Posts Tagged ‘David West’

Blogtable: Best bench left in the playoffs is ______?

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: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No sense overthinking this. Golden State has the best bench, versatile, deep, talented and at peace with the team’s pecking order. The other teams (most obviously San Antonio) have depth that works for them, well enough at least to be playing in May, and there are individuals among them who could be herded together to match or top the Warriors’ crew. But I’ll take Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights and the others as a proven unit and take my chances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s hard to argue against the defending champs, especially with the efforts of Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in the playoffs. But I’m going to do it anyway. The Spurs regularly go 10 deep and virtually every one of them is a threat to win a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. That’s the Warriors with Stephen Curry. Without Curry, the bench is obviously weakened because Shaun Livingston goes from reserve to starter. He has been a key two one championship run already and the possibility of a second. But Andre Iguodala is the most important. Plays multiple positions, defends, can run the point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The winner and still champion in this regard is Golden State. And that goes double for Andre Iguodala, still able to give the Warriors what’s needed (scoring, defense, energy) at that time he checks in. Shaun Livingston should get some love, too, given how he subbed for Steph Curry. Depth is what elevates the Warriors from all others.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs had the best bench in the regular season by a wide margin, with an aggregate bench NetRtg of plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions. The depth advantage gets reduced a bit in the playoffs, when rotations are shorter, but with Patty Mills, Manu Ginobil, Boris Diaw and David West, they’re still the cream of the crop. Diaw is the most important player of the group, because he gives them frontline flexibility to match up with whatever opponent they’re facing and allows them to play both big and small at the same time. He’s the French Draymond Green, except that he came first.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Best bench, hands down, belongs to the Warriors. And it’s a tie for the most important player(s) off that bench between Andre Iguodala, the reigning Finals MVP, and Shaun Livingston, who is proving his worth to the franchise in Steph Curry‘s absence. If the Warriors do indeed get back to The Finals to defend their title, they’ll have done so behind the work of their bench and these two guys in particular.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: We’re seeing, again, that the Warriors’ depth is crucial. Last year it was sixth man Andre Iguodala who helped change the NBA Finals while being elevated to the starting lineup. This year the MV(Bench)P is Shaun Livingston, who is such a reliable fill-in for Steph Curry that Golden State doesn’t need to rush the league’s most explosive scorer back into the lineup. The fluid style of the Warriors owes much to their depth – and the versatility of that depth.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s bench is probably better and more versatile than most people realize. They have an above-average backup point guard (Dennis Schröder), a sweet-shooting stretch four (Mike Scott), a defensive specialist (Thabo Sefolosha) as well as guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and (when healthy) Tiago Splitter. But to me the best bench of a postseason team belongs to Golden State, and you’re seeing its value right now with Steph Curry injured. Shaun Livingston is a terrific guard, able to play and defend multiple positions, and he’s stepped right into Curry’s spot and played capably. Andre Iguodala is coming off an NBA Finals MVP award, Festus Ezeli is going to command some real money in free agency, and Mo Speights draining threes is never not fun.

Spurs braced for history and Thunder

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich after Sunday’s practice.

SAN ANTONIO — If they needed a reminder, the Spurs could always dig deep into the NBA annals to the 1985 Finals where Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were thumped 148-114 at Boston Garden in the series opener by the Celtics. It became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

It was memorable, indeed. Mostly for the way the Lakers came back to win the next game and went on to claim the crown, the first time they ever beat Boston in the playoffs.

For a dive not nearly as deep into history, the Spurs could look back just a year ago to a 100-73 thumping they laid on the Clippers for a 2-1 series lead. Then the Clippers came right back to win Game 4 in San Antonio and went on to eliminate the Spurs in the first round.

In other words, it’s one game.

One big, ugly, hurtful bruise of a 124-92 haymaker that the Spurs delivered to the jaws of the Thunder Saturday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. But the veteran club isn’t expecting OKC to roll over again.

The Spurs shot 60.7 percent in the opener, hit 9 of 15 shots from 3-point range, scoring 73 points by halftime and building a lead that reached a ridiculous 43 points. LaMarcus Aldridge went 18-for-23 for his 38 points and Kawhi Leonard was a two-way monster.

“I think that after a game like that you are worried,” said Manu Ginobili. “I mean, the tendency is to be satisfied so you get to worry about the next one because it’s a natural tendency. Hopefully, we don’t fall for that.

