NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Blazers continue to amaze — Before the season, few would have pegged last night’s Blazers-Pacers showdown in Portland as perhaps the top early-season matchup to watch. But that it was, as Paul George of the Pacers and Damian Lillard of the Blazers put on a show in a thrilling 106-102 win for the home squad. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on the Blazers, who have the NBA’s best record, and their fast start that seems to be morphing into a season-long trend of success:
At first, the Trail Blazers’ stunning early-season success was dismissed as a hot start.Then, after the wins piled up against so-so opponents, it was simply a byproduct of a soft schedule.But now, after another impressive victory against another top-notch foe, it’s hard to find too many flaws in what is unfolding in the Northwest.It’s time to hop aboard the bandwagon, Rip City.
“We’re a pretty damn good team,” Wesley Matthews said, when asked what Monday night’s win showed. “And we can beat anybody.”
The game was billed as the best of the East versus the best of the West, as the Pacers (16-2) entered the game with the best record in the NBA, while the Blazers sat atop the Western Conference in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs. It also offered a contrast in styles, pitting the rough and rugged Pacers against the free-flowing, fun-to-watch Blazers.
After beating up on the NBA’s also-rans, the Blazers have now earned credible wins over the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls — with Derrick Rose — and now the Pacers. And Monday’s victory against the brawny, rugged Pacers showcased a Blazers trait often overlooked:
“That was a 48-minute fight,” Batum said.
The Blazers will face two more challenging opponents this week — including the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — but they way they see it, they’ve already proven their early-season hot streak is no fluke.
“We’re right there,” Batum said, referring to the Blazers’ standing among the NBA’s elite. “This was a big win.”
No. 2: Wolves gear up for trip to Mexico City — In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Timberwolves are set to take on the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 4 … in Mexico City, Mexico. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman doesn’t come across as the biggest fan of the trip in this story from Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune, but nonetheless, there’s some definite merit — both financial and otherwise — to the trip for the Wolves as a franchise and the NBA at large:
Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified.But he knows better: He was there at the beginning.
Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance.
“You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”
Adelman is reluctant to give up Target Center’s home-court advantage for one night and compound a hectic November schedule by flying so far south for a game that could have playoffs implications come April.
The league began discussing a Mexico City regular-season game with Wolves officials a year ago, partly because the team has Spanish-speaking Ricky Rubio from Spain and J.J Barea from Puerto Rico among its seven international players.
The Wolves — Adelman notwithstanding, of course — were willing because the NBA is paying it at least the equivalent of a Target Center game’s gate receipts and because owner Glen Taylor calls it “the responsibility of being an owner and doing your part” for a league that’s a $4 billion-plus business.
The NBA operates offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including two Chinese offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Taylor has served on the NBA China board since its inception and calls the number of people watching league games on their smartphones and targeted through social media “amazing.”
He also calls worldwide revenues a “relatively small amount” of the NBA’s massive pie — “not a significant part, yet” — but also terms it the league’s fastest-growing revenues.
Taylor said it’s simply smart to capitalize on a growing international game that Adelman believes produces through discipline and fundamentals more skilled, matured team players at younger ages now than an American AAU feeder system that emphasizes individuals and a superstar mentality.
“To us, that’s just good business,” Taylor said, mentioning growing worldwide TV rights and international corporate sponsorships to name just two. “We get paid back in several ways.”
Barea represented the NBA in Mexico City last year at the finals of a school tournament that brought together winners from five regions in the country.
“They love the NBA and basketball is growing there,” Barea said. “It’s a big place: a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but a lot of the fans of the NBA. It’s going to be crazy. If it was an away game for us, it’d be even better. But it’s all right, it’s just one game, a good change. I know a bunch of our guys have never been there before, so it’ll be fun.”
Just try telling that to Adelman, though …
“It is what it is,” Adelman said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’re going there. San Antonio is going to do the same thing. We just have to accept it. You’ve got to look at it as an experience and a challenge. It’s all you can do. Where we are right now, every night is a challenge to get a road win. If we get that one there, I’ll count it as a road win.”
No. 3: Bradley trying to continue tradition started by Garnett, Pierce — During the offseason, the Celtics made a decided move to rebuild when they sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in a salary cap-saving move. As such, most would expect Boston’s defense — a trademark of the KG years — to fall apart. So far, that hasn’t been the case as Boston ranks 9th in defensive rating this season after finishing fifth in that category in 2012-13. Part of that strong defense could be attributed to guard Avery Bradley, who is one of the league’s best perimeter stoppers and has embraced the role of carrying on the Celtics’ tradition of defense first, writes Shams Charania of RealGM.com:
Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett understood leaders on their former team would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.
“They told me this was going to be hard,” Bradley told RealGM. “At some point in their careers, they both played on teams that were very young, and that’s how our team is now. It takes time, but if everybody buys into what we’re trying to do, everything works out.”
Bradley has been a solidified voice for these Celtics, and him developing a close relationship with Jeff Green has proven a reliable influence on a hard-playing team. Already, Brad Stevens has established a rapport within his locker room, a scheme on both ends of the court; infusing seven wins a month into the season.
For Stevens, Jordan Crawford has grown into a playmaker and Jared Sullinger is continuing his basketball growth, adding range and versatility to his jump shot. Nevertheless, the Celtics feed off Bradley’s tenacity on defense and he knows how critical his outside jumper is to the offense. In Bradley, teammates see a little more Pierce than Garnett, more action and force than rah-rah and verbiage.
“I don’t really speak much, I try to lead by example,” Bradley said. “I definitely learned leadership from the guys that were here before, because the Celtics have a culture. Playing hard and respecting the game – I try to keep that going, hoping it rubs off on my new teammates and some of the younger guys.”
Over a summer of sharpening his ball handling and smoothening his jumper, Bradley replayed situations from his most extensive memories last season. As a combo guard asked to play more point guard late in the year, he knew struggles would come in placing the Celtics into proper offensive sets. Yet, everyone around the Celtics expected out of Bradley nothing but further repetition in the offseason – now off to a career start.
“I was put in situations where I had to learn both guard positions,” Bradley said. “I just have to keep improving each game now. Once I got the chance, I knew everything would work out. My main thing now is just consistency.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards reserve forward Trevor Booker is frustrated with his role on the team … ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls the state of the the Eastern Conference ’embarassing’ … Jameer Nelson continues to embrace his teaching role with the young Magic … Derrick Favors gets some praise from his idol, Dwight Howard …
ICYMI Of The Night: Leave it to Tim Duncan to cap off a historic night with a game-winner, too …