VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 23
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen — The topic of good fortune often comes up when discussing the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, a point some use to illustrate the squad was lucky to win the title for a variety of reasons. Wherever you stand on that point, one thing that is true in terms of Golden State’s good fortune is the team’s health during its championship era. Few player games have been lost due to injury and really, only coach Steve Kerr (back) has been out for a prolonged time. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who was defeated by the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, knows all too well how the Warriors’ health has helped them. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:
LeBron James says there is a not-so-secret ingredient — beyond a talented roster that features reigning MVP Stephen Curry — to the Golden State Warriors’ success: avoiding injuries.
“I think it comes with a lot of health,” James said when asked about the Warriors tying the all-time mark for best start to a season at 15-0. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history, and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”
James said that continuity in the lineup has led to consistency in their play.
“They’ve just been consistent,” James said. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they just they’ve been playing at a high level, man, for so long.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are down four of their top eight rotation players at the moment with Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Mo Williams (right ankle) all sidelined.
“I’d much rather be on the other side and having guys in the lineup, having guys healthy,” James said. “I’ve always heard that saying of, ‘Is it a blessing that guys are out and guys can step in?’ I think it’s good for some of the guys that don’t get to play as much — they get an opportunity. But at the same time, I’d much rather be full and know what we’re going to have and play at a high level for most of the year so we know what we can fall back on at the end of the season.
“But that’s one thing you can’t control. You can’t control injuries. The one thing you can control is what you’re doing out on the floor, how well you’re playing, how hard you’re playing and how much you’re sacrificing and giving to your teammates.”
VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how health has aided the Warriors’ success
No. 2: Ainge happy with direction young Celtics are headed — Thirteen games into 2015-16 and the Boston Celtics find themselves 7-6 and well within striking range of a decent playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Although the Celtics weren’t particularly busy in the offseason — their main additions were veteran forwards David Lee and Amir Johnson — the team has found a way to stay in the thick of the playoff chase thanks to a super-solid defense. The architect behind this Boston roster, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, says he’s more than pleased with the team and its outlook this season and beyond. Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com has more:
What are your impressions of your team 13 games into the season?
Ainge: I’ve enjoyed watching them play. For the most part, I think the team has played hard. At the same time, we’ve been inconsistent — inconsistent throughout most every game. We have some explosive moments, we have some droughts, but I feel like our team’s effort has been pretty good with the exception of [Sunday’s loss in Brooklyn].
With Marcus Smart out at least a couple of weeks with a lower left leg injury, how can your team make up for his absence?
Ainge: I think Marcus is a tough one to replace. He brings an intensity that maybe only Avery [Bradley] brings to the game. I just think that’s hard — just like Avery is a tough guy to replace — Marcus is a tough guy to replace against other teams, especially playing against bigger guards. But I think we have depth. We have Jae Crowder and Evan Turner, I think all of those guys have to step it up. And we’re going to need some production out of [rookie Terry] Rozier or R.J. Hunter — one of those guys is going to have to step it up without Marcus.
You challenged Jared Sullinger to come back in better shape this season, and we all overanalyzed his role during the preseason, but now he’s emerged as the team’s best big man early in the season. Are you happy with the way he appears to have embraced that challenge?
Ainge: Jared has played really well. I know what he’s capable of doing. I think Jared is still so young. I think that his best basketball is still ahead of him. But I do see a lot of great progress from Jared.
Amir Johnson and David Lee were Boston’s big offseason additions. What have you thought of their play so far?
Ainge: Well, I think that Amir and David have been good additions. David has helped us win a couple of big games. I think he wants to play more. I don’t think he showed up to training camp in great shape, but he’s worked really hard since he’s been here and getting himself into shape. Amir, I think, is still trying to find his way with our team. But he’s the ultimate team guy. He really cares about his teammates, he cares about winning, he cares about doing the right thing. So I think Amir has been excellent, but as the season goes on, I think he’ll get more and more comfortable with our group and with the coaching staff and he’ll be a little bit more assertive.
Your fan base spends a lot of time obsessing about the first-round picks that other teams might deliver this June. Do you find yourself checking scores on the Mavericks (top-7 protected), Timberwolves (top-12 protected) or Nets (unprotected) any more often than usual this season?
Ainge: I do not. No. I mean, listen, it’s 82 games. It’s a huge schedule. Maybe on April 10 or April 1 even. Maybe those things will come into play more, but it’s way too early to tell. Really good teams are struggling. I think that small sample size doesn’t really mean a whole lot right now. So, no, I don’t allow myself to get too caught up in that stuff right now. It’s too early.
