VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 2
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Warriors all about that ‘next level’ of play — Just four games into the season of defending their NBA title, the Golden State Warriors are a team everyone is targeting (and everyone wants to play like). Our Fran Blinebury raised a good question the other day: will reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry surpass the season he put up in 2014-15? The better question is: are the Warriors as a whole better than they were in their dominant 2014-15 campaign? Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for last night’s 50-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies and reports that surpassing 2014-15 is all part of the plan for Golden State:
Draymond Green stood before the media, arms akimbo, and gave the motto. “The one thing coming into training camp, Coach Kerr’s one go-to line was ‘next level,'” he declared. “Next level in the offense, next level in the defense, next level in focus, next level in intensity.”
This level isn’t supposed to exist. After a 67-win season and subsequent championship, the Golden State Warriors weren’t expected to get better. That’d be lunacy, especially in a climate in which many basketball pundits are still slow to accept last season’s greatness. Lunacy might be reality, though.
After beating their first four opponents by more than anyone has (plus-100), after strangling the Memphis Grizzlies into a 26-of-96 shooting night and 50-point loss — 119-69 — the champs are looking better than ever. They’re doing it without head coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut, and both could return at any moment.
Stephen Curry has been beyond impressive, scoring more points (148) through the first four games than anyone other than Michael Jordan. He has also done this in 127 minutes on 84 shots.
“It’s about us, it’s not about sending a message really,” Curry said of Golden State’s recent approach. It’s easy to draw conclusions from how the Warriors have battered four former playoff opponents, but Curry insists their motivation is internal. “We know that we’re capable of being a better team than we were last year. We have so much potential in here and so much talent that we don’t want to waste it.”
The Golden State defense has grown more comfortable, and they’re dabbling in new tactics. This early season has seen a lot of blitzing double teams from the baseline and traps further out. When asked about the trapping, Golden State assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said, “We’re being a little more active this year in that regard.” He continued, “We can play in different ways defensively. I would say this about our defense: I think we have grown, and we’re still growing. That’s exciting.”
“I think we’re trying to get to that next level,” Green repeated, “but there are still more levels to get to.”
No. 2: After postgame rant, Kobe takes day off from practice — Kobe Bryant was none too pleased with himself or the play of his Los Angeles Lakers after Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks. If you missed it, Kobe went off, saying that he was the ‘200th best player’ in the NBA right now and some other choice words. Perhaps the best thing Bryant could do was get away from the source of his frustration — the basketball court — and take a day off. That’s exactly what he got yesterday from coach Byron Scott, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:
A day after calling himself “the 200th-best player in the league right now” and saying “I freaking suck,” a struggling Kobe Bryant was given the day off from Lakers practice Monday because he was “really angry” with himself, Lakers coach Byron Scott said.
“I said, just stay away from the gym today,” Scott said after the team’s practice at their facility here. “Just spend some time with your kids and family and get basketball off your mind for 24 hours if you can — which I don’t think he can — and then come in tomorrow fresh and we’ll go from there.”
Scott said Monday that he’s fine with Bryant’s shot selection and that he’s not concerned with Bryant in general.
“He’s going to get to the Kobe that we know,” Scott said. “It’s just three games into the season. It’s still very early.”
“We’re going to keep feeding him. … He’s in the gym 24-7. It’s not that he’s not putting in the work,” rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell said. “It’s just, the basketball gods aren’t blessing him right now with making shots. But they’ll fall. Then we won’t be having this conversation.”
Added Scott: “He’s frustrated. … He’s just one of those guys that he expects a lot more out of himself than most people. He’s very hard on himself.”
Scott also said that he doesn’t expect the 37-year-old Bryant, whose past three seasons have all been cut short by injury, to play in all 82 regular-season games this season.
“I think if we can get him to 60-something [games], I think that would be great,” Scott said.
When asked when Bryant would sit out games to rest, Scott said he didn’t know.
“I haven’t really looked at the schedule for those rest games,” Scott said. “I’m just taking it one game at a time right now.”
VIDEO: Byron Scott discusses Kobe Bryant’s frustration level of late
No. 3: No shortage of emotion in Wolves’ home opener — The Minnesota Timberwolves have run through a gamut of emotions in the weeks since coach Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer roughly two weeks ago. The Wolves opened the season 2-0 with impressive wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, but lost a heartbreaker against the Portland Trail Blazers last night. Before the game, a stirring tribute was shown for Saunders and it had an impact on the players not just for that night, but perhaps for the weeks to come. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more:
Two days after they did so privately at Saturday’s memorial service attended by dignitaries from around the NBA, the Wolves said their public farewell to president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders with Monday’s pregame video tribute.
It pushed back the game’s usual opening tip, in a game that provided a final minute that never seemed to end. When it was finally over, that minute included two lengthy video reviews, an inadvertent official’s whistle and two jump balls before the Wolves lost for the first time after starting the season with victories in Los Angeles and Denver.
The game’s opening tip came 30 minutes later than usual after coaching peers, Wolves players and coaches and others who knew Saunders well offered their praise and observations in two videos segments. Those testimonials were supplemented with a live performance of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” that started quietly accompanied only by Tim Mahoney’s guitar and voice, was joined by a lone cello player and finished backed by a gospel choir.
When the overhead scoreboard showed a series of still photographs featuring Saunders, Towns – whom Saunders selected No. 1 overall in the June draft – looked upward from the court, tracks of tears streaming down his face highlighted by the scoreboard’s glow.
