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Hey, 19! Kids all right in Bucks-Wolves

parker

The Bucks’ Jabari Parker is second among rookies in scoring at 11.7. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Basketball fans had a full slate of college hoops games available on their cable and satellite systems Wednesday night. Or, if they preferred their competition a little younger, they had the Milwaukee Bucks facing the Timberwolves at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET on League Pass).

The game at Target Center almost deserved to have beer sales suspended in a nod to the tender years of the youngest Bucks and Wolves. In Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine of Minnesota and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker of Milwaukee, there likely would be four teenagers in the same NBA game for the first time ever. The two Bucks and Wiggins have been starting and, since LaVine has averaged 22.7 minutes in his last seven appearances, the odds were high that all four would be on the court at the same time.

Separately, the two sets of teammates had become the first players under age 20 to start for a franchise since Josh Smith and Marvin Williams did it for the 2005-06 Atlanta Hawks.

The game already had marquee power based on the matchup of No. 1 pick Wiggins and No. 2 pick Parker for the first time in a regular-season game. The two were on parallel tracks last season at Kansas and Duke, respectively, and were considered a coin-flip right through Draft night in June as far as NBA potential. Wiggins, acquired from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade, leads all rookies with a 12.5 scoring average. Parker is close behind, averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds to Wiggins’ 3.5.

LaVine was a raw, somewhat surprising lottery pick by the Wolves at No. 13 out of UCLA, and has averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent in 19.1 minutes. Antetokounmpo was a virtual unknown taken straight from Greece by Milwaukee with the 15th pick in 2013, but he has grown two inches since then and is averaging 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent.

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday's game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday’s game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

Both franchises seem delighted with their youngsters as the foundation of their rebuilding teams. But as far as the teenaged thing goes, it’s a one-and-done Wednesday; by the time Minnesota plays at Milwaukee on Jan. 9, Antetokounmpo (born Dec. 6, 1994) will already be more than a month into his 20th year.

Another factoid about the Bucks-Wolves game in Minneapolis: Minnesota players will wear pink shoe laces to honor Lula Hall, mother of forward Thad Young who died Nov. 13 after an 18-month bout with breast cancer.

 

“It’s one of those things, I urge all women to get breast exams and make sure you stay healthy,” Young told reporters Wednesday morning.

Rose leaves game with hamstring injury


VIDEO: Rose leaves in second quarter in Denver, doesn’t return

Chicago’s Derrick Rose suffered another injury setback Tuesday night, leaving the game at Denver with what the Bulls said was tightness in the left hamstring.

Rose had just returned to the lineup the night before after missing the previous four games with a hamstring injury. He played 25 minutes in the 97-95 win at Utah and a night later at Pepsi Center was attempting to make it through a back-to-back for the first time since 2013-14.

Instead, Rose played 9 minutes 52 seconds against the Nuggets, all in the first half and did not return for the third quarter. Kirk Hinrich started the second half at point guard.

Rose was trying to come back from a series of knee problems before the hamstring became an issue.

The Bulls next play Friday, at Boston.

Unexpected beasts, leasts suggest surprisingly wide-open East


VIDEO: The NBA TV crews divines the Raptors hot start

Don’t poke at your remote or punch at settings on your touchscreen if you feel a little cross-eyed looking at the Eastern Conference standings. They aren’t what we thought they’d be, to do a 180 on the NFL’s Dennis Green/Bears rant from a few years back.

They aren’t even close, actually, after three full weeks of the 2014-15 regular season.

Most of the respected media outlets didn’t imagine Toronto as the East’s top dog, nor Milwaukee as a playoff team, nor Cleveland as a team that grind along below .500 as Thanksgiving approached.

Few if any expected Orlando to be well in front of New York at this or any other point of the schedule, and Charlotte was a trendy enough pick that some imagined home-court privileges for the Hornets in the first round.

Not many knew what to make of Atlanta, though it generally wasn’t good, but the Hawks weren’t dismissed nearly as readily as Boston was in the “experts’ ” preseason picks. One thing all the geniuses could agree on was Philadelphia’s spot at the shovel end of this circus train, but that had less to do with crystal balls and algorithms than it did with the Sixers’ stated ambition of zero ambitions.

But look where everyone is now.

The East standings are so jumbled, compared to what most expected, that it raises a few questions:

1. Might the door be open for some upstart teams like the Raptors and the Wizards to challenge presumed favorites, the Cavaliers and the Bulls?

