Posts Tagged ‘DeMarre Carroll’

Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Iverson, Yao, Shaq lead 2016 Hall of Fame class

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins | Report: Conley’s season likely over | Carroll gearing up for return | Kobe reflects on rescinded Paul trade | Scott: Young ‘not here with us, mentally’

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins — Don’t misunderstand Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, here. Yes, he would love to see his Warriors break the NBA single-season wins mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (which Kerr was a key role player on). But in a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Kerr clarified that he isn’t pushing the team for the record, but instead playing out the season in hopes of getting it while also trying to keep the squad healthy as the playoffs approach:

Steve Kerr, the one-time Chicago Bulls sharpshooter turned Golden State Warriors coach whose past and present are racing to the regular-season finish this week, is pushing back against the idea that he’s pushing his current team toward what could be a record 73-win campaign.

“We’re not really pushing for this,” Kerr, whose Warriors (69-8) must win four of their final five games to best the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls squad on which he played a pivotal part, told USA TODAY Sports after practice Monday. “All we’ve said is, ‘Yeah, it’d be nice to get. We’d like to get it.’

“But if I were pushing for it, I probably wouldn’t be resting (backup point guard) Shaun Livingston and (center Andrew) Bogut, and I’d be playing our starters more. We’re just playing it out. I don’t understand if people are going to say that we’re pushing for this. I don’t think that’s the right word to use. We’d like to get it, but we’re still resting people and trying to get us set up for the playoffs.”

And if they happen to break the Bulls’ mark, Kerr will be as elated as anyone. No matter what Luc Longley has to say about it.

“He had a great line,” said a smiling Kerr, whose Warriors host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday before facing the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies twice apiece in the final four games. “He said ‘You know, you haven’t thought this through obviously.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Your coaching legacy is already established. You won a championship, so people are going to know down the road that you were a good coach. But as a player, you were mediocre at best. So if you break this record and you don’t have that record as a player, nobody’s ever going to remember you as a player, so what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Are you talking about you or me, Luc?’ He said, ‘both.’”

This week, in fact, former Bulls star Scottie Pippen said the 1995-96 team would sweep the Warriors in a playoff series. Pippen even detailed his own part in the hypothetical clash, saying he would hold Stephen Curry below 20 points a game with his length, athleticism and physicality. To that charge, Kerr decided not to push back.

“(What Pippen said) doesn’t bother me,” said Kerr, who had three titles with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. “Every player out there who is connected to that team is going to be asked that question, and my response is always the same. The rules are so different, and the game is so different. We take 30 threes a game, or more, but the defensive rules are totally different in terms of illegal defense.

“With the old illegal defense rules, we would’ve had a hard time guarding the post. But now we can flood the strong side in a pseudo-zone. Back then you could hand-check, now you can’t hand-check. It’s hard to make a comparison if you’re really looking at it objectively, so I don’t even bother.”


VIDEO: Curry, Kerr talk after Thursday’s practice

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

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No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

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No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said

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No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

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No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”

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No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …

One Team, One Stat: The Hawks are open


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Atlanta Hawks

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Atlanta Hawks, who were open often.

The stat

20151026_atl_pct_uncont

The context

20151026_atl_basicsThe Hawks ranked in the top three in effective field goal percentage on both contested (second, 43.6 percent) and uncontested jumpers (third, 52.9 percent). They were a great shooting team, whether there was a defender in the vicinity of the shooter or not.

But they took almost 1,500 more open jumpers than contested ones, which is a very good thing.

League-wide, open jumpers resulted in an effective field goal percentage of more than 10 percentage points better than jumpers with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

20151026_atl_cont_uncont

The Hawks don’t have a guy who creates open shots by himself; none of their starters ranked in the top 40 in *usage rate. Reserve Dennis Schroder (27.4 percent) ranked 21st (among players that played at least 1,000 minutes) and starter Jeff Teague (25.0 percent) ranked 41st.

* Usage rate = Percentage of his team’s possessions that a player uses when he’s on the floor.

But the Hawks’ ball movement was among the best in the league. They ranked fourth in passes per possession, third in secondary assists, and first in assist rate.

The loss of DeMarre Carroll will hurt the offense. Carroll, who left for Toronto, was the Hawks’ second best shooter on open jumpers last season.

