Posts Tagged ‘Damian Lillard’

Blogtable: Hot start, staying hot

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan steps into the studio with Ernie, Greg Anthony and Chris Webber

> Which of these teams do you believe can best maintain its hot start? Which team has the most room for improvement? Your picks: Portland, Toronto, Washington.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGimme the Trail Blazers. As much as I like the Raptors and the Wizards – and as desperately as the Eastern Conference needs them for depth and swagger – I’m not sure their ensemble approaches will hold up as well over the long season as Portland’s reliance on All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers’ depth concerns me but Nene’s sore foot is a red flag for the Wizards, in my view, and Toronto still seems to lack experience or a strong enough veteran influence to ride out the season’s rough spots. Happy to be proven wrong on all counts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While the Cavs try to figure out a way to play together and the Bulls try to figure out a way to keep Derrick Rose on the court, coach Dwane Casey has the Raptors playing confident and effectively at both ends and could be on their way to the No. 1 seed in the East.  The Blazers are just as solid and have added depth in Chris Kaman and a healthy C.J. McCollum.  I’d put them just slightly behind the Raptors because they play in the much tougher West.  Because Bradley Beal has just four games under his belt and the Wizards rank just 20th in offense, they’ve got the most room to improve.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Tough call because I thought all three of the teams were the real deal all along, so I don’t see hot start as much teams that will be at or near the top the entire way. (Not at the same win pace, though. The Raptors aren’t going to win 70.) But most room for improvement? The Wizards. Bradley Beal is a difference maker, and he has barely played. Otto Porter, in his second season, will continue to develop and become an important contributor. Plus, unlike the Blazers, Washington and Toronto have the benefit of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Of the three, only the Wizards were missing a big piece (Brad Beal) for much of November and so I’ll go with them, in terms of maintaining their start and showing the most improvement. Remember, the Wiz play in the (L)East, which gives them an envious advantage over the Blazers, and their bigs are better than Toronto’s bigs.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI believe in Portland, because their improvement has come mostly on defense, which is an extension of in-season improvement last year. In the same vein, we can’t forget that Toronto was 41-21 after the Rudy Gay trade last season. And really, Washington has the most room for improvement, having just got Bradley Beal back and still waiting on Martell Webster. They have a strong defense, but desperately need the floor spacing those guys provide on offense. So, I guess I like all three of those teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of them have a great chance to sustain this early season effort, provided they stay healthy at key positions. But I think the Raptors, given their position in the Eastern Conference, have the best chance to grind all the way through this season at a high level. Their make up, from head coach Dwane Casey to catalysts Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan all the way down to crucial role players like Lou Williams, James Johnson, Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez, gives them the sort of sound foundation that lends itself to long-term success.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s go with the Raptors as the team most likely to stay on top, because they’ll face the least resistance from their weakling division. The Wizards will show the most upside as Bradley Beal keeps working his way back in and Paul Pierce becomes more ingrained.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One thing’s for certain: All three of those franchises have fan bases that are fired up and ready to see their team contend. I love Toronto. They’re deep, they have a nice mix of quality and different positions, and they’re playing in a depressed division with a lot of teams they can beat up on. Washington is the team of that trio which gives me a bit of pause. Getting Beal back is helpful, yes, but they’ve got several players with a history of injuries, and I still think they could use one more veteran off the bench to add depth and help stretch the floor.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I believe this time the Blazers will remain constant. Their starting five is as good as ever, Damian Lillard improved again and finally arrived in the point guard elite. And LaMarcus Aldridge is a beast of a power forward. But the most important thing is that they finally have a bench mob. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake fit perfect and they help with their experience. But I think that Toronto and Washington will easily reach the playoffs as well. Paul Pierce is a perfect addition for the Wizards. The young core will learn intangible much from him. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. have lots of room for improvement. And if the frontcourt stays healthy it can cause big matchup problems.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: I really like all three of them. I believe that the Wizards have the complete package to because the underdog that can make a lot of noise this season. Now that Beal is back they have a great duo in the backcourt, they have a lot of bodies in the frontcourt, they have a great bench (don’t forget Paul Pierce), so they have it all.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I bet on Toronto to keep doing what they’re doing right now. They’re deep, talented, they’ve great offense and good defense, they’re well coached. Portland has the most room for improvement: Lillard had a slow start, Batum came back few games ago from an injury, their bench is finally giving them something. And Washington? Great, interesting team: they can be dangerous