“We understand it’s an exception. It doesn’t happen that often, having a shooting night like that (and) their having as bad night as they did. So my feeling now is just being worried because we know it is not being the same and we start the game a little relaxed.”

The Spurs smothered the Thunder from start and it snowballed out of control early. OKC was most definitely unprepared for what hit them and outperformed and out-executed by the Spurs and a good deal of that has to fall on rookie coach Billy Donovan, getting his first real baptism by fire against Gregg Popovich.

But if the long, six-month grind of the regular season teaches you anything, it’s that there is always another game coming up and always a chance to forget the past.

“We have been on that side of it,” said Tony Parker. “It’s easy to get motivated, because it’s just one game.  They have nothing to lose and can steal a game and do their job.”

It’s a lesson most often learned painfully, usually by a team made up of younger players. But these Spurs know that just because the jumpers and layups didn’t fall for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook one night it doesn’t mean they won’t on another.

“I think our maturity will set in,” said David West. “Obviously, they’re a great team with great players, guys who can make plays and win games…We got off to that great start that really propelled us throughout the game but, obviously, it means nothing. Game 2 is Game 2. It has nothing to do with game 1.”

“Pop uses the words ‘appropriate fear’ quite often,” said Danny Green. “That’s what you have to have. We’ll go into this next game, we’ll see things we can fix, things we need to adjust. We shot the ball well. They didn’t shoot it as well as they’re going to shoot it. We have to assume we’re not going to shoot it as well for the rest of the playoffs. We hope we do. But it’s very rare where everybody is making shots like we were last night. You have to assume it’s going to be harder for us.”

It can hardly get much easier. But even knowing all the pitfalls and the history doesn’t mean that a trapdoor won’t swing open beneath your feet. Because of, well, human nature. The Spurs are now 43-1 on the season in the AT&T Center. But all it would take is one reversal by OKC to puncture that air of invincibility on the Spurs’ home floor.

“We all talk about it. We know,” Ginobili said. “But the head is sometimes very hard to control. If it was that easy then you wouldn’t see it that often. And in every sport and athlete it happens many times. Hopefully, we don’t fall for it and we understand and we convince each other that the risks of winning like this.”

“So, yeah, we do (worry). It’s natural. Of course, during the games you love games like that because it’s not the amount of tension. But sometimes you prefer to win a close game knowing the tension is going to be similar the next game. Here, it’s going to be a completely different story and hope we don’t let down.”

History says this thing hasn’t even started.

Morning shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs get into playoff mode | Anthony: ‘Phil ain’t coaching no more’Gallinari ‘weeks away’ from return to Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Spurs settling into playoff mode — It’s hard to say the season to date has been anything but a success for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 42 straight games at home dating back to last season, lead the NBA in Net Rating (13.5) and, at 57-10, have the league’s second-best record (trailing only the 60-6 Golden State Warriors). Last night, they pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 108-87 victory that further states the Spurs’ case as a true contender. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand and has more on how San Antonio is shifting into its postseason gear:

When San Antonio downed the Los Angeles Clippers 108-87 on Tuesday to capture its 33rd consecutive victory this season at the AT&T Center, the Spurs held a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter before David West and Patty Mills combined for 15 points to lead an onslaught in which they outscored the visitors 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. That allowed them to post their 20th win by 20 points or more, which ranks as the most in the NBA.

So as the Spurs trend toward postseason form, guard Manu Ginobili still believes there are “so many things” the team needs to improve, which makes film sessions with coach Gregg Popovich interesting to say the least.

“Once you listen to Pop dissecting the video, you think, ‘Wow, we could be really good. I mean, we are making all these mistakes, and we’re the best defensive team in the league,’” Ginobili joked. “I think [in] the playoffs, that determination … sometimes in the 70th game or the 58th, you’re a little relaxed and you have sort of a cushion. So hopefully, when we need those wins, everybody’s gonna be very focused and we can improve a little more. I think overall on this stretch, we’ve been very good.”

San Antonio remains undefeated in its latest stretch, having played three games in six days at home against the Chicago Bulls, Thunder and Clippers. The club closes out the homestand with outings Thursday and Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s very important,” Ginobili said. “You always want to test yourself against the best. This week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Warriors too. So it’s a very important week, and we want to do good. You can lose a game. That’s not the point. We want to get better. We want to match up against everybody and see how we react. The first 50 games of the season, we hadn’t been successful against the best teams. So we need these types of wins, and they’re happening.”