2. Will clubs like the Bucks and the Magic have to reassess their goals and factor in playoff possibilities?

3. At what point, if any, do the Knicks borrow from the Sixers and start playing for the bottom in a stink-tank for lottery odds?

4. Who pays all these so-called experts in the first place?

Here’s a look at the predicted order of finish in the East by three heavyweight NBA outlets:

Sports Illustrated: 1) Chicago, 2) Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Miami, 6) Charlotte, 7) Brooklyn, 8) New York, 9) Indiana, 10) Atlanta, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

BleacherReport.com: 1) Chicago, 2), Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Atlanta, 5) Washington, 6) Charlotte, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) New York, 10) Indiana, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13), Orlando, 14) Boston and 15) Philadelphia.

ESPN.com: 1) Cleveland, 2) Chicago, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Charlotte, 6) Atlanta, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) Detroit, 10) New York, 11) Indiana, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

The real standings, as of Saturday morning, looked quite different from any of the three lists above. There were myriad reasons, from the small sample size of games played and untimely injuries to the friendliness of some clubs’ schedule in opponents or road demands.

Those sorts of things will equalize to some degree as the season plays out. But other factors specific to each team, good or bad, could linger and become part of who they are and where they finish come April.

Here’s a snapshot three weeks in of a conference that didn’t figure to be deep or great when play started but at least looks (euphemism alert!) more interesting now:

1. Toronto (10-2)

Average predicted finish (in ranking cited above): Third

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Attitude. The Raptors played for development long enough. After four years with coach Dwane Casey and 48 victories in 2013-14, the time was ripe to play for something bigger. The roster is deep, the schedule was kind and the Raptors ranked high at both ends (second in ORtg, seventh in DRtg). But the sense of mission hasn’t been greater in years.

2. Washington (8-3)

Averaged predicted finish: Fourth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Home court. The Wizards had no homecourt edge last season and it cost them when they dropped four of their five playoff games at Verizon Center. This season, they opened 4-0 at home, then followed up a disappointing loss to Dallas with an in-command triumph over Cleveland.

3. Chicago (8-5)

Average predicted finish: First

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Injuries. Even folks who thought Derrick Rose might have to sit some nights while battling soreness in his second comeback from knee surgery didn’t imagine him racking up two sprained ankles and a strained hamstring so soon in this season. Joakim Noah started slow after offseason knee clean-up, and Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson all have been hurt recently. “Next man up?” More like the setback are starting to catch up.

4. Atlanta (6-5)

Averaged predicted finish: Seventh.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Passing. The Hawks have been moving the ball great, and that’s essential when you have a balanced offense that can’t – and doesn’t have to – feed just one particular scoring star. Their 64.4% assist percentage is third highest in the NBA. [Note: SI fell prey to trendier picks, put Atlanta 10th and dragged down its predicted finish.]

5. Milwaukee (7-6)

Average predicted finish: 12th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Defense. The Bucks ranked last in defensive rating in 2013-14, but Jason Kidd and his staff seem to have lit a fire under their overhauled bunch. The Bucks have pretty good depth for a mediocre or worse team, interchangeable parts that can reward Kidd’s search for a hot hand.

6. Miami (6-6)

Average predicted finish: Sixth.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Dwyane Wade. The Heat are about where folks expected, but they were 5-3 until Wade started missing games. Without LeBron James, they can’t overcome his absences the way they did in the past.

7. Cleveland (5-6)

Average predicted finish: Second

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Unfamiliarity. It’s harder to put together an insta-contender than we thought, perhaps. When Boston did it in 2007-08 and Miami did it (with a few more growing pains) in 2010-11, they had stars in sync – players who knew themselves and each other well enough to fit securely and quickly. The Cavaliers have James in mid-prime but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love fresh from lottery-team training wheels. And a rookie NBA head coach. Might take months rather than weeks.

8. Orlando (6-8)

Average predicted finish: 14th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Youth. In this case, the Magic’s heavy lifters might be so young they don’t yet realize what their limitations are supposed to be. Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo have overachieved, even as Aaron Gordon suffered a broken foot and Elfrid Payton took a step back.

 

9. Brooklyn (5-7)

Average predicted finish: Eighth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Schedule. The Nets weren’t happy but they were 4-2, until heading West for an 0-3 slap. They haven’t recovered, dropping home games against beatable Miami and Milwaukee. With as many vets as Brooklyn has, it should travel better.