20151026_atl_players_uncont

Kent Bazemore will be asked to continue his solid shooting at a higher volume. And when the Hawks need more defense at the wing, opponents will leave Thabo Sefolosha alone on the other end of the floor.

If every perimeter player on the floor isn’t respected, the Hawks’ best shooters may have a harder time getting open.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Blogtable: One thing you’re watching early in 2015-16?

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: One thing to watch early on? | Predicting Golden State’s season | First-time All-Stars



VIDEOOpen Court’s discusses Billy Donovan’s impact on OKC’s future

> There are a lot of great storylines heading into the season, but what is the one thing you will be watching very closely, very intently, the first two-to-three weeks of this new campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Can the Bulls get off to the same kind of white-hot start that Golden State did last season with a new coach? The same dynamic is at work: excellent defense team that needs to diversify its offense. I have no doubt Fred Holberg will make it work, but how long will it take? With all the injuries the Cavs are playing through at the moment Chicago has a great chance to jump to the top of the east. But with Derrick Rose‘s status for the start of the season also uncertain, the Bulls may struggle. A lot of pressure on Jimmy Butler to be dominant from jump.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant’s latest return. Let’s face it, the NBA has been a more fascinating, competitive place because of Bryant’s game and tenacity. It’d be nice to see him finish strong, relatively healthy and providing lots of snapshots and, OK, plenty of GIFs before it’s all over. I think we’ll have a pretty good feel by Thanksgiving as to how it’s going to go for him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Kevin Durant’s health and how he fits in with the new offensive plans of Billy Donovan. No other team or franchise in the league is under more pressure than the Thunder this season with Durant’s happiness and his impending free agency looming over it all. If K.D. can’t return to his old form and the Thunder don’t make it to The Finals, everything about the NBA world in OKC could change.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe first two or three weeks is a pretty small window into a season, since everyone may still be living off the positive vibes, but to pick one situation with implications for the much longer term: Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers. He is an important part of a championship contender. Nothing has changed so far, through the summer and about a month of camp and preseason. Games starting to count for real and missed paychecks adding up, though, that has a way of shaking things up.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat are two teams that can vault from the Lottery to (near) the top of their conference if they’re healthier than they were at end of last season and if they make the most of what they got. For Miami, I want to see how well their offense is clicking with Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh playing together for the first time. And for Oklahoma City, I want to see if their defense automatically returns to a top-10 level with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka back in the lineup, or if Enes Kanter is still a big issue on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s hard to turn away from the drama that will unfold in Los Angeles this season with the Clippers. They had a wild and crazy summer, added what appears to be quality depth and the expectations are through the roof. But they’re admittedly still in the process of trying to figure it all out and fold the new faces into their “culture,” as coach Doc Rivers put it. They don’t have the sort of time you need to nail down championship chemistry in a training camp and preseason that some other teams have enjoyed in recent seasons. This is going to be the best reality show in the league this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m fascinated by the Thunder, the influence of NBA rookie coach Billy Donovan and the comeback of Kevin Durant in his free-agent year. There are a lot of moving parts — and in spite of them OKC could yet win the championship. This is going to be the most interesting reality show of the new season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI know the Atlanta Hawks, despite winning 60 games last season, still are mostly overlooked. But I am very curious to see how the Hawks will replace the departed DeMarre Carroll. I actually think Carroll’s offensive contributions are being a bit overrated a bit in hindsight — he was a nice offensive player for the Hawks, but so much of his scoring came as a result of Carroll cutting to the basket and receiving smart passes from his teammates. Where I think the Hawks will miss him more acutely is on the defensive end, where Carroll was their best option and could stop multiple positions. Thabo Sefolosha brings a different skill set to the starting five, and the Hawks will have to figure out how to incorporate him. I don’t think the Hawks will win 60 games again this season without Carroll, but I do think fifty-plus is well within reach.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30


VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Derrick Rose injured…again | Next man up in Cleveland…again | Durant back in action | Bennett back home in Toronto

No. 1: Derrick Rose injured…again Just hours after an unprompted Derrick Rose discussed free agency during Chicago Bulls media day, which brought up a whole range of emotions for Bulls fans, Rose unwittingly became involved in another storyline familiar to Bulls fans. During the first practice under new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Rose caught an accidental elbow and suffered a facial fracture that required surgery. More importantly, it means Rose will be out for time being, although the Bulls are holding out hope he can return for the season opener. For a guy who has battled injuries seemingly non-stop the last few years, it’s yet another tough break, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

Derrick Rose caught an accidental elbow to his face halfway through Hoiberg’s first session and left for tests that revealed a left orbital fracture. The team said Rose, who turns 27 Sunday, will undergo surgery at Rush University Medical Center on Wednesday. A timetable for his return will be determined after the procedure.

