Posts Tagged ‘Dwane Casey’

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas reach deal


VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas talks during Summer League

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Toronto Raptors have reportedly reached an agreement with center Jonas Valanciunas on a contract extension.

A report from Monday had the parties discussing a four-year deal worth more than $60 million. That’s far from the max (it’s about half of what Damian Lillard got in July) and seems like a good deal for the Raptors, considering Valanciunas’ size and offensive skill set.

But the center has been a defensive liability, and Toronto is trying to get back to being a good defensive team after a big fall-off on that end of the floor last season. In a Q & A with NBA.com last month, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that he’ll look to go small late in games in order to keep up with the rest of the league.

Q: Is there still a big role for Jonas Valanciunas in the way that you want to play and in the way the league is going? How can you use him, but also make up for his deficiencies when he’s on the floor?

DC: The league is going smaller, but as long as the goal is at 10 feet, size is going to matter. You still got to have size.

At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre [Carroll] gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with [Luis] Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We’re better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.

The league is going to their more skilled guys toward the end of games. Trends come and go, but right now, we have to participate in that trend.

Casey was already looking away from Valanciunas late in games. The seven-footer played just 292 fourth-quarter minutes last season, which ranked 254th in the league and were just 14.0 percent of his total minutes. Among players who logged at least 1,000 total minutes, only seven played a smaller percentage of them in the fourth quarter.

Still, Valanciunas just turned 23 years old in May. The Raptors hope he’ll be lighter and quicker this season, so that pick-and-roll coverage and weak-side rotations aren’t as much of an issue as they’ve been in the past.

Valanciunas was taken with the No. 5 pick of the 2011 Draft, but is with the class of 2012 in regard to extension eligibility because he didn’t come to the NBA until a year after he was drafted. Anthony Davis, like Lillard, was given a max extension early in free agency.

Other first-round picks from 2012 (that had their third and fourth-year options exercised) have until Oct. 31 to sign extensions. Otherwise, they will become restricted free agents next summer.

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas discussing 4-year, $60M contract extension


Big man Jonas Valanciunas and the Toronto Raptors reportedly are in advance discussions on a contract extension, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, with terms said to be hovering in the DeMarre Carroll neighborhood of four years/$60 million.

As Robert DeNiro‘s character says in “Midnight Run,” that’s a very respectable neighborhood. It’s also a potential bargain for the 7-foot, 255-pound center’s services if the Raptors can lock him in before the salary cap bellows next summer, when Valanciunas would hit restricted free agency.

But, assuming this extension gets done, it won’t qualify as a steal unless the Raptors figure out better ways to deploy Valanciunas.

The big guy posted solid stats last season: 12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 26.2 mpg. His PER climbed from 15.9 in his first two seasons to 20.6. But he stuck out from much of what the Raptors did, or how they preferred to play, like the proverbial sore thumb. Their commitment to Valanciunas typically waned as games went on. Though he made 80 appearances, he played in the fourth quarter only 57 times and he averaged just 5.1 of his minutes in that period. His usage percentage in the first quarter: 22.7 percent. In the fourth: 17.0.

That’s why some close to the team could joke that, based on the first few minutes of games, Valanciunas seemed a lock some day to break Wilt Chamberlain‘s single-game scoring mark set that 1962 night in Hershey, Pa. Invariably, his involvement and production would fizzle fast, Wilt’s mark safe again.

There has been speculation that some personnel changes in head coach Dwane Casey‘s staff were made due to Valanciunas’ lack of progress. Hopefully, there’s truth to that, because if there isn’t, you’d hate to think that keeping a lid on him was all about keeping his asking price within reason.

Morning shootaround — July 19


VIDEO:
Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NEWS OF THE MORNING

RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”

***

No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an NBA.com Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.