10. Indiana (5-7)

Average predicted finish: 10th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Deep reserves. For all the Pacers’ injuries and setbacks – not just Paul George (leg fracture) and Lance Stephenson‘s departure but having David West, George Hill, C.J. Watson, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles sidelined too – some of the bench players (Solomon Hill, Luis Scola) have stepped up. And late addition A.J. Price stepped in nicely. Keeping things afloat might keep Indiana in a playoff hunt.

11. Boston (4-7)

Average predicted finish: 13th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Potency. Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley have contributed offensively without much fanfare and Boston’s offense (third in FG%, second in assists) has swamped several opposing defenses.

12. Charlotte (4-9)

Average predicted finish: Fifth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Lance. Though we’re loathe to put too much rise or fall on an individual, there’s no denying everyone had higher hopes for Stephenson in the early season, including himself. The defense isn’t up to Steve Clifford standards either (18th, down from sixth last season).

13. New York (3-10)

Average predicted finish: Ninth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: The triangle. ‘Cuz Adam Silver said so. Also disjointed, sometimes at cross-purposes and lots of pedigree that hasn’t proven anything here yet.

14. Detroit (3-10)

Average predicted finish: 11th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Scattershooting. Offense has been in scarce supply for the Piston, who rank 28th in offensive rating, 29th in effective field-goal percentage, 29th in true shooting percentage and 27th in assist percentage. The disappearance of center Andre Drummond (from a 22.6 PER last season to 11.5) is vexing as well.

15. Philadelphia (0-12)

Average predicted finish: 15th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: None. The Sixers are right where they wanted to be and right where the basketball world picked them. Congrats, fellas!

‘Rose sits’ is ‘dog bites man’ of news biz

CHICAGO — Derrick Rose is not going to play for the Chicago Bulls vs. the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at United Center.

Rose will miss his fifth game out of the 10 Chicago will have played by night’s end, and the 159th of the Bulls’ 174 regular-season contests since the start of the 2012-13 season.

So here at Hang Time HQ, we have a proposition for the denizens of this blog in keeping with the truest definition of news, which is to say, that which is unusual: How ’bout we throw headlines at you when Rose does play rather than when he does not?

It might be simpler all around if, for the foreseeable future, everyone’s default position is that Rose will be too dinged up in one extremity or another to perform at the level he expects of himself. Or at a level where he can make a difference in the outcome, even if he’s less than 100 percent. Or without the risk of limping in his post-NBA years, by which time we’ll all be watching games and reading blogs from microchips planted in our corneas.

The details of this one, and why Rose will make the Pacers feel a little less injury-sorry for themselves, is that the mild hamstring strain the Bulls point guard suffered late Thursday’s victory at Toronto had not responded completely to treatment. Kirk Hinrich is slated to start in Rose’s spot, while the oft-hobbled and much-scrutinized 2011 MVP remains listed as day-to-day. Sidelined for four previous games by sprains in both ankles, Rose has been limited to cardio work on a treadmill and stationary bike the past two days.

“He needs a little time,” coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the team’s morning shootaround. “He said he’s feeling a lot better today, doing more. So we’re just going to work our way through it.”

Love shoots down Lakers talk

Up in smoke?

That’s where Kevin Love is sending any talk of him bailing out on the Cavaliers after one season and heading West to join the Lakers next summer.

The All-Star forward also told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal that there was no fire to the burning rumor that he and teammate Kyrie Irving were making any illicit hand gestures:

“Whatever we were doing with our hands was about as true as me going to the Lakers,” Love said Friday. “Going to the Lakers, I don’t know where someone got that.

“I don’t know why it was so hard for people to realize we were actually curling our mustache. I guess because I had my fingers in the wrong place. But looking at the tape, film don’t lie. It does look like we’re doing something bad, but that’s not the case.”

‘Big Smooth’ didn’t gripe about 82

Sam Perkins ranks 19th all time in games played (1,286) and 55th in minutes (36,598). The sleepy-eyed, sweet-shooting forward/center known as “Big Smooth” played at least 80 games in nine different seasons and played all 82 three times.

He’s been retired for more than 13 years, finishing with Indiana in 2000-01 after divvying up his 17 seasons between Dallas, the L.A. Lakers, Seattle and the Pacers. At 53, he’s not especially prone to “back in my day” crankiness, but he does wonder why a workload of 82 games seems too much for NBA players and their coaches in recent seasons.

Cleveland’s LeBron James talked last month about the benefits of playing fewer games, if the NBA would ever curtail its schedule. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has made it part of his calling card – along with taciturn quarter-break interviews – to rest his veteran stars numerous times during the regular season. But Perkins hasn’t been persuaded.