When you’re on the road scouting college games [Ainge was calling Monday from New York, where he was preparing to scout LSU’s Ben Simmons], how do you tend to watch your team? Do you hole up in your hotel room and watch League Pass on your iPad or do you venture out?
Ainge: Sometimes I’ll go out and watch it at a sports bar or a place like that, just watching it somewhere on my iPad.
Do patrons in these places recognize you?
Ainge: Yeah. Sometimes. Especially if I have my iPad out during the game.
Do they come give you some advice on running the team?
Ainge: Oh yeah.
[An aside here: One day this writer bumped into Ainge at a fast-food joint near the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. As he made his way through the cafeteria-style line where they were building his burrito bowl, a not-bashful store employee kept telling Ainge that he should trade Rondo to the Sacramento Kings — and Isaiah Thomas was one of the names the employee mentioned getting in return. The people in Boston’s front office often stress that Ainge takes all advice into consideration, and maybe even those outside the organization, too.]
No. 3: Remade Spurs rolling along out West — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: other teams in the NBA are getting the limelight — be they the defending champs or would-be title contenders — while the San Antonio Spurs plug along and win night after night. Yep, that tired old storyline is true once again this season, too. The Spurs knocked off the Phoenix Suns last night in San Antonio to improve to 11-3, a mark that gives them the West’s second-best record (behind 15-0 Golden State) and ties them with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the league’s No. 2 overall record. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was at the game last night and has more on those always efficient Spurs:
Adjustment periods shouldn’t run so smoothly.
Yet 14 games into the season, the San Antonio Spurs are tied for the second-best record in the NBA (11-3) after thumping the Phoenix Suns 98-84 Monday night, thanks to a Kawhi Leonard double-double (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Tony Parker‘s 20 points and eight assists.
“I think we’ve come along pretty well for just being this far into the season,” Tim Duncan said.
Everyone knows the story: San Antonio added prized free-agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge during the offseason as well as veterans David West, Rasual Butler and Ray McCallum to the longtime nucleus of Leonard, Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili. Typically, the Spurs avoid disrupting the long-established status quo but saw a chance to extend their championship window by adding Aldridge.
Now Leonard and Aldridge are the team’s main scoring options, which changes everyone else’s roles.
“I think it’s more of just finding rhythms than roles. Everybody knows their roles here. It’s making those other [new] guys feel comfortable, getting them acclimated and just kind of playing with them and seeing how we fit together,” said Danny Green, who finished with a season-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers. “I think it’s on both parties [being] a little bit passive before we can actually feel comfortable enough to be aggressive within each other. David [West] is a very pass-first guy. LaMarcus is more of a scorer, but even him now in this system he’s thinking about [passing]. I think we’re over-passing sometimes instead of being aggressive. But most guys are trying to feel each other out and seeing what spots, and we’re picking and choosing where we’re going to find our looks.”
“For Timmy, it’s very different too because whenever we wanted to go to the paint, it was going to him,” Ginobili said. “Those plays [were] for him. And now, most of the plays are gonna be for LaMarcus; some for Kawhi, too. So it’s a little different for everybody. We needed a little time to adjust. But Timmy is a great teammate, wants the best for everybody so we’re all better. It was very hard for a little bit, but we’re all gonna adjust.”
The Defensive Player of the Year in 2014-15, Leonard continues to showcase a newfound ability on offense to create off the dribble, which boosts his usage rate, not to mention his confidence. Aldridge served as the go-to guy his entire career in Portland before joining the Spurs, where he’s now becoming more of a passer.
Meanwhile, the vets such as Duncan, Parker and Ginobili seem happy to pass the torch to Aldridge and Leonard as the rest of the team blossoms in their respective roles.
“People are still trying to figure out when and where their shots are and what’s right and wrong in the offense. So that leads to a little bit of hesitation,” Duncan said. “We’re gonna make mistakes, and we’re gonna use as we always do, use the 82 [regular season games] to figure those mistakes out and try to minimize them as much as possible. It’s very different for us, but it’s been wonderful because [the new players have] been great, willing to learn. They’re willing to find their roles and play their roles. They’re here to win, and that’s all they’re about. That’s what we want people to buy into. That’s what we want people to do.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andre Iguodala says he and his Warriors teammates are trying to get free-agent to-be Harrison Barnes paid this summer … Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is reportedly struggling to pick up how to play defense in the NBA … ICYMI, LeBron James moved into 25th place on the all-time assists list last night … Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are still trying to get on track on offense this season … How Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is the best rim protector in the NBA …
ICYMI of the Night: Like assists? Rajon Rondo handed out 20 of ’em last night in Charlotte …
VIDEO: Rajon Rondo’s 18-assist game vs. Miami