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No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per CBSSports.com:

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …

Morning Shootaround — May 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Wednesday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Horford saves the Hawks | Warriors find the formula | Gasol says he’ll play Thursday | Rockets hoping to attack again | Casey to return as Raptors coach

No. 1: Horford saves the Hawks — After Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, the Atlanta Hawks were in danger of going down 3-2 with the conference semifinals heading back to Washington, against an opponent that had it’s point guard back. But Al Horford saved the day, rebounding Dennis Schroder‘s miss and putting it back in the basket to put the Hawks on the brink of reaching the conference finals for the first time in 45 years. Sekou Smith was at The Highlight Factory for the wild finish

So if there is anyone affiliated with the Hawks who understood the significance of winning this game on this night, with all that was riding on the outcome, it was Horford.

The Hawks have checked every box during his journey from rookie sensation to face of the franchise. First up was just making the playoffs. Then it was advancing past the first round and now comes that final hurdle, making it to unchartered territory that is the conference finals … and perhaps beyond.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of crunch time play, “but more importantly we won. We all get to celebrate. And it’s about our team. I was just in that position and I just made a play. I’m just excited we’re in a position of 3-2 now, and took care of home … and now we have a chance to go up to D.C. and wrap the series up.”

***

No. 2: Warriors find the formula — The Golden State Warriors were the best team in the regular season (by a wide margin), thanks to top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they outplayed the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the conference semis on Wednesday to take a 3-2 series lead, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes

The Warriors laugh at Charles Barkley and others, who say their jump-shooting team can’t win a NBA title.

They laugh, because the Warriors know they aren’t merely a jump-shooting team.

They also sport the league’s best defense as they showed Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, where they made 14 three-pointers on one end and played championship-level defense on the other in beating the Grizzlies 98-78 and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Of the 180 NBA teams that have broken a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 of a seven-game series, 81.7 percent have won the series. Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Memphis’ FedExForum.

“Our intent is to go down there and try to play the kind of defense we’ve played the past two games, which has really turned this series,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I said the first couple of games that our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense. I was wrong. It wasn’t good enough. This is what it’s going to take, this kind of defense from tonight and Game 4.”

***

No. 3: Gasol says he’ll play Thursday — The Chicago Bulls’ season will be on the line in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). So Pau Gasol, who’s officially listed as “probable” by his team, says he’ll fight through whatever hamstring pain he has after missing the last two games (two Cleveland wins). Our Steve Aschburner has the story

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

***

No. 4: Rockets hoping to attack again — No team in NBA history attempted more 3-pointers than this year’s Houston Rockets. But the Rockets extended their historical season by outscoring the Clippers 64-46 in the paint in Game 5 on Tuesday. To get Game 7 back on their home floor, they’re looking to do the same thing in Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

It was as much as anything the key to the Rockets escaping the ignominy and damage of their lost weekend in Los Angeles with a blowout win of their own to cut the Clippers’ series lead to 3-2 heading into Thursday’s Game 6.

There was, however, one more benefit that came with going at the Clippers instead of trying in vain to go around them. It’s better to hit than be hit. That’s not just a strategy, though the Rockets’ success on Tuesday started there.

“Basketball is a mindset,” McHale said. “Everybody is really talented. It usually is the toughest minded team that’s going to win.”

Though much of the series, that had been the Clippers. On Tuesday, the Rockets turned that around by attacking the paint as they had throughout the season.

***

No. 5: Casey to return as Raptors coach — Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said that the postseason “influences everything” in regard to his offseason decisions. So, because the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion, we can expect some changes in Toronto. But those changes won’t start with the head coach, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports. Dwane Casey, who has another guaranteed year left on his contract, will be back for fifth season with the Raptors …

No news is good news for Dwane Casey.

While Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri has not declared one way or the other whether Casey will be back as the team’s head coach next season since the team crumpled to the mat in four games against the Washington Wizards, his return is not in question, sources have told the Sun.

What is less clear, is whether his coaching staff will remain intact, or whether there will be some alterations.