“Huh. I didn’t really have a problem with 82 games,” Perkins said during a Google+ Hangout with SportsBlog.com. “I thought once you got the format and they rolled it out for you, that’s what you had to do. And on top of that, we had to practice three hours a day, two times for two weeks [in training camp]. So I don’t know how much [more] grueling it is now.”

One gripe with which Perkins does agree: The heavy slate of back-to-back games, which grind on the players and may lead to shabbier basketball on those second nights. Or in the Spurs’ case, multiple absences from the lineup.


VIDEO: Perkins talks to SportsBlog.com

“Back-to-backs take a lot out of you, whether you’re a veteran or a young cat. That will tend to mess with you a little bit with injuries,” Perkins said.

Perkins, a teammate of Michael Jordan‘s at North Carolina who was drafted immediately after him in the 1984 Draft, spends time traveling as an NBA ambassador these days. He went to China with the Brooklyn Nets and spent part of the summer “hanging out” with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Perkins serves on the board of Special Olympics and has been preparing for the Games in L.A. next summer.

Last week he and former NBA player Cedric Ceballos traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Beyond Sport global summit and awards. One of that organization’s initiatives, Perkins said, was a program in Cambodia to eradicate land mines, making fields safe for kids to play.

But he seemed happy to spend time Friday answering questions via his iPad about his NBA career on a variety of topics:

On his notoriety as an ahead-of-the-curve, perimeter-shooting big man: “I know coaches did acknowledge the reason why they hate me so much is because all their players now try to shoot the three instead of staying inside. … Back then, Coach [George] Karl, Coach [Mike] Dunleavy and all these guys, they wanted to open up the game. So they said, you might need to work on your shot after practice. I didn’t even think about it, but shooting 3s with Byron Scott and all the guards, it just got better. … Guys, when I see them from different teams now, that’s all they know, that I shot 3s.”

On the 1984 U.S. Olympic experience: “It was grueling. Bobby Knight had us down in Indiana … and we went three times a day. I had never seen anything like it. Guys you had heard about finally meeting, and everybody was wondering ‘Who are you? What are you going to do?’ It was our first time meeting if you didn’t play then in college. Charles Barkley, Chuck Person, Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel. We just had an all-star crew there. … Bobby Knight was a different coach from Coach [Dean] Smith and what I was accustomed to. You had to pay attention because, as you know, Bobby Knight wasn’t one to play with.”

A player he modeled his game after, growing up in New York: “I saw the Knicks a lot. Willis Reed. Dean Meminger. Walt Frazier. Earl Monroe. These are the guys that I always wanted to be like. Because they played hard, they played together.” Perkins also mentioned ABA legends Artis Gilmore, George Gervin and Connie Hawkins – whom he actually saw play on the playgrounds in Brooklyn – as influences.

The NBA players with the best hair and best nickname: “I would have to say [Anderson] Varejao. No, no, I take that back. Joakim Noah. And favorite nickname? It’s got to be Kobe [Bryant]. ‘Black Mamba.’ “

Favorite teammate: “Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf and James Worthy. They were solid.”

His advice to current players about life after basketball: Line up internships in fields that interest them in the offseason. And network. “You definitely have to prepare while you’re playing. They tell you when you come into the league to try to meet as many people as you can – open doors to different avenues. It helped a great deal. And trying to have a positive persona for people to [be attracted to].”

The prospect of NBA franchises in international markets: “The new spot everybody’s thinking about is New Delhi, India. India has the potential of having the NBA there. They have the money, they have the infrastructure. And even though we may not think of India as an NBA country, it is probably one that can sponsor the NBA. It’s fascinating to see the hype for NBA basketball. … The place I would have liked to play would definitely be Spain. It’s a place where I hear a lot of guys go over there, they practice a lot but they don’t play as many games.”

Perkins also participated in a lightning round of word association:

Kobe? “Shooter.”

Knight? “Angry.”

SuperSonics? “Best team I ever played on.”

Michael? “Good teammate.”

Big Smooth? “I think of Byron Scott. He gave me that name.”

‘Day to day’ and back-to-backs don’t mesh as Bulls’ Rose skips Sixers

Out of consideration for both the folks following its teams and the media covering them, the NBA has done a better, more consistent job of issuing injury reports, even adopting some of the NFL’s traditional terminology to categorize the severity of various players’ ailments.

But there’s no truth to the rumor that the league might soon add a fifth level, as in: Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, Out and Derrick Rose.