Kawhi Leonard’s play ranks as one of the major reasons the Spurs have trailed a total of just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in 396 minutes played in the fourth quarter this season at the AT&T Center.

“It was great,” Popovich said of Leonard’s performance. “Obviously [Leonard’s] length and his ability to guard a number of people, but I think it was a good change up for [Paul] to see something different.”

Added Ginobili: “Now we are used to it. So we are spoiled. Our best offensive player is our best defensive player, too. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s talented, physically very gifted, and he can do it all. It’s no secret that’s one of the main reasons we have 85 percent wins. He’s been amazing.”

Others seem to have followed suit. Entering the matchup against the Clippers, new addition LaMarcus Aldridge put together seven consecutive outings in which he produced 20 points or more, averaging 25.3 points over that span to go with 10.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks while hitting 57.5 percent from the field. Aldridge contributed 17 points and six rebounds against the Clippers.

It’s clear the adjustment “process” Aldridge described earlier in the season has finally come to a close, aided by a stretch in late January and early February in which Tim Duncan was forced to miss eight games due to knee soreness. Duncan’s absence accelerated Aldridge’s acclimation.

“It’s a subjective thing, but I think it’s logical to think that may have been a little bit of a catalyst where he realized he had to do some things, and there wasn’t anybody else to defer to as far as bigs are concerned,” Popovich said. “That probably had a little bit to do with it. But it’s also been a process where he’s become more comfortable in the offense; catching it in different places than he was used to. And it was a process for me, too; to give him the ball more in places that he was used to. So a little bit of both. Then, as time went on, his confidence level went up. When he would miss shots, he would realize that we don’t care. We care if you don’t shoot it when you’re open. If you miss them, we don’t care. We can’t control that.”

“Yeah, it’s the big picture and everyone is on the same page with that goal, understanding we’ve got a much bigger picture that we’re looking at, and these are just little examples throughout the way that are good for our development,” Mills said. “This stretch of games is good for us this time of year.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The call for Cal to save the Nets | LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers | Warriors stealing glances at all-time record | Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder

No. 1: The call for Cal to save the Nets — For what seems like the umpteenth time, there is a NBA coaching opening with John Calipari‘s name written all over it. With Lionel Hollins out as coach in Brooklyn (and Billy King reassigned within the organization), Calipari’s name has surfaced immediately as a possible replacement, even though he has routinely denied in any interest in leaving Kentucky. That won’t stop the rumblings about Cal being the right name for the job, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Brooklyn Nets will undoubtedly make the celebrity hire here because the team’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why John Calipari goes right to the top of any and all searches when you have a desperate billionaire who is looking to make a big splash calling the shots. Do the names James Dolan and Phil Jackson ring a bell?

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who thinks he’s John Wooden because he once coached his daughter’s fifth-grade team to a championship, was ready to offer Calipari everything last summer before Coach Cal decided to return to Kentucky and wait for something better/more lucrative to come along.

Now it’s Prokhorov’s turn. Prokhorov woke up Sunday, looked at his terrible club and with his deep accent essentially mumbled: “I must break you.”

Billy King, the general manager, was reassigned while head coach Lionel Hollins was canned.

You don’t blow up your organization six weeks before the trading deadline unless you have a plan in place, right? Only Prokhorov, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Dmitry Razumov, the owner’s right-hand man behind the Iron Curtain, know for sure.

Calipari is the primary target, according to several sources close to the Nets and Calipari. It will take a lot to get him, which means power and money, perhaps even a small piece of ownership. Remember, Cal’s not the desperate one here.

Calipari has been down this road before with the Nets and knows he’ll have to hire a smart general manager to handle the day-to-day business. The job requires heaving lifting. The Nets are in a complete rebuild without many assets.

The disastrous trade with the Celtics will haunt this franchise for a decade. Boston owns the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and 2018 and has the option to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets will have to start rebuilding through free agency and if we know one thing about Calipari it’s that he can recruit his designer suit off.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski digs into exactly what it might cost to get Calipari to Brooklyn, which surely will not come cheap if he’s right:

For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he’ll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who’ve bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.

Prokhorov has drained his franchise’s natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King’s regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They’re too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.