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: The Washington Wizards are the best equipped team to maintain their hot start, they did damage minus Bradley Beal, one of the top young shooting guards in the game. They are a complete team from top to bottom with the addition of veteran leader Paul Pierce they will be able to take in stride any challenges ahead because he is there to guide them. “The Truth” picked wisely in the past off-season.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: I will go with Portland because they do play in the tougher conference which is the West. Also, Toronto, which has the best record of the three at the moment, has played just four games on the road. Besides that, the core of Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are as good as you will get across the league. And Lillard and Aldridge are qualified stars, who can turn a game on its head with their performances. Surprisingly, I think Toronto can still improve. As good as Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are, they lack the same intimidating presence of Nene and Marcin Gortat in Washington or Aldridge and Lopez in Portland. The frontcourt is something Toronto can improve upon and should look to do so before the mid-season trade deadline.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Raptors finally regained their identity. With the loaded roster, they could be a really good team in the regular season, when they’re playing that Canadian team basketball. They’ve got a good chemistry, an enhanced defensive mind, and amazing rotation lineups. Each night there could be one guy step up in the Air Canada Centre. My pick on the team which could still improve more is the Wizards. When you got John Wall making plays, Bradley Beal and Pierce stick to their spot, you really should be a better offense team. They’re already  a better team than last year, even if the Wizards’s offense(104.8 on ORtg, 20th in the NBA) has not fully clicked yet.

Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for the Global Games played October 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beal’s hurt, Wizards scramble | Parsons packed on pounds | No pressure on Lillard for quick return | NBA seeks to unlock China, India codes

No. 1: Beal’s hurt, Wizards scramble — Bradley Beal is hurt again. Few things tell us it’s NBA season again than the Washington Wizards’ young shooting guard coping with an injury. In his first two NBA seasons, Beal played 56 and 73 games, and worked under a minutes restriction in many of them. Now comes the news that Beal, 21, will be out six to eight weeks with a non-displaced fracture of the scaphoid bone in his left wrist, suffered Friday night in a preseason game against Charlotte. It’s a blow to Washington, a team built around its young backcourt of Beal and John Wall, especially for reasons pointed out by our own David Aldridge in his report:

A source says Beal did not suffer nerve damage in his wrist or have any displacement in the wrist, injuries that would have kept him out much longer than the current expected prognosis.

With Beal out, and veteran Martell Webster still recovering from offseason back surgery, the Wizards would have to turn to Glen Rice Jr., the second-year guard who was the MVP of the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas this summer, or young veterans like Garrett Temple or Xavier Silas.

The Wizards currently have 14 players under contract, and would be able to add a veteran two guard on a temporary basis if Beal indeed misses significant time. The only vet in which Washington has significant interest at the moment is Ray Allen, who has yet to sign with a team and remains a free agent. Allen’s agent, Jim Tanner, shot down reports earlier this week that Allen was about to sign with the Cavaliers, where he would re-join former Miami teammates LeBron James and Mike Miller.

And here’s some speculation from Ben Standig of CSNWashignton.com:

The prospect of being a starter again with Beal’s absence isn’t likely to make Washington any more enticing for Allen. He’ll soon be 40. Six teams have actually contacted his reps since he became an unrestricted free agent — the Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and …. the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the latter is not a mistake. Allen spent the first six-plus seasons of his career in Milwaukee, and the franchise’s pitch was a chance to end things where they began. Creative and worth a shot? Yes. Did it work? No. The Wizards are still hopeful, but suffice to say the Cavs are the front-runners as GM David Griffin has been in contact as recently as a few days ago, CSNwashington.com can confirm. Still, nothing.