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall came back from his broken hand and almost led the Wizards to a huge win … After a quick start, the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with the Warriors on WednesdayMatthew Dellavedova picked up an after-the-fact technical foul for the leg lock that preceded Taj Gibson‘s flagrant foul in Game 4 … The Clippers aim to be better in their second chance to close out the Rockets … The Miami Heat, heading to the Lottery for the first time in seven years, should like what they see wherever they draft … and when it comes to the Draft, don’t underestimate the importance of the interview.

ICYMI: Al Horford rebounds the missed layup by Dennis Schroder and puts it back to win game 5 for the Hawks:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Al Horford

Williams made a good bench better


VIDEO: Lou Williams talks about his recovery and feeling at home in Toronto.

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had one of the league’s best benches in 2013-14, with midseason arrivals Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez giving them a big boost on their way to their first playoff appearance in six years. But that didn’t stop general manager Masai Ujiri from acquiring the man who would go on to win the Kia Sixth Man Award.

That Lou Williams was acquired for basically nothing from the team that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record makes the story all the more fascinating.

Williams had a tough stay in Atlanta, tearing his ACL 39 games into his first season there and trying to get back to full strength in his second year. But he flourished upon arriving in Toronto, where his instant offense helped the Raptors win their second straight division title

Williams earned 78 of a possible 130 first-place votes for the Sixth Man award, finishing ahead of the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.

All season, the Raptors were at their best with their reserves in the game. They outscored their opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor and were outscored by 0.5 with him on the bench. Williams didn’t start any games this season (even when DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry were out), but he finished a lot, ranking third in the league in fourth-quarter minutes.

It’s important for a coach to feel comfortable when he goes to his bench. And Raptors coach Dwane Casey feels a lot more than just comfortable when he calls on his reserves, who consistently build on leads or turn deficits into leads.

“It’s huge,” Casey said. “When we get behind, we know that Lou is there, Patrick is there, our bench comes out and gives us a huge shot in the arm.”

It did last season too. But Williams brought added playmaking, which helped Toronto rank in the top three in offensive efficiency for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors were one of two teams that ranked in the top 10 last season and improved this season.

“When Lou comes in, we stretch the floor, get more up-tempo,” Casey said. “His ability to handle the ball, to go pick-and-rolls and be a semi-point guard is also a big benefit.”

20150420_sixth_man

The adversity he went through in Atlanta has Williams appreciating this award a lot more than he could have earlier in his career. He finished second for the award in 2011-12 behind current MVP candidate James Harden.

“It means tons more now,” he said, “to win it my first year in Toronto, to win it right after getting traded, and just to go through so much adversity. Timing is everything. So if I was ever going to win it, I think this was the perfect time for me.”

Williams doesn’t have all the athleticism he had before his knee injury, but he’s found a way to still be effective. He took almost 200 more 3-pointers this season than he had in any previous year.

“I learned so much about myself and how to be patient,” he said. “If you look at the first seven years of my career and look at me now, I think I’m a completely different player.”

He’s a crafty player, as evidenced by his league-leading 102 fouls drawn on jump shots.

20150416_js_fouls_drawn

“When you make shots, teams have to guard you honest,” he said. “And you start using that to your advantage, when guys want to reach in and be physical with you.”

Williams is the first Raptors player to win an individual end-of-season award since Vince Carter was named Rookie of the Year in 1999. A guard has won the Sixth Man award 10 of the last 11 seasons, with Lamar Odom (2010-11) being the only exception.

Expect to see Wizards play Pierce more at power forward against Raptors


VIDEO: Randy Wittman and Paul Pierce talk about the Wizards’ win in Game 1

TORONTO — It’s interesting when a team does something in the playoffs that they didn’t do much all season. In Game 1 of their first round series on Saturday, both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards went with relatively new looks.

