It’s just two weeks from tonight when Miami and Boston resume their blood feud on the occasion of the Heat’s ring ceremony, and then the rebuilt Lakers will take on the Mavericks to close out the TNT doubleheader on opening night.
But that means there is still time for adjustment, improvement, healing and just plain eyeballing players who had something to prove going into training camp. Now midway through the preseason schedule, here’s a six-pack who still bear watching:
Jeremy Lin, Rockets — Nobody expected him to walk in and turn the clock back to the “Linsanity” of last February. But now that he’s been installed as the face of a completely rebuilt team, the Rockets need Lin to play more confidently and effectively than he’s shown in his first four preseason games. The point guard has made just 21.1 percent of his shots, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, and averaged 4.7 assists.
“I’m just trying to find my rhythm, find my comfort level again,” Lin said. “I can’t live with this in a season. I have a lot to learn.”
“He’ll have to be better,” said coach Kevin McHale after a particularly dismal effort against the Spurs on Sunday, where Lin made just 1 of 10 shots.
“That’s going to be a thing where he’s going to have to … He’s a young kid. We’re not talking about a 30-year-old guy, 10-year vet. You’re talking about a guy that has 20 starts under his belt.”
Michael Beasley, Suns — How many second chances does one guy get?
It was barely 18 months ago when former teammate Dwyane Wade said: “With more patience (from a team) and hard work by Michael, he could really turn into a star.” Of course, Wade’s Heat had already shipped him on to Minnesota by then and now Beasley has a blank slate with the rebuilding Suns at the start of the post-Steve Nash Era. If there was ever a time a place for the 6-foot-10 forward to prove he belongs, this is it.
In two preseason outings, Beasley is averaging 12 points in 22 minutes per game, but managed to bump into just five rebounds. Of his 17 field goal attempts, more than a third of them have been 3-pointers as the Suns coaching staff has encouraged him to take the shot.
“This is the first time I’ve really been encouraged to shoot even more than I already do, and we all know that I shoot a lot,” Beasley said. “My last two teams, I’ve been asked to try to be a passer-playmaker.”
Brandon Roy, Timberwolves — Virtually the entire league has had its eyes on the return of the former Trail Blazers All-Star guard as he not only tries to come back from a premature retirement, but to fit into a lineup that should contend for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference.
Roy has played just under 20 minutes per night and averaged 10.7 points in three games, including a preseason high 27 on Saturday against the Bulls. The one thing coach Rick Adelman hasn’t done yet with Roy is put him on the floor to finish a game.
“The knee is fine,” Roy said. “I think the handle is still there. The thing I really like with being on a good team is Coach has given me the opportunity to have that ball. Luke (Ridnour) is a long-time friend of mine and when we’re on the same team, he knows my capabilities. I think one of my greatest strengths was being able to create in the pick-and-roll. A lot of two-guards aren’t used to having the big guys that can handle the ball and create off the dribble. That’s still one of my strengths.”
Kyle Lowry, Raptors — For all of the anticipation in Toronto surrounding rookie big man Jonas Valanciunas, perhaps just as significant in the offseason was the addition of Lowry from Houston. After missing the first three games with a groin injury, the point guard is expected to get his first game action on Wednesday night against the Wizards.
“I’m going to be rusty but I’ll try to pick up where I left off earlier in training camp,” Lowry said. “I haven’t played in a game yet but there are some things I’ve picked up on the team that I’ve seen watching on the sidelines.”
If the Raptors are going to even flirt with being significant this season, they’ll need the aggressive, attacking, cocksure Lowry to set up their big men and especially get the most out of Andrea Bargnani and Valanciunas.
“He can run the pick-and-roll because he’s a smart guard,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He creates a problem just with his speed and strength and quickness. It’s a different type of pick-and-roll attack. Jose (Calderon) approaches it more with intellect, conservative when he comes off reading where Kyle comes off with speed, quickness and he gets the defense to react in a different way.
“He’s a student of the game, he’s probably one of our smarter players, he won’t miss anything intellectually, the only thing he’ll miss will be conditioning.”
Eric Gordon, Hornets — Another injured player who still hasn’t gotten onto the court in preseason is the guy who needs to start rehabbing his image with the home fans. After saying that his heart was in Phoenix when he signed an offer sheet with the Suns, the best way for Gordon to make amends is to start making buckets. Especially after he was healthy for just nine games last season after coming over from the Clippers in the Chris Paul deal. His sore right knee is the same one that underwent arthroscopic surgery last February.
“I’m involved watching things,” Gordon said. “For sure, I have to definitely know what’s going on and I’m always watching. I’m definitely putting input in the young guys’ ears, just let them know what’s going on and what’s the easy tricks to getting things down. I’m definitely looking forward to when I get back.’’
Hasheem Thabeet, Thunder — The old adage is “you can’t teach height” and it’s the fact that he’s 7-foot-3 that will keep getting Thabeet’s foot in the door with NBA teams probably for years to come. But if there was a nice place to fit, it would be OKC, where the former scourge as a college shot-blocker could help in a limited role.
The problem is that Thabeet has never been much of a defender in three NBA stops at Memphis, Houston and Portland and, for his size, gets pushed around quite easily.
“For a guy 7-3, you don’t normally say athletic,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But he’s pretty athletic. He gets up and down the court. He can move pretty good.”
Never mind his scoring, he’s averaged four rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 15.5 minutes over two games.