Rose – who was deemed out by Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau in his pregame media session in Philadlephia Friday – largely defies categorization, given the guessing game the team, their fans and the reporters face almost every game day. This week, for instance, Rose (suffering from two sprained ankles injured last week against Cleveland) sat out the Bulls’ home game against Orlando. The next day, he was downgraded from probable to questionable – and then played that night at Milwaukee.

Of course, that game had its pregame drama, too, with Thibodeau explaining the procedures and protocols used by Chicago’s training and medical staffs, along with Rose himself in determining his availability for any given 48 minutes of basketball. The coach was noticeably calm about it – as tightly wound as Thibs can be, he has learned to a) roll with it, and b) win despite it – and pointed out the arbitrariness of the NFL-inspired injury levels anyway. For example, just because someone is probable, which means a 75 percent likelihood of playing, doesn’t mean he couldn’t land in the other 25 percent by tipoff.

Rose is the NBA’s poster guy for injury derailment, based on playing only 13 games in the past two seasons and 53 of 258 (playoffs included) since the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. He blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2012 playoff opener and had his 2013-14 season end last November with a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Then again, it is only the second week of the season. Ankle sprains typically sit a player down for a week or more, and Rose has two of them. Given their druthers, Bulls fans would rather see the former MVP point guard in the lineup in April and May, so fretting now isn’t a top priority.

It’s also worth noting that the three games Rose will have missed through Friday all were part of back-to-backs: He was out at Minnesota Saturday after getting hurt vs. Cleveland, he split the Orlando-Milwaukee set and in skipping the 76ers, Rose might be available at United Center Saturday to face Boston.

So Rose’s absence from the game Friday might be more a Chicago hat-tip to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich than anything – at this stage, anyway – to worry about.

J.R. Smith suspended one game


VIDEO: J.R. Smith hits Glen Rice Jr. in groin

J.R. Smith is off to a fast start, even by his standards, when it comes to infractions: He’ll sit Wednesday night when the Knicks visit the Pistons, serving a one-game suspension for hitting Glen Rice Jr. in the groin in the Knicks’ loss Tuesday to the Wizards.

Rod Thorn, president of basketball operations for the league, announced the suspension Wednesday afternoon and clearly, the NBA was forced to do something when Smith struck Rice midway through the fourth quarter with his left arm while dribbling with his right. Apparently, Thorn didn’t feel the whack was unintentional.

This is getting to be old hat for Smith, who was suspended two years ago for elbowing Jason Terry, sat the first five games last season after testing positive for marijuana and later fined for untying an opponent’s shoelaces (and also mocking the stunt).

Two days ago the New York Post said Smith was proposed in a straight-up swap for Chris Copeland of the Pacers, who was with the Knicks two years ago. While the Pacers could use scoring after losing Lance Stephenson and Paul George, are they willing to deal with the occasional shenanigan from Smith? That’s unlikely, especially since president Larry Bird grew weary of Stephenson last season.

Anyway, the Knicks are still trying to learn the triangle offense and could use all the help they can get. Unfortunately for them, Smith gives them what they need.

Derrick Rose misses another game

“It is [frustrating] but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Rose said earlier in the day, according to ESPNChicago.com. “I’d have something to worry about if I just twisted it by myself, nobody was around, but I came down on somebody’s foot and that was the reason why I sprained it. [The injuries] are just basketball related, something that’s just going to happen. It’s a basketball injury, so I just got to get used to it. I think it’s part of the process; you just got to keep going through it with a positive mindset.”

 

Reggie Jackson returns to OKC lineup


VIDEO: Darnell Mayberry discusses the latest Thunder news on GameTime.

The Thunder received positive injury news for a change on Monday, when Reggie Jackson rejoined the lineup after being sidelined the first three games by a sprained right ankle, an especially welcome development as a boost at point guard following the loss of Russell Westbrook.

Jackson would have been a valuable addition for Oklahoma City no matter what after averaging 13.1 points and 4.1 assists in 28.5 minutes last season while starting in 36 of his 80 appearances. The rash of injuries to start this season — Westbrook, Kevin DurantJeremy Lamb and first-round pick Mitch McGary, among others — makes getting Jackson back a major development.

Jackson immediately went into the opening lineup against the Nets in Brooklyn, alongside Andre Roberson in the backcourt, with Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka at forward and Steven Adams at center.

Westbrook underwent surgery on his right hand Saturday, two days after breaking a bone against the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Thunder said he will be re-evaluated in four weeks.

The injury is a chance for Jackson to build his resumé as part of an important season before he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer.