HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We know, we know, it’s just the preseason.
Tell that to the schedule makers, who had a nine-game preseason schedule last night that we could have sworn looked like something we’d see in the middle of December.
This month of action is indeed the warm up act for the “real thing.”
But that doesn’t mean we can’t get down with the Hump Day Hoops Roundup on a Wednesday morning:
DALEMBERT OUT, BOOGIE IN?
The Kings will play the next month to six weeks without the services of Sam Dalembert because of a groin injury. That could put rookie center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins into the starting lineup for the start of the regular season, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
It’s a big loss for the Kings, who were hoping to become a better defensive team behind Dalembert’s shot-blocking.
“It’s a problem because the perimeter has to play tight because we want to protect them and the foul situation,” said Kings coach Paul Westphal. “We don’t have the size to clog the lane like we’d like to, so our defense has to be a little different on the perimeter as well.”
The Kings have started rookie DeMarcus Cousins at center during the preseason, and that could continue in the regular season. When Jason Thompson isn’t at power forward, he is Cousins’ backup.
Cousins fouled out of the previous two games.
“DeMarcus can block some shots, he can take some charges and clog the middle,” Westphal said. “But he fights foul trouble, and he’s not going to just be an eraser like Dalembert, like Hassan can be.”
THE NBA = THE NEW COOL IN RUSSIA
A visit from CSKA Moscow brought out some interesting sights and sounds in Miami. Who knew that the NBA was the new cool in Russia? Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald observed the scene and highlights the league’s truly global appeal.
While driving to AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, brothers Pavel and Yuri Kopeche listened to Russian rap music to get into the mood for the Heat’s game against CSKA Moscow.
The rapper, Don Zagru, is known for satirizing the state of Russian society and wearing LeBron James jerseys.
We know that King James has worldwide appeal. Here was confirmation that LeBronsky is the ultimate symbol of cool in cool-hungry Moscow.
Somewhere, basketball salesman David Stern is smiling.
“The NBA is the new vodka in Russia,” said Yuri Kopeche, a Russian native who has lived in Miami for five years. “People cannot get enough basketball. If you’re wearing a LeBron James shirt or a Knicks or Lakers cap, people know you are Americanized.
“Of course, Russia is usually about five years behind the United States. Britney Spears is very popular right now.”
NO BOOZER INJURY INVESTIGATION
The Bulls and Carlos Boozer have squashed all this talk of an investigation as to how Boozer broke his hand, an injury that will keep him out of the first month of the regular season. Both Boozer and Bulls officials denounced a New York Daily News report that the team was digging into the matter, per Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.
“The guy was trying to create a story out of no-story,” Boozer said of the report after Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning. “Horrible [report]. Obviously, you want to get your facts right before you decide to write something that’s not true. Horrible report. My Bulls are behind me, my teammates are behind me. For me, it’s disgusting when you have a reporter write something that’s not true.”
Boozer, who over the summer signed a five-year deal worth as much as $80 million, expects to have his cast off in three weeks. He hopes to return faster than the eight weeks that was anticipated by team doctors.
“I hope I’ll be back quicker than the normal time,” he said. “But [I’ll] let the bone heal and see how it feels when I get my cast off in three weeks.”
Boozer admitted that he was upset by the report but said he was just trying to focus on getting back on the floor.
“I can’t worry about that, man,” he said. “I can’t worry about what people write. I know what’s real and what’s going on and for me, I’m just here for my team, supporting my team. I’ve got the support of my team, my organization, and I’m just looking to forward to getting back out there when my hand’s ready.”
BLAZERS MOVING ON WITHOUT ODEN?
It seems strange to even dip your toes into this discussion after just three years, but might the Portland Trail Blazers be moving on without specific plans for Greg Oden? No, seriously. Could they be planning for the immediate future without the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft in the middle of said plans? John Canzano of the Oregonian caught up with Trail Blazers GM Rich Cho and asked the all important question.
Cho refused to put a timeline on Oden’s return from a fractured patella. And why would he? “If I knew he’d be back Nov. 30, I’d say it,” the general manager said. This lifts the lid on the mystery that is the front office’s unwillingness to put a timeline or any kind of pressure on Oden.
They simply don’t know.
I can live with that.
You should, too. What’s significant to miss there is that the team is indicating for the first time that it isn’t going to sit around and wait for Oden to return.
But what the team can’t live without is depth in the front court, and so your eyes, and mine, should be focused on [Joel] Przybilla today. Because if he really can be ready “sooner, rather than later,” as he’s declared, then the Blazers might not do a thing. If he’s not ready, the organization will have no choice but to do something to get Marcus Camby some front-court help.
NOTHING WRONG WITH ARENAS
Gilbert Arenas is fine. Despite being a late scratch from Tuesday’s game against the Hawks with “soreness in his left knee,” Arenas is feeling pretty good today. In fact, there was nothing wrong with his knee, per Gene Wang of the Washington Post.
Following the game, Arenas told reporters it was all a ruse in order to give [Nick] Young the opportunity for more playing time.
“I know he’s kind of frustrated he’s not getting a chance to crack the three position, especially since we’re going three guards, so I told him I’d go ahead and fake an injury or say something’s wrong with me so you can start,” a smiling Arenas said in the locker room.