As much as anything, that’s why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn’t get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.

Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets’ Jersey roots, dust off a failed ’90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.

When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn’t leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.

Cleveland’s offer has become a baseline for Calipari’s contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.

Calipari’s sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he’ll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal’s abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he’s willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.

Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there’s more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.

For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets’ next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.

Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.

***

No. 2: LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers — LeBron James took a ball to the face during his pregame warm up routine before Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. He got the last laugh, though, finishing with a season-high tying 37 points and saving his best for the finish in the Cavaliers’ win. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

Perhaps the signs were there during pregame warmups, as an errant pass plunked James in the face, leading to chuckles on social media.

The Cavaliers just didn’t look like themselves, far from the East’s best.

There were a few different chances to stretch the lead and turn the outcome into a laugher, just as they had done during the first two stops of the current six-game road trip.

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

In the NBA, though, fight and determination only take a team so far. Oftentimes having a four-time MVP, a player capable of single-handedly taking control, can erase an otherwise frustrating night.

That’s what James did, putting on a show for the near-sellout crowd in Philadelphia.

With the Cavs’ clinging to a two-point lead, 81-79, Cavs head coach David Blatt put his star back in the game.

James, who has traded the new-school “dab” celebration and his familiar “Silencer” for the mid-90’s “Raise the Roof,” lifted his team to victory before heading to Texas for a tough three-game stretch.

A 22-foot jumper ignited a 14-0 run, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to a game-high 16 points past the midway point of the final period. James scored 12 of the 14 points during that stretch and did it in a variety of ways. There were pull-up jumpers, three-points bombs and circus layups.

James finished with 37 points, tying his season-high total, on 15-of-22 from the field. He also added nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. As James was scorching, the rest of his teammates were struggling, showing frustration on a cold shooting night.

James could sense it and took it upon himself to change it.

“I was able to get enough of a break to get a little energy,” James said after the game. “I understand when I go back into the game I have to make plays. They needed me to put the ball in the hole tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”

***

No. 3: Warriors stealing glances at all-time record — The Golden State Warriors can’t help themselves. Even with the San Antonio Spurs hot on their trail and plenty of potential roadblocks between them and history, they refuse to be intimidated by the thought of chasing a 73-win season. They remain on pace to top the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. With a win over the Miami Heat tonight they’d be halfway there, writes Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:

With so many team and individual milestones to keep track of, it was easy to overlook that the Warriors’ 35th victory of the season put them halfway to 70 wins after just 37 games.

Another victory against the Miami Heat on Monday night at Oracle Arena will put them halfway to 72, the NBA regular-season record established by Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

So is it OK to start talking about chasing the record yet? After all, the Warriors need to go “only” 38-7 the rest of the way to finish 73-9 and break the mark.

After Game 37 a year ago, the Warriors were 31-6, and they went 36-9 from there. That’s not far off from 38-7, so if nothing else, they are making it more plausible with each victory.

The Warriors will begrudgingly talk about the record if asked. But they still don’t really like thinking about it and won’t for a while.

“People ask us after games what it feels like to be whatever our record is at that point, and you get reminded where we are,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “But when we’re out there on the floor, we’re not playing like if we lose, we’ll be off the pace. There’s no pressure when we’re out there, so that’s a good feeling.”

The pressure is certain to mount if the Warriors continue to stay ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but that will be difficult in itself. Michael Jordan and Co. were 34-3 after 37 games and would win seven in a row from there to go 41-3 before their fourth loss. They did not lose in the entire month of January that season, going 14-0.

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

“We understand what the big goal is, but in the moment, we just try to play well and do what we do, and hopefully that means we’ll get wins,” said Curry. “You hope to bottle up those emotions as you go through the season, because you can’t fast-forward to April and think about if we’re going to be within striking distance of the record or whatever.

“We want to be healthy and we want to be playing well, and if we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it, because that’s a huge record most people thought could never be broken. So we’ll talk about that when we get closer. But for now, let’s stay in the moment and play free, play our game and have fun doing it.”

***

No. 4: Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder — A day after declaring his intentions for the franchise and the city of Portland, Damian Lillard backed up his words with decisive and explosive actions to lead the Trail Blazers past Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a vintage performance from one of the league’s most dynamic players. It also reinforced Lillard’s message, his vow to carry the team and city on his back, if need be, as they scratch and claw their way back to respectability. It was “Lillard Time” when it mattered most against the Thunder, writes Mike Richman of the Oregonian:

You have seen “Lillard Time” before. But not quite like this.

Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 31 points in the final 3:07 of the game, connecting on five three-pointers to power the Trail Blazers to a 115-110 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at the Moda Center.

“That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We were battling the whole game and he came up big. I mean, he hit five threes in two minutes. You don’t see that very often.”

While Lillard was spectacular, dropping long-range step backs with defenders right in his face and adding a familiar tap of his wrist in the process, the Blazers pulled out the win on the defensive end.

Lillard hit back-to-back threes to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to 107-104 with 2:11 left. After Thunder big man Steven Adams split two free throws, Allen Crabbe got in on the long range assault, hitting a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook pushed the lead back to three with two free throws, only to have Lillard tie the game at 110-all with a deep three-pointer right over the outstretched arm of Westbrook.

The Blazers defense backed up Lillard’s firepower. Al-Farouq Aminu came away with a key steal, tipping a pass from Thunder big man Serge Ibaka that led to a transition opportunity for the Blazers. Lillard, who had already made four three-pointers in the quarter, didn’t wait long to get another shot up, quickly hoisting a three-pointer from the right wing to put Portland up 113-110 with just over a minute remaining.

“It’s like that sometimes. When you see the ball go in a few times and then the team is defending you the way we defended and you just keep getting it back,” Lillard said. “You get a stop and you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out and I was able to do it tonight.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall is doing his best to strike a balance while grinding through an injury-riddled season for the Washington Wizards … Spurs veteran David West had a special rooting interest in the Army All-American bowl over the weekend in San Antonio … Tired Jazz whip brutal Lakers, who worked without Kobe Bryant for the seventh time this seasonLuke Walton has fond memories of playing in Sacramento, dating all the way back to his high school days … The Detroit Pistons are eyeballing a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings and all that comes with itZach Randolph and the Grizzlies keep it grimy and rolling at home

Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

***

No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

***

No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

***

No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

***

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: No structural damage to Wall’s kneeWarriors just keep on winning | Young says ejection a result of frustrating season | Cousins blames himself for Kings’ slideSpurs’ West just wants to win

No. 1: Report: No structural damage to Wall’s knee; status for game vs. Heat — Washington Wizards fans can breathe a sigh of relief a little bit this morning. Star point guard John Wall left last night’s loss to the visiting Dallas after hurting his right knee in a collison with the Mavs’ Jeremy Evans. The Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo reports Wall did not suffer any structural damage to the knee but his status for tonight’s game against in Miami against the Heat (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass) is unknown:

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall exited Sunday’s 116-104 loss to the Dallas Mavericks because of a right knee injury, although he does not have any structural damage, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. His status for Washington’s meeting Monday night with the first-place Miami Heat remains uncertain.

Wall collided knees with Mavericks forward Jeremy Evans late in the fourth quarter. He gingerly exited the contest with help from teammates and without putting any weight on his right leg with 1 minutes 14 seconds left.

“I tried to take a step to go contest, and I didn’t have the strength and I just stopped,” said Wall, who said that the right knee was already bruised before the injury.

Wall said the knee was sore, but an X-ray did not reveal any structural damage and he was walking on his own after the game with a slight limp. He is traveling with the team to Miami and will be reevaluated Monday.

“You try and think positive,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “You hate to see a guy go down for one. And two, it being John. But you know I’m positive at all times and we want him to be smart. So if he can’t go, another guy has to step up.”

The Wizards were already dealing with a depleted roster; they played Sunday with just 10 available players for the third time in eight games and will be shorthanded again Monday.

Starting center Marcin Gortat has missed the last two games because of a family matter and isn’t expected to rejoin the team Monday, while backup Nene (calf) won’t be on the trip to Miami and Alan Anderson (ankle) won’t be available. Big men Kris Humphries (ankle) and Drew Gooden III (calf) are questionable.


VIDEO: John Wall leaves the game with a right knee injury

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Green rip Warriors’ critics | Kobe expected to be fine after knee injury | Lillard ready to lead Blazers | West happy to be in San Antonio

No. 1: Curry rips Warriors’ many critics — Despite having won the 2015 NBA championship, the Golden State Warriors have taken flak from some around the league that their path to the title wasn’t that tough. Well, you can only poke at the champs for so long before they’re going to swing back and that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green gave a sarcastic apology of sorts for their title run, writes Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:

No longer able to remain politically correct about the post-championship criticism they’ve been hearing from their NBA rivals, the Warriors are returning fire.

