leading Phoenix to the NBA’s biggest turnaround this season.

Dragic, 27, powered the Suns to a 23-win improvement (48-34), averaging a career-best 20.3 points to go with 5.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds. Known for his fearlessness when driving to the rim and his sharpshooting, Dragic took his games to new heights in his sixth season. He averaged almost seven more points per game than the year before and shot career bests from the field (50.5 percent) and three-point range (40.8), becoming the first guard since 1992-93 to reach those percentages while averaging 20 points. His Player Efficiency Rating (21.4) topped 20 for the first time and he established himself as one of the best point guards in the league, ranking in the top 20 overall in points, assists, PER and true shooting percentage.

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Posted Date: April 23, 2014

Phil Jackson and James Dolan reportedly already clashing over Knicks decisions

James Dolan, New York Knicks, Phil Jackson
James Dolan; Phil Jackson

Doesn’t this seem like years ago? It was actually last month. (James Devaney/Getty Images)

Just a few short weeks after joining forces in New York, there is already a report that suggests Knicks president Phil Jackson and owner James Dolan are having a bit of a tough time. The rumored tension centers around a New York Daily News report that Dolan is having trouble ceding his decision-making power.

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Posted Date: April 23, 2014

Report: Pacers’ Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner engage in ‘fistfight’ at practice

2014 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Ben Golliver, Evan Turner, Indiana Pacer, Lance Stephenson
Indiana Pacers' Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner reportedly engaged in a fight at practice.

Lance Stephenson (left) and Evan Turner (right) reportedly engaged in a fight at practice. (McClatchy-Tribune/Getty Images)

Pacers guards Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner reportedly engaged in a fight at practice prior to the start of the 2014 playoffs.

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Posted Date: April 23, 2014

Three-Pointers: Wizards survive in OT to beat Chicago, take 2-0 series lead

2014 NBA playoffs, Bradley Beal, John Wall
Beal and Wall helped the Wizards take a commanding 2-0 series lead (Gary Dineen/Getty Images)

Beal and Wall helped the Wizards take a commanding 2-0 series lead (Gary Dineen/Getty Images)

Two days after rallying to win Game 1, Washington used another late comeback to force overtime and edge the Bulls, 101-99. The Wizards, with a commanding 2-0 series lead, will host Chicago for game 3 on Friday.

SI’s 2014 playoff preview hub | Schedule

• Washington resilient again. Jimmy Butler made two free throws with about seven minutes to go to put the Bulls up 87-77. Chicago had absorbed Washington’s early scoring barrage, steadied itself and overcome a 17-point deficit to take what seemed like a commanding late-game lead. The Bulls appeared in position to pull away and draw even in a series pitting two teams that, at the outset, looked relatively evenly matched. But Chicago never provided the knockout blow it needed, and the Wizards ripped off a 20-4 run spanning the fourth quarter and overtime to win Game 2.

The Bulls are often lauded for their toughness and composure. But in the first two games of this series, Washington has been the more resilient team when it mattered most. The Wizards’ comeback was reminiscent of the way it stormed back to beat Chicago in Game 1 on Sunday. The Wizards trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter but wound up outscoring the Bulls 30-18 and winning by nine. Down by 10 Tuesday, Washington, again, did not succumb.

Rising star Bradley Beal, who shot just 3-of-11 from the field in Game 1, propelled the Wizards on a blistering closing stretch. He nailed a jump shot at the 7:40 mark, then canned a three around the five-minute mark to slice Chicago’s deficit to four. Beal connected again from beyond the arc less than two minutes later to get Washington within two, then scored three points in a 30-second stretch to knot the game at 91. Beal finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-20 shooting and seven rebounds, giving Chicago fits with his ability to both penetrate and stroke jump shots. If he struggled in Game 1, Beal’s performance in game 2 — more specifically, during that late, game-turning blitz – was nothing short of excellent.

In overtime, Beal handed the closer torch to Nene, who drilled two jumpers and dunked to help Washington open up a six-point lead and hold on for the win. Nene, who made big play after big play in Game 1, tallied 17 on 8-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds.

• Beal, Wall step up. Washington’s Game 1 victory over Chicago wasn’t just an impressive display of resiliency. It seemed to augur future success for the Wizards. John Wall and Beal shot just 7-for-28 from the field … and the Wizards still scored 112.8 points per possession against one of the best defensive teams in the league. It was veterans Andre Miller, Nene, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza that shined, the talented youth that wilted under the playoff spotlight. Their performance begged the question: What would happen if Beal and Wall bounced back? What if Washington’s young guards actually played well? Chicago found out Tuesday night.

Abetted by significant contributions from Nene and bench production from forwards Martell Webster and Trevor Booker (19 combined points), Wall and Beal carved up Chicago’s stingy defense, teaming for 16-for-35 shooting from the field for 41 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. While Chicago did a good job keeping Beal and Wall in check through most of game 1, there were times Tuesday night when the Bulls looked lost trying to guard the Wizards’ backcourt duo – particularly in the first half, when Beal and Wall combined for 27 points. Beal was clearly the better of the two, but Wall’s efforts should not be overlooked.

DOLLINGER: Pacers take frustrations out on Hawks, even series

Wall set the tone early when, in the first two minutes, he drilled a long jump shot, rebounded a missed three and fed Nene for an 18-footer. By the time the Bulls called their first timeout, with 6 minutes 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Wall had played a big hand in helping the Wizards jump out to a 15-6 advantage. Just before halftime, with the Wizards’ lead slipping, Wall knocked down a free throw and three jump shots and assisted on another to keep the Bulls at bay. Wall finished with the same number of points (16) as he scored in game 1, but he shot a higher percentage from the field, dished out one more assist and was particularly effective in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Beal asserted himself in crunch time, scoring nine points in the final five minutes of regulation as Washington worked to erase a late lead and force overtime. In Game 1, Washington was able to win despite Beal having an off game because other players – including Nene (24 points), Ariza (18 points) and Gortat (15 points) – stepped up. The Wizards needed Beal at his best Tuesday night, and he delivered. Beal repeatedly burned Chicago’s defense with his rim drives and long range shots. Had Beal not caught fire late in the fourth quarter, there’s a strong chance the Wizards wouldn’t have even made it to overtime.

Performances such as this one from Beal and Wall inspire confidence in what the Wizards can potentially achieve in the later rounds of the playoffs.

• Is Chicago done? Teams rarely come back from a 2-0 deficit to win seven-game series. Setting aside statistical precedent, though, the most important question, at the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, is whether Chicago can beat Washington right now. In the first two games of this series, the Bulls have come undone in the fourth quarter, seemingly running out of energy, of the grit they’ve been able to summon for months, when they could least afford to.

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GIF via Eye on Basketball

It’s been said that to advance in the playoffs, Chicago will have to “fight” and “out-hustle” opponents. That approach worked throughout much the regular season, even as the Bulls lost two of their best players to injury and trade, respectively. But in the postseason, when teams seem to hit another gear, the Bulls’ win-by-force-of-will MO might not be enough. Effort and desire can only get a team so far. Still, it’s unlikely the Bulls will mail it in. Expect them to continue to fight, literally.

MAHONEY: DeRozan comes up huge in fourth, Raptors knot series

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