Posts Tagged ‘Festus Ezeli’

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Western Conference finals?

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: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Western Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Andre Roberson. No secret the Warriors will likely put Steph Curry on him on defense to give the MVP an “easy” assignment and let him rest, saving energy for the other end of the floor, while Klay Thompson takes on Russell Westbrook. Roberson’s offensive output in Game 6 against the Spurs — 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, along with seven rebounds and solid defense against Kawhi Leonard (23 shots to score 22 points) — was key in OKC’s series-ending rout. Roberson shouldn’t be expected to be a go-to guy every night, but anything he can do to make Curry move and expend energy will help the Thunder in the long run.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Sounds like we’re looking for someone from the underdog team, so I’ll go with Enes Kanter for Oklahoma City. I voted for Kanter as my Kia Sixth Man choice and that’s the guy the Thunder needs against Golden State, coming onto the floor (and staying out there) to wreak havoc with his scoring and work on the offensive glass. The Warriors aren’t a bigs-friendly foe, which makes the challenge even greater.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m going to assume here that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will all be big and all have their shining moments. So I’m going to reach off the marquee and say that OKC’s Steven Adams must repeat his solid performance at both ends of the floor and step into the spotlight against the Spurs. The Warriors will play small to try to take him out of the game. But if Adams can catch the ball at the rim as he did in the last round, he can punish Golden State and together with fellow big man Enes Kanter could make this series, very, very interesting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Enes Kanter. I might have picked him anyway, but now, with Andrew Bogut hurting and questionable for Game 1, OKC especially needs to exploit its size advantage inside. If the Thunder can hurt the Warriors on the boards, a possibility, it could take minutes away from Golden State’s small-ball Death Lineup. Maybe not — Bogut’s health could prompt Steve Kerr to go small sooner and more often. If sixth man Kanter can make the Warriors pay with his offense and rebounding, and not get exploited too much on defense, that would be an important step in the OKC upset bid.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: OKC needs something every game from Enes Adams. Or is it Steven Kanter? You get the idea. The big man combo of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams is the ace card for the Thunder. The center position is where they have the decided edge over the Warriors. Sure, the Warriors will combat by going small ball, but why should OKC play them at their game? Golden State is bringing a limping Andrew Bogut and, while Festus Ezeli had moments throughout the playoffs, he’s not as skilled as Kanter/Adams. Kanter came up big in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks and Adams was the same in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. You sense a pattern, where both might loom large this round?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Thunder starting lineup was the best high-usage lineup in the league and was a plus-23 in 32 minutes against the Warriors this season. But Billy Donovan was hesitant to use it late in games, because Andre Roberson‘s inability to shoot made it easier for opponents to defend OKC’s offense. If Roberson can make a few shots (like he did in Game 6 vs. San Antonio) and make the Warriors respect him somewhat on the perimeter (or via off-ball cuts), Donovan won’t have to use Dion Waiters as much, the Thunder will play more minutes with their best lineup on the floor, and they’ll have a better chance of upsetting the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many obvious names to choose from, but we always expect the stars to rise to the magnitude of the moment. My pick, though, is the two-man big man tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter for the Thunder. They showed up in a major way as the Thunder eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals and will need to do the same if the Thunder have any chance of upsetting the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder’s ability to go big and force the issue on the inside on both ends could be the winning difference, if they are indeed to spring that upset.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Russell Westbrook is going to be crucial at both ends, beginning with his defense against Steph Curry and/or Klay Thompson. Can he neutralize them to some extent? And can he attack efficiently enough to occupy the Warriors’ defense and enable Durant and others to score from the perimeter? OKC’s hopes of creating an upset will revolve around Westbrook’s aggressive leadership.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are some obvious answers to this question – Russell Westbrook, for one – but I’m going to give you a deep cut here: The guy who I think the Thunder could really use a strong series from is Dion Waiters. For so long the Thunder have tried to find an off-guard to pair with Westbrook, particularly in fourth quarters – from Derek Fisher to trading for Randy Foye this season. Waiters was really good against the Spurs, understanding his role offensively and playing tough defense. The Warriors have the best backcourt in the NBA. The Thunder are going to have to at least attempt to slow them down.

Blogtable: Best bench left in the playoffs is ______?

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — May 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: NBPA wants to meet with Heat officials | Warriors’ bench steps up in Game 2 | Lowry hits gym after Game 1 loss | Rockets’ legend blasts Harden | Lin wants to stay with Hornets

No. 1: Report: NBPA wants to talk with Heat officials about Bosh — When the first round of the playoffs began, there was some talk about whether or not the Miami Heat would get All-Star big man Chris Bosh back in the lineup. Bosh hasn’t played since Feb. 9 after a blood clot seemed to end his season, but recent social media postings by both he and his wife, Adrienne, led fans and others to speculate that Bosh is ready to play. The Heat contend that Bosh is not ready to play while Bosh’s camp seems to think otherwise. That has led to Bosh asking the National Basketball Players Association to intervene in the situation:

The NBA players association has requested a meeting with the Miami Heat to try and resolve the situation with All-Star forward Chris Bosh, a source told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

The NBPA issued a statement Tuesday that said, “Our top priority is Chris’ health and well-being. We have spoken with Chris and his agent, and have reached out to the Miami Heat. We are hopeful that all parties involved can meet as soon as possible to resolve the situation.”

Bosh, who joined the Heat for their playoff game Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors, asked for union help within the week, according to Windhorst.

Last week, Bosh and his wife appeared to break weeks of silence about his status with the Heat with social media posts that reaffirmed his desire to return to the court. But the Heat restated their position that there are no plans for Bosh to play.

Bosh’s wife, Adrienne, who is active on social media and in the Miami community, started a #BringBoshBack hashtag on Twitter and retweeted several tweets from media members about how the Heat missed Bosh during their first-round series with the Charlotte Hornets. Later, Bosh sent out a video on Snapchat of himself shooting in an empty AmericanAirlines Arena with the message, “Still got it.”

The coordinated effort followed two losses to the Hornets to even that series 2-2. Bosh was in Charlotte with the team but has avoided interviews for months.

Following the posts, the Heat repeated their position since February as team spokesman Tim Donovan told ESPN, “There is no update. He is still out indefinitely.”

The team has never officially given a reason for Bosh’s absence and coach Erik Spoelstra and president Pat Riley have not echoed Bosh’s position that he will play again this season.

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Bogut likely out, but Kerr won’t sit healthy Warriors vs. Spurs


VIDEO: Clash of the titans, tonight on ABC (8:30 ET)

Good thing Golden State coach Steve Kerrheh, heh … was only joking when he talked about … ho, ho … sitting out all his best players from the Warriors’ highly anticipated … ha, ha … game at San Antonio as the latest entry in the NBA’s series of ABC prime-time Saturday night telecasts (8:30 ET).

Otherwise David Stern might have roared back demanding a 10-day contract from NBA commissioner Adam Silver just to mete out Kerr’s and the Warriors’ punishment.

“If I had any guts at all, I’d sit everybody,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after Friday’s win over the Mavericks. “It’s like our sixth game in nine nights. It’s on national TV. If I was [Gregg Popovich], I’d sit everybody, but I don’t have that kind of courage.

“I’m in my second year. I can’t flip the bird to the league, like Pop does every once in a while. That’s my guy, but I’m not in that class.”

As it is, the Warriors expect to play without starting center Andrew Bogut, who suffered a jammed toe in Golden State’s victory at Dallas Friday. The Warriors also have been playing without center Festus Ezeli (knee), swingman Andre Iguodala (ankle) and rookie Kevon Looney (hip).

The two Western Conference powerhouses will play each other three times in the next 23 days. And as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle notes:

The teams have clinched their respective divisions and appear to be on a collision course to meet in the Western Conference finals as they wrap up two of the NBA’s top three regular seasons ever.

Neither team has dropped consecutive games. Neither team has lost at home.

“This is the matchup that we’ve all been looking for,” Warriors forward Harrison Barnes said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the teams that we could possibly see in the playoffs. We’re excited. We haven’t won there in a while, so that’s something that’s on our mind.”