Though Tyler Hansbrough had started the last six regular season games for Toronto, Saturday’s starting lineup — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Hansbrough and Jonas Valanciunas — played just 38 minutes together in 2014-15. And in the second quarter, the Wizards turned a seven-point deficit into a three-point lead with a lineup that had played only four minutes together this season.

That lineup — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat — had the veteran Pierce at power forward. Pierce flourished at the four in Brooklyn last season, and had some big games against the Raptors in last season’s first-round series.

But with a full complement of bigs and a lack of depth in their backcourt, the Wizards didn’t use Pierce at the four very much in the regular season. He played just 167 (nine percent) of his 1,913 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor.

20150420_pierce_bigs

On Saturday, Pierce played 17 of his 36:32 with just less than two bigs on the floor. The results weren’t all good. Washington’s small lineups were a minus-16 in the fourth quarter as the Raptors came back from 15 points down to send the game to overtime.

But the Wizards played small the entire overtime, which they won 11-4. And we’re sure to see more of Pierce at the four for a team that struggled offensively for most of the season, especially with its spacing.

“With me at the four,” Pierce said after Game 1, “I think it really opened it up for Brad and John. I think when I spread the floor or be a 3-point, drive threat, we get in the lane a little bit more, find the roll man, and if they help, I’m there for an open three. It’s a little bit different for us having two bigs when they pack the lane and wait for us to drive.”

After averaging 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting in his last 10 regular season games, Pierce scored a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in Game 1. Ten of those 20 points came with Washington playing small in the second quarter, and another three came on the first possession of overtime with Pierce at the four again.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said his team wasn’t surprised to see Pierce at the four, and didn’t think it made a huge impact on the result.

“We were ready for that,” Casey said after his team’s film session on Sunday. “He scored a couple of [times] off of pick-and-pop, and we just didn’t execute the pick-and-roll coverage very well. It wasn’t anything that he was isoing, going one-on-one at us.”

Still, more minutes with a small lineup than we saw in the regular season would make the Wizards a better offensive team. And if Game 1 is any indication, both of these teams need to find offense wherever they can get it.

Morning Shootaround — April 19


VIDEO: Recap Saturday’s four playoff games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors strong from start | Rose returns | Raptors lose game, homecourt | Rockets blast off

No. 1: Warriors strong from start They were the best team in the NBA all season long, and the Golden State Warriors came out Saturday in their first playoff game and delivered a warning to anyone who may have doubted that their regular season strength would translate to postseason success. And when facing arguable the NBA’s best backcourt, it probably doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ long-term chances that their own backcourt is banged up, writes Scott Howard-Cooper …

It’s not a body blow like losing Davis, the superstar, but a thinning depth chart is a huge deal, because New Orleans was facing an uphill battle against the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Hurting in the backcourt while facing the Warriors inevitably leads to a damage report not covered by most insurance policies. Neither went crazy in Game 1 and Curry, the MVP favorite, still had 34 points despite missing nine of 13 from behind the arc and Thompson still had 21 points while missing 11 of 17 field goals. It could, and will, got a lot worse for the Pelicans trying to contain the Golden State backcourt.

Now imagine New Orleans confronting the danger with Jrue Holiday limited to 21 minutes, after playing 25, 15 and 16 minutes the previous three games, and Tyreke Evans probably ailing Monday if he is able to play at all.

“I’m not sure about Tyreke just yet,” coach Monty Williams said. “He tried to come back. They’re going to get him an MRI (Saturday) evening and see where he is. But as far as being painted in the corner, we’ve dealt with this all year long with our team. So it’s not a big deal for us. Obviously we’d like to have Jrue and Tyreke healthy, but Norris (Cole) did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half. We’ll see where (Evans) is (Sunday) and we’ll make our adjustments from there.”

There is that — the Pelicans dealt with injury problems much of the season, with Davis sidelined four times in February alone and Holiday missing half of 2014-15 and Ryan Anderson missing 18 consecutive games just after the All-Star break because of a sprained right knee. And they survived. All those problems and they still clawed their way into the playoffs.