When asked about the health of his knee, Arenas said, “I’m fine,” and indicated he would play on Thursday in the Wizards’ final home preseason game against Milwaukee.
STOUDEMIRE-FELTON LINK CRUCIAL FOR KNICKS
Amar’e Stoudemire spent the last six glorious seasons on the receiving end of passes from one of basketball’s all-time great delivery men in Steve Nash. The crucial questions for the New York Knicks is can he and Raymond Felton rekindle that magic at Madison Square Garden. The jury is still out on that, per Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.
It remains to be seen how Stoudemire will be affected by his decision to leave the Suns. He’s going from getting passes from Nash, one of the top playmakers in league history, to Raymond Felton, considered an average playmaker during his first five seasons, all spent in Charlotte.
“I don’t want to put any extra pressure on Raymond because Steve is a phenomenal player and he works extremely hard at his craft,” Stoudemire said. “Raymond is special at his own, different craft. So we’ll just have to leave it to him to reach his full potential.”
As you might guess, the two have a long way to go. When the Knicks play their preseason home opener Wednesday against the Celtics, it will be only their third game, with Felton trying to figure out an entirely different system than the one he left in Charlotte.
“These last two practice, he’s getting a better feel about what we need to do,” said Mike D’Antoni, whose speed-ball offense is about as different from Larry Brown‘s halfcourt sets as it can get. “I don’t think he had that in Europe, at all. There are times he’s going too fast in the halfcourt. He’ll get better as we understand what we want to do and how we want to run. Plus our “bigs” are running, but not all the time with a purpose. We need to clear that up.”
ABDUL-RAUF STILL GOING STRONG
Admit it, you didn’t know Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was still playing professional basketball. There’s no shame in that. We didn’t know he was either. But he’s still going strong, albeit far from the glare of the NBA spotlight, per Ed Odeven of the Japan Times.
Despite beginning his professional career when George H.W. Bush was U.S. president, Abdul-Rauf’s commitment to excellence hasn’t changed.
He admitted as much without hesitation.
“Right now I feel good,” said Abdul-Rauf, the Kyoto Hannaryz‘s 41-year-old floor leader. “I’ve still got passion. I’m competitive. I don’t want to lose. I still feel there’s room for improvement that I can make, even at 41.
“I don’t think you ever stop getting to the point where you can’t improve, and when you do that you stop growing, you stop getting better.”
Speaking at the bj-league’s preseason media day last week in Tokyo, Abdul-Rauf was asked what areas of his game he’d like to improve.
He responded by saying, “I’d like to improve my shot. I’d like to improve my ball handling. I’d like to improve every aspect of the game.”
There are a number of aging athletes who are comfortable collecting a paycheck and not devoting serious time to make improvements in the latter stages of their career.
This has never been Abdul-Rauf’s approach.
“When you think that you’ve conquered one aspect, you stop growing in that area,” he said bluntly.
WINLESS HAWKS STRUGGLING IN PRESEASON
With the injuries mounting and a new head coach in place, the Hawks haven’t looked anything like the 53-win team we all saw last season. Even with five regulars at home with injuries, coach Larry Drew tried to rile his team up to play rugged defense against the Wizards Tuesday night. But it didn’t happen, per Mike Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Drew said he wanted the Hawks to play with high energy despite the missing players. Before the game, he said he’s still trying to get the team to take on the challenge of playing rugged defense.
The message didn’t take. The Hawks were slow to run out to shooters, passive against picks and struggled to slow Washington’s big men at the rim and on the boards.
The Wizards shot 42-of-79 from the field and never trailed after gaining a 19-18 lead in the first quarter. The Hawks trailed 63-49 at halftime.
“There’s no excuse,” center Al Horford said. “I think we have a long way to go as far as defense if we are going to be an elite team.”
BASKETBALL FREE SUMMERS WORK FOR FISHER
It’s a relatively radical approach to offseason training, but clearly basketball-free summers are working for Lakers veteran guard Derek Fisher. Instead of plowing his way through pickup games day after day, Fisher gets away from the game during the offseason to focus on other training methods, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Fisher and the Lakers played until June for the third consecutive season, winning back-to-back NBA titles after beating the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. In his 14-year career, Fisher, 36, has been to the playoffs 12 times, reached the Finals seven times and won five titles.
But about six years ago, Fisher said, he got “away from [playing] five-on-five” basketball during the off-season.”You think about only having [from] June 18 or 19 to Oct. 1 basically to give your body and your mind a chance to kind of reset and be ready to do it again; to me it just makes sense,” Fisher said after Lakers’ practice Monday. “But it’s with the context of the additional training methods that I use.”
Fisher said he does off-season exercise drills “so I don’t need basketball to stay in shape.”
Although Fisher is the oldest starter on the Lakers, he’s played in 413 consecutive regular-season games, second among active NBA players.
He’s played in all 82 regular-season games the last five seasons — one each with the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz and the last three with the Lakers. Plus, he’s played in 82 playoff games in the last four seasons.
And his game seems to peak in the spring.
Fisher averaged 10.3 points in 23 playoff games last spring, compared to 7.5 points during the 2009-10 regular season. He made 44.8% of his field goals and 36% of his three-pointers in the playoffs, up from 38% from the field in the regular season and 34.8% from beyond the three-point line.
He also averaged 32.7 minutes a game in the playoffs, up from 27.2 minutes in the regular season.