Absences following surgery for orbital fractures have run the gamut recently with players missing anywhere from five to 28 games. Whatever the case, Rose’s injury piles on top of Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery last Friday. Dunleavy’s rehabilitation process could sideline the veteran forward eight to 10 weeks.

Suddenly, 40 percent of Hoiberg’s projected starting lineup will miss most, if not all, of training camp. A source said there is optimism Rose will be ready for the Oct. 27 regular-season opener against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

And while this setback pales in comparison to the three knee surgeries Rose has endured, it’s yet another mental challenge for a former most valuable player who tried to remind all of his greatness during Monday’s media day.

“I know I’m great,” Rose said then.

Since becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2011, Rose has missed in chronological order — deep breath here — five games each to a sprained toe and strained back; 17 games to groin, ankle and foot issues; the entire 2012-13 season to a torn left ACL; 71 games to a torn right meniscus; eight games to ankle and hamstring issues and 20 games to a second right meniscus tear.

In all, Rose has played in 100 games over the last four seasons.

Suddenly, Jimmy Butler’s boast he can play point guard may not be a far-fetched idea. If Rose does miss any regular-season time, the Bulls have Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore at the position.

Three players who addressed the media said they didn’t know whose elbow caught Rose.

“Might have been me,” Taj Gibson said. “It’s one of those plays where everybody’s going so hard.”

At least Gibson, who is coming back from offseason left ankle surgery, practiced fully. But with Dunleavy not sure when he’ll return and now the Rose injury, there has been more bad news than good on the Bulls’ injury front.

Whether Rose wears a mask upon his return has yet to be determined. At the very least, he will have to overcome the fear of getting struck in the face again.

With Rose leaving practice early, teammates were left to answer if Rose’s curious and unsolicited comments about his 2017 free agency from Monday were irksome.

“I don’t care what the guy talks about as long as he’s helping us win games,” said Butler, who signed a $92.3 million deal this offseason. “Whatever he’s focused on let him be focused, but I think his objective is to win a championship. I’m pretty sure he talked about that as well — and how he wants to help this team win. Everything else, he is who he is.

“He can talk about unicorns and rainbows for all I care. Just help us win some basketball games.”

***

No. 2: Next man up in Cleveland…again The Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals despite a seemingly non-stop series of injuries, including season-ending stoppages to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Four months later, the Cavs entered training camp heading in the right direction, with everyone healthy or at least nearing full health. And then Iman Shumpert suffered a wrist injury and, as the Cavs announced yesterday, Shumpert will miss the next 12-14 weeks following surgery. As Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, the Cavs are relying on the same mantra they have for months: Next man up

This wasn’t the best way to begin Day 1 of training camp.

“It’s ‘next man up’ for our team,” LeBron James said. “It’s a big blow for our team. He’s a guy that we wanted around here long-term, and he still will be around here long-term obviously, but the next man up will be ready to go until he gets back.”

Cavs coach David Blatt echoed those sentiments.

“He will eventually be back and in the meantime, we will follow the same philosophy that we had all last year: Face the adversity, next man up and play the game that we know how and the way that we should,” Blatt said.

With Shumpert sidelined, Griffin said there are no immediate plans to tinker with the roster due to the team’s depth. But he’s keeping his options open.

“We’re going to give people a chance to kind of absorb it from within,” he said “but obviously we’re paying a lot of attention to opportunities that we may be able to improve the group. We’ll just play it by ear.”

J.R. Smith will likely get the starting nod in the backcourt along with Mo Williams at the start of the regular season. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson should also play a key part in stabilizing the rotation.

Griffin said Shumpert worked “incredibly hard” this off-season to come into camp in top shape.