Stephen Curry grew sarcastic Tuesday following a preseason shootaround. Draymond Green likened those who questioned whether the Warriors deserved to be champions to “a bitter female.” Andrew Bogut told Sirius XM he would “sit back and laugh at some of these boneheads.” Even general manager Bob Myers acknowledged to the radio station that he thought “there has been a narrative of luck.”

Asked where he stood on other teams commenting on what the Warriors didn’t have to do to win the championship, Curry replied with sarcasm.

“I kind of want to just say, ‘I apologize for us being healthy. I apologize for us playing who was in front of us. I apologize for all the accolades we’ve received as a team and individually. I’m very, truly sorry. We’ll rectify that situation this year,’ ” Curry said.

He smiled and added: “I try to have fun with it.”

Green said the amount of criticism the Warriors have taken after the championship showed him just how many people there were in the league who didn’t want to see them win it all.

“People hate change,” he said. “People don’t accept change well. They’re used to Golden State just floating around the bottom of the league.”

Then Green ventured into some territory he probably will wish he hadn’t.

“So, it’s funny,” he said. “It’s like a bitter female. Like, you ever dealt with a bitter female that’s just scorned? God! That’s rough. When you’re dealing with a bitter female that’s scorned, that’s one of the worst things in the world. And God, that’s bad.”

Green indicated the criticism he was hearing came from teams that had not won championships.

Gregg Popovich didn’t say that,” Green said, referring to the Spurs coach. “That’s one organization I really respect. And you haven’t heard anybody in their camp say that. You ain’t heard anybody from OKC say that. Some of the organizations that I really respect.

“So if they’re saying that, it’s some bitterness and some saltiness going around, they’re obviously not the champs. So who cares what they say?”

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Blogtable: Paul George the power forward?

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: Paul George the PF? | Do you believe Carmelo? | Is it time to deal D-Rose?



VIDEOPaul George scores 32 vs. Pistons

> Paul George doesn’t seem sold on the move to power forward, but the Pacers sure do. How do you see it working out for PG-13 if he plays PF all season? And what would you suggest to George to help him through the change?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The situation will work itself out for better or for worse, for this reason: You are what you can guard. I first heard that positional philosophy back in the day from Minnesota’s Flip Saunders and it’s true: George will be a “power forward” on those nights when he can defend the other guy’s. Given the number of stretch-4 types in the league nowadays, that’s not so grueling. As for advice, I’d suggest George not watch too many “Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV, where he’d risk being traumatized by seeing PFs such as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale, Rasheed Wallace, Buck Williams, Maurice Lucas, Elvin Hayes and other greats who put the “power” in that position before the NBA downsized. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI would suggest that George give it more than one preseason game. I would suggest that virtually every team in the league is using a variety of different big, small and in-between lineups that place an emphasis on versatility. I would suggest that he suck it up and go to work like a big boy.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comDepends how well he plays — and feels. It has a chance to work, and the benefit of the doubt should fall on the side of smart basketball minds with a successful track record thinking it is a positive. If it plays out for a little while and George does well, he will be fine. But since he already has hesitation, if he has a slow start to the regular season and the first few weeks is also filled with a physical pounding against power forwards, especially while defending bigger players, then the problem escalates. Let’s not assume the Pacers will forever force this on George. They want PG to get back to his previous level as much as he does. If the new look is not working, Frank Vogel can always make the switch back.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWhen players say “I’ll do anything to help the team”, they don’t really mean it. Not 100 percent, anyway. The Pacers are lacking at that position and want to try a new style and he’s resisting. George is looking at it from the defensive end, where he’s giving up height and weight, rather from the offensive end, where he’ll be a matchup nightmare for most. Also, this will be his first full-season since his leg injury and as Larry Bird said, PG doesn’t need to spend his time chasing quicker players. He should give it an honest try (it’s only October!) and understand that the Pacers have his best long-term interests.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLet’s note that George’s first preseason game at the four was against Anthony Davis and that he’s going to play 80 regular-season games against power forwards not named Anthony Davis. He’s also not going to play all of his minutes at the four. But I would advise him to give it some time and figure out how he can use the move to his advantage. Other power forwards won’t be able to deal with his quickness and stick with him on the perimeter, and he might actually have fun playing offense with the Pacers for the first time in a few years. Still, I’d advise the Pacers to keep an eye out for a better (bigger) fit at the stretch four position, who would allow George to play more or all of his minutes at the three.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I didn’t expect for this Paul George-at-power-forward experiment to go off without a few hiccups. George was apprehensive from the start and I suspect he’ll remain so until he gets more comfortable with this new wrinkle. I don’t know that he’ll have to log heavy minutes there all season. For as many advantages as he might exploit playing out of position like that, he’ll be at a disadvantage often enough that coach Frank Vogel will have to make some adjustments as well. I’d suggest he fight through whatever the struggles are and keep it professional. He’s already made clear that he’s not a huge fan of the move, but he’s looking out for the Pacers’ greater good above all else. His sacrifice will go a long way with folks inside of the organization and the fans who fill the seats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf he’s concerned with playing against bigger opponents, his best response will be to attack them relentlessly. Force the other team to go small against him. The Pacers tried to play with a traditional 1980s-styled lineup and it carried them only so far. This move to power forward can enable George to be even more aggressive – and successful – if he buys in completely.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If George thinks he’s still a 3, or maybe even a 2, that’s great. But has he seen the NBA the last few years? The NBA is going small, and positions are increasingly inconsequential. From a practical perspective, playing power forward shouldn’t make much of a difference for George, other than perhaps being asked to grab a few more rebounds than if he was on the perimeter. It might actually save his legs a bit on the defensive end, and on offense, if George is matched up against bigger power forwards, he can take them out to the perimeter and beat them off the dribble. Still don’t like the assignment? George can play NBA 2K16 and put himself at the 1 if he wants. But for the Pacers to have their best shot at winning, George may have to be open to playing where the team needs him most.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time | Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too | Horford talks Dominican hoops | Burke ready and able