That was the same resiliency on display Saturday, when Golden State built a double-digit lead with the game barely eight minutes old, was up 18 at halftime, and ahead by 25 with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans was done. Except then New Orleans wasn’t, thanks to a 31-18 charge through most of the final period that closed the deficit to 102-97 with 20 seconds left as Davis piled up 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth. The comeback ended there.

Now all the Pelicans need is to play like that for more than 11 or 12 minutes, while possibly playing short-handed.

***

No. 2: Rose returns The Chicago Bulls have learned how to survive and advance the last few years even while missing key members of their team — the injury bug has unfortunately been a constant companion for Chicago. So it was a nice change of pace Saturday when the Bulls got a strong performance from Derrick Rose, their point guard who has battled back from so many injury outages the last few seasons. As Steve Aschburner writes, Rose may have gotten knocked down, but he got up again and helped the Bulls get a Game 1 win over Milwaukee …

When Derrick Rose tried to split a pair of Milwaukee defenders in the open court Saturday and seemed almost to eject out the other side — taking contact and landing like a dervish with his legs and knees at improbable angles — an entire fan base held its collective breath.

It was that way, too, for most in the grizzled media who have chronicled Rose’s sad cycle of injury, rehabilitation and re-injury dating back to April 28, 2012. That one was a playoff opener, too — Game 1 of the first round, leaving Saturday just 10 days shy of a gloomy three-year anniversary — when the Chicago Bulls’ point guard first tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Rose’s explosiveness and torque, so vital to his game, set them all on an alternate path from which they’ve yet to stray.

“Man, I’m like y’all,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “When he get hit, I be like, ‘Awww, man…’ I was like, ‘Lord, please, not again.’ When he bounces up, I’m happy. But we’ve been through so many, like, scares, you never want to see anybody go through that kind of pain.

“So whenever he gets a little hit, a little bump, of course you’re gonna cringe. But I’m just happy he was able to get up and keep attacking.”

Gibson is one of the neglected victims of the Rose ordeal. As with center Joakim Noah, wing Jimmy Butler, coach Tom Thibodeau and a few others, they are collateral damage, colleagues and peers who had their own plans and hopes and dreams deferred or maybe derailed by Rose’s knee surgeries.

People focus most frequently on the micro or the macro.

It is either what Rose’s chronic injuries and extended layoffs have meant to him and his MVP-certified career, or how they blunted Chicago’s championship ambitions through most of Miami’s Big Three era and perhaps beyond.

Falling in between, though, are teammates who have had to soldier on, facing and failing against the Heat or, last year, the Wizards. Gibson, Noah and the rest knew how undermanned they were in those postseasons, yet there was nothing to be gained from saying so.

So they did their best, took their lumps and wondered along with the rest of us whether Rose (and his doctors) ever were going to put it all together again.

***

No. 3: Raptors lose game, homecourt The Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans have combined to give the Raptors one of the most prominent home court advantages in the NBA. But it wasn’t much help yesterday in their Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, when the Raptors couldn’t get a bucket in overtime and lost not only the game, but also their home court advantage in the series. But it wasn’t all about missing shots, writes John Schuhmann, as for the Raptors it was also a function of getting beat on the boards by the Wizards …

You could say that both teams played great defense. But as anyone who thought DeAndre Jordan deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration will tell you, the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure a rebound. The Raptors didn’t do that enough, and that’s why they’re in a 0-1 hole after the Wizards’ 93-86, overtime victory.

Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 1, turning them into 20 second-chance points. The Raptors allowed only 73 points on 96 initial possessions, but the second chances made the difference.

The Raptors used a 21-8 run to send the game to overtime. But on the first possession of the extra period, Otto Porter tipped a John Wall miss out to Bradley Beal. The second chance resulted in a Paul Pierce three that gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Later in the overtime, Nene grabbed offensive boards on three straight possessions. Only one of them produced points for the Wizards, but the all kept the Raptors from building on the offensive momentum from the fourth quarter.

“They got three straight offensive rebounds that broke our back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That took our will, our mojo that we had going in [to overtime].”

The Wizards averaged 28 seconds per possession on their first six possessions of the extra period, helping them build a seven-point lead and sending Raptors’ raucous crowd to the exits.

Jonas Valanciunas‘ solution for the rebounding problem was simple.

“Be tougher than them,” he said. “Show that we can battle.”

***

No. 4: Rockets blast off Down in Texas, arch-rivals Dallas and Houston met for Game 1 in their first round series, and a key member of the rivalry wasn’t able to make it through without feeling some physical pain. The Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets in the offseason, and their prize free agent had a knee injury in the second quarter that kept him from ever really establishing a rhythm in Houston’s Game 1 victory over Dallas, writes Fran Blinebury

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lob City has been fun in Los Angeles, but the Clippers still have title aspirations … Toronto GM Masai Ujiri dropped another curse word to get the Raptors fans fired up … The Blazers have battled injuries all season, and now Arron Afflalo may be unable to go Sunday … Ty Lawson posted video of Brian Shaw‘s pregame scouting rap that he tried earlier this season …

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant waiting for pain to subside | Howard on schedule | James takes another hit | Noah working to stop violence in Chicago

No. 1: Durant waiting for pain to subsideRussell Westbrook is tearing through defenses and getting a triple-double every time he takes the floor. But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still in a fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won six of their last seven games and just got Anthony Davis back. That doesn’t mean that Kevin Durant is in a rush to return from surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. He spoke about his eventual return with Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman

You had a reevaluation yesterday. Were you happy with what you heard?

Um, I’m more so just focused on trying to get this pain out of it and coming back when I’m ready, when I’m 100 percent ready and not trying to force it or play with pain. Just trying to conquer this little stage I’m in right now, which is getting this thing right, working as hard as I can in the weight room and on the court. Yeah, it’s tough, but I just gotta be ready to go.

Was there any relief that the pain you were feeling, there was a reason for it?

Yeah, now I know what happened in that Memphis game, in that Dallas game. I know why I was having so much pain and to have that corrected feels so much better. It’s just a matter of when somebody digs in your foot, you’re going to have some pain. That’s what happened when they reinserted a different screw. The pain that I had before is gone, but there’s still some pain there obviously from them going in there and stitching me up. But I should be fine soon.

You feel very confident you will return this season?

No doubt. No doubt. I’m looking forward to returning this season. No doubt. I’m not packing it in at all.

***

No. 2: Howard on schedule — It’s been a month since Dwight Howard had a “bone marrow aspirate injection” on his right knee. Howard was reevaluated this week and his recovery is “on schedule,” but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be taking the floor for the Rockets any time soon, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

Rockets center Dwight Howard’s “checkup” with the team physician, including an MRI, confirmed the team’s confidence that Howard is progressing “on schedule,” a person with knowledge of the process said, though reports from his workouts remain the most important measures of his progress.

Wednesday marked four weeks since Howard’s bone marrow aspirate injection, but Dr. Walter Lowe said last month that he expected the time out to be the key to healing the edema that had built up on Howard’s right knee, rather than the procedure.

“He’s coming along,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I saw him on the treadmill which is a good sign, but I haven’t seen him on the floor. Until you see him on the floor, who knows.”

***

No. 3: James takes another hit — Three days after getting kicked in the groin by James Harden, LeBron James got tackled by Jonas Valanciunas in the Cavs’ win in Toronto on Wednesday. James isn’t the type for retaliation, but he’s certainly getting a little frustrated with the physicality, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes

After being the recipient of a second flagrant foul in his past three games, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he might have to take matters into his own hands in the future.

“Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more, too,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas wrapped James up around the neck and shoulders as he drove the lane with 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The infraction was initially whistled as a common foul before being upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 after an official’s review of the video replay.

“I don’t want to get too much involved in it because I don’t want to cry about it because it’s not like I’m not able to get back up, but it’s a lot of plays that are just not basketball plays,” said James, who was kicked in the groin Sunday by Houston’s James Harden, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Rockets swingman.

***

No. 4: Noah working to stop violence in Chicago — Joakim Noah is from New York, but Chicago has been his home for eight years now. He’s been trying his best to help curb violence in his adopted city, and has a new initiative that he talked about after practice on Wednesday. K.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there

On the direct heels of Noah’s well-received, anti-violence video “You’re Not Alone,” produced by Noah’s foundation and award-winning journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, Noah has launched another initiative.

“I think the video was very important for people from all shapes of life to look at it as it’s not just a problem that’s just going on the South Side or the West Side. It’s everybody’s problem,” Noah said. “So me and my mother started this movement, it’s called Rock Your Drop: The Drop of Consciousness. It’s a necklace that represents a tear drop. It’s something we’ve been working really hard on. It’s to bring awareness to all the violence that’s going on and also that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone.

“It’s our movement and we’re very proud of it, and we just hope that it can spread. The more money we raise with these drops, the programs we can put in for these kids.”

The necklaces are available for purchase on www.rockyourdrop.com.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steve Kerr explains why David Lee didn’t play in the second half of the last two games of the Warriors’ road trip … Kevin Garnett says the Nuggets quit on Brian Shaw … Raptors coach Dwane Casey is using the last part of the season to do some experimentingKelly Olynyk returned from an 18-game absence in the Celtics’ win over the Jazz on Wednesday … and bidders for the Hawks continue to emerge.

ICYMI: Russell Westbrook, Western Conference Player of the Month for February, took an early lead for the same award in March with 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Sixers:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook

Blogtable: Hot start, staying hot

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Didn’t see that coming

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


> We’re two weeks into the new season. What didn’t you foresee in this opening fortnight that you maybe should have?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I didn’t foresee the Raptors’ fast start but should have, given their early schedule; two victories over ORL, plus PHI, BOS and banged-up OKC means they’re 2-1 in their own weight class. Their next four are at home, too, though visits from Chicago and Memphis might give us a better sense of Toronto’s legitimacy. The roster is deep, Kyle Lowry is playing as if he wants another contract on top of the one he just signed and Dwane Casey is in control of that group, having raised them from li’l lizard hatchlings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You mean besides getting a question that includes the word “fortnight?” Well, old chap, I’ll cop to taking a nap on the LeBron-less Heat.  Chris Bosh has played like a member of the royal family and tossed his hat into the early MVP conversation.  Lord Dwyane Wade is healthy and productive. Prince Luol Deng has been a good arranged marriage into the lineup.  Sir Erik Spoelstra continues to prove that he wasn’t just a guy with a good seat on the Miami bench through those four straight trips to The Finals.  He’s had the S.S. Heat thriving and steaming ahead with an efficient offense in spite of what could have been a gaping hole in the hull.  So far, it’s tea and crumpets.

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors
(Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I won’t say the Kings, a big surprise, because anybody who claims 5-3 was realistic at the start of the season is a liar. So I should not have seen that coming. Maybe I should have seen Rajon Rondo from a distance, but did not. Eleven assists and eight rebounds a game is very nice work, whether he’s a Celtic for the long term or raising his trade value.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, I certainly didn’t expect OKC to lose Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and for Derrick Rose to pull up lame in the second week. But given the carnage of the last two years, when the league lost a number of stars for long stretches and even entire seasons, I should knock myself upside the head for not seeing this coming (and risk a possible concussion and long recovery, of course).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I certainly didn’t see the Bucks ranking as the No. 2 defense in the league. Seven of their eight opponents have been below-average offensive teams (and four rank in the bottom six), but the Bucks are supposed to be an opponent that those teams boost their numbers against, not continue to struggle against. I don’t know if anybody could have foreseen this, but Jason Kidd‘s Nets turned their season around with a strong defense last season, and his new team has similar length and versatility on defense. They’re not going to stay in the top five (or even the top 10), but this 4-4 start (and Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies) tells me that they’re going to be a better team than I thought they were. They already have a longer winning streak (two games) than they did all of last season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Memphis Grizzlies should have been on my mind heading into this season with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph healthy and ready to go and all of their offseason front office drama in the rearview. When your team is built on the bedrock of rugged defense and an adherence to playing the game the gritty and grimy way the Grizzlies play every night, a solid start should be expected, particularly in a Western Conference shaken up by significant injuries (OKC) among the elite. The Grizzlies play in what is easily the toughest division in the league, so their hot start should be kept in context. It’s early. But I should have had them on my mind.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I should have known that Miami would be off to a better start than Cleveland. The Heat have been able to survive LeBron’s absence because they have everything else going for them: They know who they are and how they’re going to play. The Cavs have yet to figure out any of that. The Cavs are going to have the last laugh, I’m sure of it, but it may not be so easy to get there.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Look, I publicly ate crow about this last week on the Hang Time Podcast, so we might as well warm it up again so I can chow some more. I didn’t expect that Klay Thompson would be this good this season. While I dismissed him as player who was a terrific shooter but subpar in other areas, he’s become one of the most well-rounded guards in the League. Not only can he stroke it from the perimeter, but he’s getting to the basket and getting to the free-throw line (averaging a career-high 6.6 FTA per game, almost triple his previous high). He’s also a strong defender who obviously puts in work on the defensive end. And his development might be enough to carry Golden State into parts unknown in the postseason.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I just wish there were fewer injuries. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if it’s something that’s related to each team’s preseason system, but the disappearance of stars is opening up the road to teams we thought would be struggling to reach high places.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I don’t think I expected the Raptors to be this good. They were great post the Rudy Gay trade and I had expectations that they would make the playoffs again. But their start to the season has exceeded expectations. I think we knew the capabilities of their starting group and that Terrence Ross would improve even more this season, but it’s been their new additions to the second unit that have surprised me. James Johnson has given them an edge defensively and Lou Williams has given them a nice offensive blend and he has the ability to heat up. I expected they would hover around the 4-5 range in the East, they’re a legitimate chance to finish top 2 now.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: How well the Kings have played. It’s easy to dismiss Sacramento after years of futility, but Mike Malone has done a great job so far in making those guys believe that they can compete. And Boogie Cousins is in my mind the front-runner for Most Improved Player of the year.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: OK, we expected the Lakers to have a tough beginning, but not this tough. Kobe and Co. are in deep trouble the way they playing right now. They lost Julius Randle, but that’s not their only problem.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: Generally speaking, I didn’t anticipate the Team USA guys making that big of a leap this season. Davis, Cousins, Thompson, DeRozan, Curry and Harden all rank among the best players of the young season so far. Guys like Davis, Curry and Harden could also be thrown into the early MVP conversation. And speaking of Cousins: I’m surprised by the nice start the Kings have enjoyed. I anticipated him to provide his usual monster stats, but so far they’ve been competitive in every single game and could even make the playoffs. If they make it, that would be a lot earlier than I would have expected.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I knew that the Warriors would be better this season than the last, but I honestly didn’t foresee them to be the last undefeated team in the league and sit atop most NBA Power Rankings by the end of the second week. In hindsight, their improvement makes sense: They have already been blessed with the league’s most volatile offensive backcourt between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but the real difference-maker has been Andrew Bogut, whose healthy return has helped this squad secure the best defensive rating in the early season. If you’re doing everything right on both ends of the floor, you deserve to be on top.

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