The bigger issue isn’t Rice, who only appeared in 11 games as a rookie and had a wrist fracture after a collision with a teammate during a post-game celebration at Madison Square Garden. It’s who will back him up. Garrett Temple is a 6-6 guard but is more of a defender and has been working on being a third point guard this offseason. But he has played with Wall in the backcourt and started in place of Beal previously with moderate success. And remember, last year the Wizards tried then-rookie Otto Porter at shooting guard during summer league. He didn’t look fluid there, though he wasn’t fully healthy either because of his right hamstring/hip flexor strain. If Porter can play some at the No. 2 spot behind Rice, that’ll make navigating this minefield easier.

***

No. 2: Parsons packed on pounds — Boris Diaw got some notoriety last week for the weight clause his bosses with the San Antonio Spurs negotiated into his contract. It’s a series of incentives to stay sleek that, if met, will pay the frequently well-upholstered Diaw a cool $500,000 by the end of the regular season.
Little did the Dallas Mavericks realize that Chandler Parsons might need one when they put together their offer sheet to the now-former Houston Rockets’ forward. Parsons, a perpetual motion type and rather lean-looking through his first three NBA seasons, has caught flak at least twice so far from Mavs coach Rick Carlisle for being too heavy.
“One man’s bulking up is another man’s not quite in shape yet,” was Carlisle’s response when told that Parsons sought to add muscle in the offseason. The former Rocket even posted a shirtless photo on Instagram to show he still was more fit than, oh, 98.9 percent of the general population. Here’s more from Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

The 6-foot-9 Parsons, who was listed at 215 pounds in his three-year tenure with the Houston Rockets, reported to training camp at approximately 235 pounds.

Carlisle believes the increased weight has created conditioning issues for Parsons, who had nine points on 4-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and six assists in 20 minutes during Friday night’s preseason loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“He looked tired out there tonight to me, and his shot is short,” Carlisle said. “He’s working on losing some weight. He’s a little bit heavier than he’s been. He’s up over 230, and we want to see him get down to at least 225. That’s a work in progress, and tonight’s one of those nights where I think the extra weight was a hindrance.”

Parsons focused particularly on lifting weights during the free-agency process, when he didn’t play basketball to protect himself from injury. Primarily a small forward, Parsons felt he needed to add strength to play significant minutes at power forward, a role he could fill for the Mavs when Dirk Nowitzki rests during the season.

Carlisle has made his opinion clear to Parsons, who doesn’t necessarily agree with his coach on the matter but is willing to shed some weight.

“His opinion of heavy is different than mine,” said Parsons, who shot 1-for-6 from 3-point range against the Thunder. “We kind of go at it every day about it. At the end of the day, I respect his opinion. After training camp, my weight fluctuates. I’ll get it down.”

***

No. 3: No pressure on Lillard for quick return — No pressure on Lillard for quick return – Preseason? We talking about the preseason? That’s how Allen Iverson might have put it, if asked about the severity of Damian Lillard‘s sore left foot and its implications for the Portland Trail Blazers now and later. Lillard’s foot got stepped on in the Blazers’ first preseason game and caused him to miss the second. His status for Sunday’s tune-up vs. the Clippers was in doubt, too. But it’s nothing over which anyone should fret quite yet, writes Mike Tokito of the [Portland] Oregonian:

Lillard and the Blazers don’t regard the injury — which they are calling a “left foot sprain” after originally listing it as an ankle injury — as serious or a long-term issue.

“I would be able to play if it was a regular-season game, but it’s preseason,” Lillard said. “You don’t want it to be nagging, ongoing throughout the season. It was more precautionary than anything else. I’m just trying to take care of it right now and get it over with. That’s the smartest thing to do.”

Damian Lillard shoots Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard takes shots after practice, which he did not participate in Saturday because of a foot injury.

Lillard said he will see how the foot feels before ruling himself out for Sunday’s game, but feels in no rush to return.

***

No. 4: NBA seeks to unlock China, India codes — “Global” was a word that got a lot of play when the NBA announced its new broadcast and digital mega-deals last week with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN. It’s no secret that China and India, representing two massive and largely untapped consumer markets for the league, figure prominently in the business model the NBA and its partners will be pursuing between now and 2025. Of course, it all might go more smoothly and at a little faster pace if India had a known-quantity NBA star around whom its fans could rally and China had one to extend the kick-start it got from Yao Ming. Extending the NBA’s brand worldwide was the topic of Stuart Leavenworth‘s piece in the Sacramento Bee, pegged to the league’s Global Games this fall and filed from Shanghai:

Give it some time, say NBA officials and owners. Vivek Ranadive, an India-born Silicon Valley tycoon who led the purchase of the Sacramento Kings last year for $535 million, says that, in a country as big as China, new stars are out there. He added that the NBA and China are partnering on several initiatives to tap into the top talent, including basketball camps led by none other than Yao Ming.

In China, the system is mainly in the hands of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which was formed in 1994 and now has 20 teams. There is also the second-tier National Basketball League, for men, and a Women’s Chinese Basketball Association.

According to the Chinese Basketball Association, there are 300 million people in China playing basketball regularly, slightly less than the entire population of the United States. But high schools and sports leagues don’t identify talent early enough and give them the team skills essential for basketball…

Lack of venues is another obstacle for the NBA’s expansion plans. Shanghai and Beijing have NBA-quality arenas, but other major cities don’t have the means, or the year-round demand, to build modern entertainment palaces.

Like other NBA owners, Ranadive wants to develop a Chinese-language app for China to broaden his team’s fan base. Ranadive is a leading proponent of what he calls “NBA 3.0,” using technology to network fans and the team. His perfect app, he says would let fans see instant replays, crowd-source suggestions for the team and even deliver food and beverages to ticket holders at the press of a button.

Ranadive, who made part of his fortune from TIBCO Software, a company he started in 1997, says that India holds unlimited potential. He and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver are leading a league mission there next month. Ranadive said he recently met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in advance of the mission.

Asked whether India is ready for basketball, with its cramped cities, grinding poverty and near-devotion to cricket, Ranadive noted that India is rising faster than many realize. Makeshift courts are popping up across the country.

“Basketball is a game that can be played anywhere, by anyone — rich, poor, boys and girls,” he said. “You don’t need a lot of space to play basketball, as you do with cricket. So I really think basketball is poised to take off.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Members of the Miami Heat sounded relieved to have their big LeBron James reunion game behind them in Brazil. … Maybe Toronto’s Bruno Caboclo isn’t “two years away from being two years away” after all. … Alexey Shved thinks he’ll find the climate in Philadelphia preferable to Minnesota, for his game anyway. … Kyrie Irving is buying Daniel Gibson‘s house. … Boston’s Rajon Rondo did some shooting (but don’t get carried away). …


Griffin King of Stars of NBA.com Top 10


VIDEO: The top five players in the Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 poll

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

For pure entertainment value during a night working at NBA.com/NBA TV, there is nothing more fun than the Top 10. The videos are a sugar rush of dunks, buzzer-beaters and no look passes that spark a roar of post-midnight debate in our highlight room each night.

Letting the fans in on this discourse was the major motivation behind the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” We wanted to see which players the fans thought consistently created the best highlights. It was just that simple.

So, as we release the top five players on this list, it seems we’ve learned that the fans are seeing things in much the same way our highlight editors do. Not surprisingly, Lob City’s Blake Griffin grabbed the top spot by a close, but relatively safe margin. The battle for second on the list came down to a pair of MVP’s — Kevin Durant and LeBron James and the margin was razor thin. How thin? Voting closed at midnight last night and at 11:57, with scores of votes counted in the last hour, James and Durant were literally tied. One minute later, in a buzzer-beater of sorts, the ballot below was cast that separated the two stars…

@Plox300, a self-described “spectator,” checked into the game and determined the final order at the last second pushing LeBron ahead of KD. So, thanks to the fans for all the votes throughout the process and without further adieu, here are the final results for the top five of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

  • 1. Blake Griffin 28%
  • 2. LeBron James 24%
  • 3. Kevin Durant 23%
  • 4. Russell Westbrook 13%
  • 5. Stephen Curry 12%

Earlier this week we released spots 6-10 and they were:

  • 6. DeAndre Jordan
  • 7. Damian Lillard
  • 8. Gerald Green
  • 9. Kyrie Irving
  • 10. Paul George​


VIDEO: The second five in the Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 poll

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

U.S. takes extra big on final roster


VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball Final Roster

NEW YORK – Just a few hours after a 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Friday and six days before it needed to, the U.S. National Team finalized its roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

In a bit of a surprise, two players – DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond – who didn’t play on Friday made the final roster. Drummond is the fourth center on the team, while DeRozan made the cut over Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver. He offers more playmaking and explosive scoring ability than the other two.

In addition to Korver and Parsons, Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward did not make the 12-man roster.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had previously indicated that they might take more than 12 when the team flew to the Canary Islands on Saturday afternoon, because some of the final decisions were proving to be difficult. But Krzyzewski made it clear after Friday’s game that they decided not to take any extras, for two reasons.

First, because it’s “really difficult,” according to Krzyzewski, for a player to travel abroad and eventually get sent home early. Second, with just one exhibition game remaining (Tuesday against Slovenia), it’s time for this team to finalize its rotation and everybody’s roles.

“Now that we’re down to 12,” Krzyzewski said, “we can get a little bit more precise with things.”

DeRozan and Drummond join guards Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose; wings James Harden and Klay Thompson; forwards Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay; and bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Mason Plumlee.

The starting lineup – Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis – seems to be set, with Irving having replaced Rose for the two exhibition games this week.

Rose is going to Spain, though. If Irving is the starter, Rose will be one of the first players off the bench, along with Thompson (backing up Curry and Harden) and Gay (backing up Faried).

There was no need to see how Rose felt after his second exhibition game. He got four days of rest after last Saturday’s win over Brazil, but Krzyzewski has clearly seen and heard enough.

“I feel very confident about Derrick,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Derrick feels very confident.”

It remains to be seen how many of the USA’s nine potential games Rose will play at the World Cup. It’s safe to assume that it’s less than nine, especially with the five pool-play games in the first six days.

“If he needs a day off,” Chicago Bulls head coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said of Rose on Friday, “he’ll get a day off.”

And Krzyzewski is fine with that. As the U.S. tries to win its fourth straight gold medal in international competition, it will also be trying to get Rose back into top basketball shape.

“These guys want to play with him,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers, who want you to be really good.

“That’s what we’ve seen over the years. That’s where the brotherhood develops. That’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the last nine years. We think that can happen again and hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season. I think it’s a huge, huge help for him.”

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard – Irving – on the roster, with Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three backup centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

The U.S. got a tough 20 minutes on Friday, as Puerto Rico took a five-point lead in the first quarter and hung within two until Thompson beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up 3-pointer. Veteran guards Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea were able to take advantage of the USA’s aggressiveness on the perimeter to push Puerto Rico to 47 points on just 40 first-half possessions.

The U.S. tightened up its rotation and its defense in the second half, using a 14-2 run to take control.

“We tried to do too much trapping [in the first half], and they’re just too good,” Krzyzewski said. “Second half, I thought we played really, really well.”

Still, the U.S. will need Tuesday’s exhibition game against Slovenia (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and all five pool play games in Bilbao to sharpen up for single-elimination action in Barcelona and Madrid. With the roster set, the focus can go from choosing a team to winning another gold.

“There’s still,” Krzyzewski said, “a lot to do.”

Rose’s timeline affects roster decisions


VIDEO: Take an all-access look at Derrick Rose’s visit to Chicago with Team USA

NEW YORK – Derrick Rose aims to play in the U.S. National Team’s exhibition against Puerto Rico on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). After four days off, he took part in Thursday’s practice and said he could have played Wednesday against the Dominican Republic.

“But there is no point when you can get a little more rest,” Rose said. “That is all I tried to do.”

Rose is doing the right thing for him, the Chicago Bulls, and for the chances of him playing his best basketball come April, May and June. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It’s also good for Rose that he’s here with USA Basketball, with his NBA coach — Tom Thibodeau — alongside him. His time with the National Team is an opportunity to knock off some rust, get his body used to playing again, and build his basketball endurance.

The U.S. has always done whatever it takes not to push its players too hard. There’s a reason this team only plays four exhibition games, while some other national teams play more than 10.

Hang Time general manager Sekou Smith wrote Thursday about Rose’s decision. But really, Rose’s decision is easy. He should stick with this team as long they have a uniform for him and play as much as he thinks he can.

The real decision lies more with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the rest of their staff (which includes Thibodeau). They need to figure out how well Rose’s timeline, in terms of rest and recovery, aligns with theirs, in terms of playing nine games in 16 days once the FIBA World Cup begins on Aug. 30.

(more…)

USA handles Dominican Republic, moves toward roster reduction


VIDEO: Dominican Republic vs. USA Basketball

NEW YORK – It’s hard to know if the U.S. National Team got better on Wednesday. Their opponent in their second exhibition game wasn’t nearly as good as their opponent in the first. After pushing past Brazil in the fourth quarter in Chicago, the U.S. manhandled the Dominican Republic, 105-62, at Madison Square Garden. They won each of the first three quarters by double-digits.

The offensive numbers — 58 percent shooting, 10-for-23 from 3-point range, just 13 turnovers — were great. The defensive numbers — 34 percent shooting, 5-for-25 from 3-point range, 19 turnovers — were even better.

As much as it was an opportunity to take a step forward in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, it was a chance to see more minutes from guys who are vying for the last few roster spots.

USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said that all 16 players currently on the roster will still be on it Friday, when the team plays another exhibition here against Puerto Rico. But after that, some guys won’t be making the trip to Gran Canaria, Spain, for the next phase of training.

“I’m sure we’ll do something before we leave the country on Saturday,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ll get down to a lower number. We have to do that.”

The final, 12-man roster does not need to be submitted until Aug. 29. So the U.S. may take 13 players on the plane and wait to make a final decision.

The four players who did not play in Saturday’s win over Brazil each came off the bench on Wednesday. And three of them put up numbers that could help their cause.

After missing Saturday’s game with a knee bruise, DeMarcus Cousins scored just two points, but was the game’s leading rebounder with eight boards in less than 16 minutes.

DeMar DeRozan, who was the leading scorer in the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, tied for the team-high with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting on Wednesday. He’s one of the players most likely to be sent home this weekend, but has flourished in these fast-paced games.

Andre Drummond also seems like a likely cut, but also seemed at home with the up-and-down style, racking up 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive) in 16 minutes.

Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, was the only player who didn’t see any action until the second half on Wednesday. He was his usual solid self, but didn’t make much of an impression with the game already well in hand.

And that, again, was the issue with Wednesday’s game. The U.S. needs players it can trust in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Though the MSG crowd had a sizeable Dominican contingent that got loud with every early basket, this wasn’t much of a test for the U.S. team or any of its players.

So, the decisions that Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo have to make in the next few days will not be easy. Cousins, DeRozan, Drummond and Hayward appear to be in competition with Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee for the final two roster spots. After playing strong against Brazil, Plumlee did not play Wednesday, so that Drummond could see some floor time.