No. 1: Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time — There’s lots of optimism in Minnesota about basketball, and it doesn’t center on the Lynx for a change. No, the former WNBA champs could take a back seat, popularity-wise, to the Timberwolves this season. Over the last two years, since the Kevin Love trade, the Wolves have gradually stockpiled assets and young players and believe the best is yet to come. This represents a change for a franchise that really hasn’t been on radar since Kevin Garnett left for the Celtics. Anyway, Ricky Rubio is in Manila doing promotions and was asked about the Wolves. He didn’t hold back and saved his best props for Andrew Wiggins, as Naveen Ganglani of Rappler reports …

The 6-foot-4 Rubio, who averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.7 rebounds a game last season with an effectiveness rating of 15.24, said that health will be a big factor in order for the playoffs-starved franchise to reach their goal.

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance,” said Rubio, who’s about to enter his fifth year in the NBA — all with Minnesota. “We [all] have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

Wiggins is the key factor. Good enough to win last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, the former Kansas Jayhawk averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per contest in his freshman campaign as a pro.

What’s more impressive than his statistics or athleticism is that he’s already displayed a great feel for the NBA game despite being just 20 years old, making pundits believe he can one day blossom into a top-5 player in the league.

His point guard is thinking even further.

“I think Wiggins is going to be an MVP one day,” said Rubio, who missed a large chunk of last season due to a severely sprained ankle injury.

***

No. 2: Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too It’s pretty common for players on the verge of stardom thinking they’re ready to take the next step, but in Kawhi Leonard‘s case, he might be on to something. Lots of the attention this summer in San Antonio was generated by LaMarcus Aldridge defecting from Portland and, to a lesser extent, David West from Indiana. And yet, lots of the Spurs’ upcoming season will depend on Leonard and whether he’s ready to be an All-Star. To hear him say it, he is. And Leonard doesn’t say much. But he has plenty of confidence in himself and is big on the Spurs, which is why he decided to stay and sign an extension. This is what Leonard told David Zink of the Press-Enterprise

Moreno Valley’s Kawhi Leonard usually lets his game do the talking.

But Saturday morning, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year delivered an important message to the young athletes who attended his basketball camp at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.

“I want the kids to know that it’s not a myth that somebody from their city plays and wins in the NBA,” said Leonard, who helped Riverside King High to consecutive CIF-Southern Section titles in 2008 and ‘09. “I just want to influence them to work hard and do whatever they want to do in life, whether it’s to be a basketball player or scientist … if they believe in themselves they can do anything.