Injuries are something that all 30 NBA teams have to deal with at some point. The Cavs know first-hand that injuries at the wrong time can hinder them from reaching their ultimate goal.

“Injuries will probably be the only thing that can stop us long-term, [but Shump] is a short-term thing,” James said.

***

No. 3: Durant back in action One day after he turned 27 years old, Kevin Durant went through his first full day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing 55 games last season following three foot surgeries. While the team announced Durant was fully cleared to return to action, as Durant explained yesterday, there’s a difference in being cleared to play and being in game shape. But, as Durant told ESPN’s Royce Young, he’s the same player he was before the injury

“I feel great, actually,” Durant said. “It’s really different being out there in a practice setting. I haven’t been there in a while. It’s definitely going to take me some time to really get comfortable out there again.

“I’ve been injured, but I’m healed now. So I try not to think about it. If I’m on the court, I’m OK. So I’m the same player I was.”

Despite the frustrations of last season, Durant enters his ninth NBA season full of the confidence. Asked about how long it’ll take to rediscover his rhythm, the 2014 MVP says his game isn’t back — because it never left.

“The most humble way I can say it is I’ve always got feel,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the court I feel great. I know how to play the game. My body might say a little different, but I always feel like I’m in rhythm. That’s just from me being a skill player and knowing what it takes to go out there and showcase my fundamentals of the game. I always feel like I’m in feel, but my body has to catch up, I guess.”

The one area Durant said may take a bit of time is his conditioning, though he said he felt like he was in already in a good place.

“My conditioning feels great,” Durant said. “I know it’s gonna take some time for me to really get back to feeling great and mid-season form, but I’m on my way.”

Monday’s practice was also the first for new head coach Billy Donovan, who said the focus was working to establish an identity, specifically on the defensive side.

“I think it went well,” Donovan said of his first NBA practice. “Guys were obviously very, very excited, certainly a lot of teaching to do in the first couple hours just to try and get a defensive system and a philosophy, trying to break down and teach. I thought we got a lot in, especially considering it was the first day.”

Said Durant of adjusting to a new coach: “It’s the first day. We’ve still got to figure it out. It’s just the first day. We’re smart players, and we know how to figure things out.”

***

No. 4: Bennett back home in Toronto The Cleveland Cavaliers made him the first pick of the draft in 2013, but since then Anthony Bennett has struggled to find a home in the NBA. After one season in Cleveland he was traded to Minnesota, and this summer his contract was bought out, making him a free agent. But for Bennett, his latest team is the Toronto Raptors, which is actually home. And as Bennett told CBS’s James Herbert, that’s a good thing

After Bennett walked into the practice court at the Air Canada Centre wearing a Raptors shirt — apparently his new No. 15 jersey wasn’t quite ready, and when he put it on a short while later, there was no name on the back — he called playing in Toronto “the perfect situation for me.” It was “definitely not an easy decision” to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, but when he got back from the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, his agency and his former team were working on a buyout. Other teams were interested, but he knew where he wanted to be.

“It has been something I’ve been thinking about growing up, watching Vince Carter play,” Bennett said. “And now I’m back here. It’s surreal, but at the same time it’s work. I’m just ready to go all out.”

Playing for the Canadian national team, Bennett had a solid summer. He was perhaps the team’s best player at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, and he had his moments at the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, too. Unsurprisingly, fellow Canadian Raptor Cory Joseph believes he can build on that.

“I feel like it’s a new beginning here,” Joseph said. “I think he’ll do great for us, for the city, for the country. I think he’ll revive his NBA career.”

While the homecoming angle is nice, Bennett’s redemption story has been written before. He looked in shape and confident at last year’s summer league, where he said he was having fun again after a rookie year filled with adversity. Just like with Team Canada, in Vegas he showed off the athleticism that made him such a great prospect, screaming into the stands to punctuate his dunks. He didn’t play much in his second season, though, and it wasn’t pretty when he did. Bennett missed way too many midrange jumpers and often looked lost on defense. He has a long way to go, and there are proven players in front of him.

As Raptors training camp begins, Bennett will find himself battling Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola at power forward. DeMarre Carroll is also expected to spend some time at the 4, and James Johnson could be in the mix, too. Given Toronto head coach Dwane Casey‘s preference for veterans and his dedication to defense, it seems unlikely Bennett will be a regular part of the rotation.