“I was drained from the beginning,” Towns said afterward. “I was crying the whole time, the whole pregame. I was emotionally drained coming out. I just tried to use my energy in a good way.”
“It was a tough day, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “It’s our third game since Coach passed, but it was a tough day. We had a chance to win the basketball game…we just made bad mistakes at the wrong time.”
Before the opening tip, NBA coaches current and former — Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Larry Bird, Doc Rivers, Pat Riley, George Karl, Randy Wittman, Dave Joerger, Stan Van Gundy, Fred Hoiberg and P.J. Carlesimo — spoke in taped interviews.
“Flip was what I call a `lifer,’ “ Popovich said. “He loved the game. He respected the game like nobody’s business. He was all in. He obviously was somebody who all of us respected very much.”
They spoke about Saunders’ offensive ingenuity and innovation as well as his lovable quirks, such as very late-night phone calls and after-midnight television shopping-network binges.
“My wife remembers the phone calls at 3 in the morning, thinks he’s dialing my cell phone when he’s dialing the house phones,” Wittman said.
Some of his former players — Cleveland star Kevin Love , former NBA players Sam Cassell, Chauncey Billups and Mark Madsen — and longtime confidant Tom Izzo remembered him as well.
Conspicuous in their absence was former University of Minnesota teammate and longtime Wolves management partner Kevin McHale as well as Wolves star Kevin Garnett, who was too overcome with emotion to record a message. He alternately looked up at the arena scoreboard and down at the floor during the pregame ceremony, rocking from one foot to the other all the time.
Garnett was asked Monday morning about another emotional night forthcoming.
“I think it’s going to be an emotional year, if not an emotional lifetime,” he said.
VIDEO: Watch the Wolves’ pregame tribute to Flip Saunders
No. 4: Rondo enjoying ‘underdog’ status — It wasn’t that long ago that Rajon Rondo was in the thick of the discussion about who the best point guard in the NBA is. But that was back when he was part of the Boston Celtics during the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Ray Allen era and, much has changed since then. A trade to Dallas and, later, a falling out with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle put Rondo’s stock at an all-time low in the offseason. He did eventually sign a one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings and has quietly gotten off to a solid start there. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports has more on Rondo, his relationship with George Karl and more:
“People that know me, know me,” Rondo told Yahoo Sports. “I am the way I am. … They know my character. It is what it is. The perception the media gave me, the character of the person they made me, whoever they made me out to be, that’s their prerogative. It doesn’t affect me at all.”
Given a fresh start in Sacramento, Rondo has so far made a positive impact on the games. He had 21 points and eight assists in two of Sacramento’s first three games and has connected with All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.
“People that kind of discarded him are silly,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “He had injuries and stuff like that. … He’s going to come back this year and play the way he’s always been playing. No surprise at all.”
“I like being the underdog,” Rondo said.
In Dallas, Rondo struggled offensively and couldn’t get on the same page with coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle is known for making the offensive play calls when he deems necessary. Rondo was the primary play caller in Boston, and the two clashed. After one on-court argument, Rondo was suspended for a game. His stay with Dallas ended after a listless performance in the first round of the playoffs when he and the team essentially parted ways with the Mavericks declaring he had a “back injury.”
“Things just didn’t work out,” Rondo said.
New Kings president Vlade Divac targeted Rondo from the start of free agency. He valued Rondo’s past as a “winner” over his struggles in Dallas and felt an experienced, veteran point guard would help Cousins. The Kings also explored trading for Rondo last year.
“I knew he was going to be available,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “He was my first choice when I went after some free agents. Honestly, we weren’t a perfect destination in free agency and that was something we could take advantage of. He works well for us.
“We have things to turn around. I was very honest with him. I knew people were talking. But this is a great opportunity not only for him, but for us. Honestly, we were probably the first ones to approach. Everyone was scared. I wasn’t. As a player, I knew what he could do.”
Rondo also was attracted to the Kings because of the chance to play with Cousins, whose tremendous talent has sometimes been overshadowed by tempestuous personality. Rondo said he wants to become a mentor to his “little brother” the same way Kevin Garnett mentored him in Boston. Rondo and Cousins both played at the University of Kentucky and now have lockers next to each other in the Kings’ locker room.
“I might be out of the league if I didn’t have a guy like K.G. to show me the ropes and a coach like Doc Rivers,” Rondo said. “I feel like I owe it to [Cousins] to help him as much as possible.”
Rondo joked in the preseason that he and Karl weren’t getting along, and some in the media took his comments as serious. So far, the two seem to be communicating well on and off the court. Two of Karl’s former point guards, Chauncey Billups and Kings assistant coach Anthony Carter, think Karl’s freelance coaching style will fit Rondo.
“This kid is a great student of the game,” Karl said of Rondo. “He loves it. He has a passion for the game. He’s a leader. I kid him all the time. He can be a positive or a negative leader, but his voice is heard and respected by the players. It’s going to be fun with him and [Cousins]. It’s going to be a good ride.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Cleveland’s brass is a little worried J.R. Smith may have a knee injury … Speaking of the Cavs, LeBron James last night became the youngest player in NBA history to reach the 25,000-point plateau … Per our David Aldridge, the Washington Wizards are holding off (for now) on a contract extension for Bradley Beal … Indiana Pacers have reportedly declined their fourth-year option on Solomon Hill … The Charlotte Hornets gave Jeremy Lamb a contract extension and picked up Cody Zeller‘s option, too …