“That’s why I have this camp.”

On Saturday, about 90 boys and girls spent the day at the free camp rubbing elbows with one of the great, young NBA talents.

Quiet and unassuming, Leonard, 24, is a relentless competitor who has taken the NBA by storm, carving out his spot among the elite players while playing in a San Antonio Spurs system that values hard work and unselfish play.

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

***

No. 3: Horford talks hoops in the Dominican — Al Horford is the elder statesman of the Hawks, who won 60 games last season and reached the East finals for the first time, so he’s more qualified to discuss the state of the franchise than anyone else. He also won a pair of championships at Florida under Billy Donovan, now the coach of the Thunder, so while conducting a clinic with Basketball Without Borders, Horford let it fly about those two subjects and more to Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated

The NBA and FIBA’s Basketball Without Borders program held its first-ever camp in the Dominican Republic this week, and along for the ride was Hawks big man Al Horford, for whom the events held added weight.

Horford was born in Puerto Plata, lived in the country until the age of 14 and continued to visit every offseason to see family and help run basketball clinics. His father, Tito, also taking part this week, was the NBA’s first Dominican-born player. The Basketball Without Borders traveling contingent also included Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva, whose parents are Dominican, and Horford’s former Florida teammate Corey Brewer of the Rockets.

SI.com caught up with the All-Star center in the midst of his trip for a window into his experience and his take on a busy off-season for the Hawks, who are preparing to follow up on a 60-win campaign and the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

SI.com: Given that you grew up in the Dominican, how meaningful is it to be a part of the first-ever camp there, and especially to be there with your dad?

Horford: It’s a pretty awesome experience. We’re very grateful that the NBA has brought this caliber of camp to the Dominican Republic, and we get to have an impact in the community as well. I’m excited, my family and I, this has been a week-long celebration, just being able to teach kids, spend time together and make a difference down here.

SI.com: As a kid, you chose basketball over baseball. Obviously baseball’s still the main thing there, but do you get the sense that interest in basketball has changed over the years?

Horford: No question. Baseball’s our dominant sport, obviously, but more and more, you’re starting to see kids from a very young age start to play basketball and really be interested in the game. There’s a big following here. People follow us, they know what’s going on in the NBA, and people here want to play basketball. It’s funny, you drive anywhere in the city, you’ll see courts and people out there playing at all hours of the day. It’s pretty impressive.

***

No. 4: Burke ready and able There’s been plenty of worry in Salt Lake City over the knee injury suffered by Dante Exum, which will likely sideline him for all of the 2015-16 season. But Trey Burke says, have no fear. With the Jazz down a point guard, Burke feels it’s time to start carrying himself like a veteran and help fill the void of Exum, who was expected to see increased playing time in the Utah backcourt. Here’s Burke discussing Exum and the clang to Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune

Trey Burke was sitting on the concourse at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, signing autographs with a silver marker when a fan struck up a conversation with the Utah Jazz guard.

“Now for the most important question,” the man said after a while. “Utah or Michigan?”

Burke smiled and said he’d be rooting for his alma mater when Jim Harbaugh and company visit Salt Lake City on Sept. 3.

After some lighthearted razzing, the man chuckled and turned to the woman at his side and said, “He’s the perfect point guard except that he’s from Michigan.”

The couple laughed.

Burke, too.

He knows he has been far from perfect since he led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament championship game, won college basketball’s player of the year award and became the first point guard drafted in 2013.

“I haven’t hit the goals that I have for myself,” Burke said between fulfilling autograph requests and posing for pictures at a community fair. “But I feel like they’ve been two solid years. I’ve been learning a lot, especially over this summer and last summer. But I know I have a lot of room to improve and I’m willing to work on those areas.”

Burke knew he was facing a crucial year ahead even before knowing that starting point guard Danté Exum could miss all of next season with a torn ACL. Burke had shown flashes over his first 146 games in the NBA, but he also struggled for stretches when he was getting beat on defense or missing too many shots. So as he prepared to his third season with the Jazz, Burke said he was as motivated as ever to prove himself.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Glen Davis believes the Clippers would’ve beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference finals even though the Clippers have fewer banners in Staples than Taylor SwiftCan the Rockets really sign Kevin Durant? … They love LeBron in the Philippines.