Lillard’s status may be tied to that of Derrick Rose, who also sat out Wednesday’s game after sitting out the last two days of practice. Neither Rose nor Krzyzewski nor Colangelo has expressed concern over the point guard and all three say they’re just being careful.

“I’m just trying to protect myself,” Rose said, “knowing this is a long, long schedule and this is the most basketball I’ll be playing in two years.”

He said that he will practice Thursday (a non-contact day) and play in Friday’s game against Puerto Rico. He called the soreness he’s been feeling since the Brazil game “just body fatigue” and said it had nothing to do with either of his surgically repaired knees.

“No, not the knees,” Rose said. “No, no, no, no. You don’t [have] to worry about that.”

But while Rose’s words may ease the worries of Chicago Bulls fans, four days of rest after one exhibition game can only elicit questions about Rose’s readiness for the World Cup, which begins on Aug. 30 with five pool-play games in the first six days.

Asked if there’s any concern about his starting point guard’s ability to handle the grind of what’s to come, Krzyzewski said, “We’ll find that out in the next few days.”

Kyrie Irving started in Rose’s place and looked sharp offensively. The rest of the starting lineup remained the same, making it more likely that Kenneth Faried will be the team’s power forward when it plays Finland on Aug. 30.

Durant decision a huge blow for USA


VIDEO: NBA TV news: Durant Withdraws

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The U.S. National Team’s hopes for winning the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup took a huge blow on Thursday, as Kevin Durant withdrew from the team for the remainder of the summer.

Durant, who carried the U.S. to the World Championship gold medal in 2010 by averaging 33 points (and playing all but six minutes) over the last three games, would have been the best player in Spain and the focal point of the U.S. offense.

But he wasn’t ready to take on that toll again, with NBA training camps opening just two weeks after the gold medal game.

“I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience,” Durant said in a statement. “After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Combined with the injury to Paul George, the U.S. is now without the two guys it expected to start at the forward spots. And it will have to make do with a roster where most of the scoring will come from the backcourt.

Some random thoughts…

  • The U.S. still has a lot of offensive firepower with Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. But there’s just no replacing Durant’s combination of size and shot-making.
  • The U.S. still has a relatively clear road to the gold medal game. Not only will Spain be on the opposite side of the bracket (after group play is completed), but so will Argentina, Brazil and France. Lithuania could be the biggest challenge out of the USA’s side.
  • But only the winner of the World Cup (along with Brazil) qualifies for the 2016 Olympics. If the U.S. doesn’t win, it would have to qualify via the FIBA Americas tournament, to which it hasn’t sent a team since 2007.
  • So this is also bad news for the Canadian National Team, general manager Steve Nash, coach Jay Triano, and their group of young NBA players, which could include Andrew Wiggins next summer. Only two teams from the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament will qualify for the Olympics, and if the U.S. is competing for one of those two spots, Canada’s chances are cut in half.
  • As has been noted many times in this space, the U.S. typically plays two NBA small forwards together at the three and four. Both Durant and George, like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the past, would have been able to play the four. But now Chandler Parsons is the only three left on the roster with much size.
  • That could mean that we’ll see more of Kenneth Faried than originally planned. Faried has broken the mold of what the U.S. looks for in a power forward, providing a combination of energy and athleticism that’s been impossible to ignore. But he appeared to be an energy guy who plays a few minutes at a time. Now, he may be a bigger part of the rotation (and possibly a starter). If he’s playing next to Davis, who has range out toward the FIBA 3-point line, the U.S. can still space the floor pretty well.
  • If the U.S. is going to take only one of DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee for the back-up center spot (with Davis and Faried as the other bigs), there would be only one more player cut from the current 15-man roster. That final spot would likely come down to Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan, who obviously bring two different skill sets. Durant’s withdrawal may have guaranteed Gordon Hayward a spot on the roster.
  • Cousins may now look like the best option of that center group, because he can obviously provide the most offense.

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3