“This is an opportunity,” Casey said. “This is a good place for him. It’s home. He should feel comfortable. But, all the [playing] time and everything else, he’s going to have to come in and earn it, which I’m sure the other players would be happy to hear.”

For the Raptors, there was little risk in signing Bennett. He’s on a one-year contract for $947,276. Where he was selected doesn’t matter anymore.

“It didn’t work out in a couple places,” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri said. “I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him. For us to get a Canadian 22-year-old power forward that is athletic and can play at the minimum? We’ll take it. He’ll have a chance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Allen says the Blazers have moved on from losing LaMarcus AldridgeBen Gordon went vegetarian and now hopes to make the Golden State Warriors roster … In Denver, Kenneth Faried is the Nuggets’ biggest wild card … The Brooklyn Nets want Brook Lopez to take more of a leadership role

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 29


VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready to get back to work | Kobe has more questions than answers | Hawks back to chasing the process | Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low

No. 1: Warriors ready to get back to work Last season, in Steve Kerr‘s first year as a head coach, the Golden State Warriors struck gold, winning the franchise’s first NBA championship in four decades, thanks largely to the play of NBA MVP Stephen Curry. After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors clearly enjoyed the offseason, as members of the team popped up all over the media landscape, often with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow. But as our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, at media day yesterday the Warriors reconvened in the Bay Area ready to get back to work defending their chip

Day 1 of the new season as defending champion and reigning MVP, and Curry already has a challenge: Show he got enough down in the alleged offseason to be ready to again drive the Warriors into June.

Teammate Andrew Bogut, noting the Golden State whirlwind since beating the Cavaliers in the Finals, said, “It feels like the championship parade was last Tuesday.” And he played for Australia in a tournament to qualify for the Olympics but mostly got to recharge. Imagine how fast the summer streaked by for Curry. He played in a POTUS foursome — Curry shot a 76 — had another daughter, hit China, the Philippines and Japan to promote Under Armour, and chatted with Jimmy Fallon in L.A. and Jimmy Kimmel in New York. And there were more talk shows, more appearances to help open the practice facility at Davidson, his alma mater, more other long days.

“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day I’m still the same person, still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded, keeps me normal,” Curry said Monday as the Warriors officially reconvened for media day in advance of opening camp Tuesday at their practice facility. “Me and my family had an opportunity to get away and spend time with ourselves and just try to be as normal as possible. It’s obviously been different, especially here in the Bay Area. Going out and doing things, you get recognized a lot more. The world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way that we kind of live and do our daily routine, we find time to get away from the game and the noise. That’s helpful to handle all the good that’s gone on on the court and everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

This now becomes about all the Warriors figuring out how to handle the champion’s spotlight, but no one more than Curry and his new status of superstar-in-demand. There are the many reasons to feel good around Warriors Ground. He is a tireless worker who puts a priority on being ready to play. He is 27, young enough to have the recovery powers that will eventually elude him. He has a coach, Steve Kerr, with a firm understanding of finding opportunities to cut back on players’ minutes. And Curry is mature enough — thanks in part to a father who lasted 16 NBA seasons — to understand the importance of rest.

Except that it doesn’t matter how Curry felt Monday. April matters, and there is no way to predict how his summer in a shrinking world will hit him when the next playoffs begin. (A lot will depend on the other Warriors. They recorded so many blowouts last season, becoming just the eighth team in league history to outscore the opposition by an average of double digits, that Curry was able to rest a lot of fourth quarters. That undoubtedly made a difference in the 2015 postseason.)

***

No. 2: Kobe has more questions than answers Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but as he prepares for his 20th NBA season, there seem to be more questions than answers. For many months now, it has been assumed that this will be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But now, on the even of training camp, as our own Shaun Powell writes, despite reports that Kobe plans to finish his career as a Laker, Kobe is either playing coy, or perhaps he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds

Here’s what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn’t a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.

“Not sure,” he said. “Big question mark.”

That’s his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league’s most fascinating players even if he isn’t the best or among the best anymore.

Maybe it’s just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he’s as stumped as ever.

“I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been any season,” he said, before adding that it’s also the most unsure he’s ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He’s also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” he said.

Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.

“Everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Kobe said. “That’s his opinion.”

And Kobe’s opinion?

“Hell if I know.”

***

No. 3: Hawks back to chasing the process Last season the Atlanta Hawks caught the NBA by surprise, reeling off 60 wins and taking the regular season Eastern Conference crown. This season they return with not only the element of surprise removed from their arsenal, but with their style of pace and space basketball exposed for the rest of the NBA to scheme against. As our own Sekou Smith writes, the Hawks understand last season was only a step in the pursuit of a larger goal

A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.

“Last season was just a step,” All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks’ Media Day session at Philips Arena. “It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn’t win a championship, so it’s not like we accomplished our ultimate goal.”

Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.

But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.
“We don’t have any doubts about who and what we are,” All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. “We’ve worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we’re capable of. We’ve shown what we can do. And now it’s about consistency.”

The Hawks return four All-Stars — Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague — and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.

The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.

“I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings,” Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. “So I don’t know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that’s been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence.”

***

No. 4: Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low Carmelo Anthony missed more than half of last season after knee surgery, which was a major reason the Knicks finished with a franchise-low 17 wins. Now Anthony is healthy, and Knicks team president Phil Jackson has made several moves to fortify the roster, as the Knicks’ rebuilding project begins the task of actually getting off the ground. How long will it take Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis to help mold the Knicks into a team with more wins than losses? As our own Lang Whitaker writes, at media day yesterday Anthony was quick to point out that it’s too early to have expectations at this point

“It’s going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are,” says Anthony. “It’s good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It’s too early at this point.”

This isn’t to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn’t have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he’s clearly a gifted scorer — averaging 25.2 points over his career — he’s not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.

“My window is open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That’s a good thing — we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward.”

A large part of New York’s future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: “Best city in the world,” Porzingis notes. “No better place to win.”

According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, “for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff.”

(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? “Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.”)

After being selected 4th overall by the Knicks in the 2015 Draft, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a solid start in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Anthony said he hopes to be a “big brother” to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.

“I’ve showed everybody I support Porzingis,” Anthony says. “As long as me and KP know our relationship, that’s all that really matters, and it doesn’t matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there’s so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn’t played not even one minute in the NBA… I don’t think he knows what he’s about to get himself into. So I’ve got to kind of be that wall for him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When LeBron James and his Cavs teammates met up in Miami this summer, they used the informal workout as a motivating sessionKevin Garnett still hates playing centerJimmy Butler says the Bulls belong to everyone … How the Clippers ended up signing Josh Smith … The Orlando Magic and Evan Fournier have reportedly had initial discussions about a contract extension … The Lakers have hired James Worthy to help coach their big menSteven Adams can’t wear a headband

Report: Bennett’s next stop is home

Former No. 1 pick is likely headed back to his hometown of Toronto.

Former No. 1 pick is likely headed back to his hometown of Toronto.

Well, that was quick.

After being released by the Timberwolves via buyout, Anthony Bennett will sign with the Raptors now that he has cleared waivers, according to ESPN’s John Goodman. If so, he’ll boomerang back to Canada, his homeland, and maybe a friendlier team with the Raptors than he had in Minnesota and Cleveland.

Yes, we say “maybe” because while the Raptors are providing a cushion for the former No. 1 overall pick, playing time is hardly guaranteed. Toronto this summer acquired power forward Bismack Biyombo and signed free agent small forward DeMarre Carroll. There’s also Patrick Patterson, and besides, the Raptors are a win-now team, meaning they’re more likely to put a premium on players who can produce right away, rather than try to develop players for the future.

Clearly, Bennett’s value lies in the future, even though he was drafted two years ago. He’s still trying to find his fit in the NBA and labors as an undersized power forward. However, this is a no-lose situation for Toronto. Maybe the change of scenery and familiarity of home will benefit Bennett, who plays on Canada’s emerging national team, and he also came cheap.

Only the 76ers and Blazers had the cap room for Bennett’s $5.8 million salary but neither team bit. That allowed Bennett to go elsewhere. His buyout from Minnesota was roughly $3.6 million and he’ll likely sign with the Raptors for just under $1 million this season. He’s the only No. 1 overall pick to fail to reach the fourth year of his rookie deal.