“Home dominance is always a hallmark of a great team, but normally that means 35-6,” Kerr said. “The fact that both teams are undefeated is shocking.”

The Warriors haven’t won a regular-season game in San Antonio since Feb. 14, 1997 — a 32-game skid that ranks behind only the Kings’ 43-game road losing streak to the Lakers from 1975-92. The Warriors did win Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals in the Alamo City after coughing up Game 1 there.

For a sense of how long ago it was that Golden State won in San Antonio, there’s this graphic, showing the teams’ starting lineups that night:

Report: Warriors add Varejao

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With a 48-4 record, the Golden State Warriors had no real need to make or take calls at the trade deadline. But they’ll gladly take the opportunity to add some frontline help via the buyout market.

Yahoo’s Shams Charania and Marc Spears report that the Warriors (now 49-5) have reached an agreement with Anderson Varejao on a vet minimum contract for the rest of the season. Varejao was traded from Cleveland to Portland at the deadline and then waived by the Blazers. He cleared waivers on Sunday, allowing him to sign with any other team (except Cleveland) and be eligible for the playoffs.

Golden State waived Jason Thompson according to Spears – to make room for Varejao on the roster. Thompson has a $2.7 million guarantee next season.

But the champs could use a center right now. Back-up Festus Ezeli had knee surgery earlier this month and won’t be reevaluated for a month. Starter Andrew Bogut missed Saturday’s game in L.A. with a sore Achilles. The Warriors have outscored their opponents by an amazing 28.5 points per 100 possessions with Draymond Green playing center, but have used that look for less than eight minutes per game.

Varejao played in only 31 of the Cavs’ 52 games before the All-Star break. He could face his former team (the only team he’s ever played for) in The Finals if we have a rematch.

UPDATE: Varejao confirmed his signing with the Warriors on Facebook late Sunday night.

Ezeli surgery puts to test LeBron’s remark on Warriors’ health

LeBron James didn’t exactly curse the Golden State Warriors earlier this season when he lauded the defending champions as “the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history.” But that backhanded compliment might no longer apply, based on backup center Festus Ezeli’s surgery Monday.

Ezeli underwent arthroscopic surgery in Oakland to clean out debris from his left knee and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. The team’s official news release included the phrase “expected to return this season,” but that likely means sometime in April, leaving the Warriors only a short time to re-acclimate the 6-foot-11 backup big man before hitting the postseason.

Add in the 16 games forward Harrison Barnes missed with a sprained ankle and it’s becoming increasing difficult to write off Golden State’s success to injury avoidance. Granted this setback still doesn’t match the short-handedness through which James led Cleveland in the playoffs last spring – what with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love missing or hobble through most of the playoffs – but it will stretch Golden State’s deep roster just a wee bit thin. Marreese Speights and maybe Jason Thompson will pick up Ezeli’s minutes, while starter Andrew Bogut has less margin for mishap now himself.

Of course, the Warriors could just decide to small-ball the opposition into submission. Ezeli’s impact was most noticeable defensively, with teams shooting worse (46.5 percent vs. 47.1) and scoring less (3.2 points fewer per 100 possessions) when he was on the court.

Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com caught some of the initial reaction from the Warriors on Ezeli’s situation:

“Festus is a huge part of our rotation,” head coach Steve Kerr said after practice on Monday. “He’s really had a good year, an excellent year.

“Mo is going to step in and play well for us, but I feel bad for Festus. It’s a contract year and he’s young and he’s already had a knee surgery. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that he’s going to be OK.”

The 6’11” center last appeared in a game on January 25 vs. San Antonio and has missed the last five games due to a sore left knee.

In 40 games this season (11 starts), Ezeli is averaging 7.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.23 blocks in 17.8 minutes per contest.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31




VIDEO: The Fast Break: Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs take down Spurs | Rockets rip refs | Barnes bails out champs | McCollum carves niche
No. 1: Lue, Cavs take another step forward — It’s been barely a week and only five games, but Tyronn Lue has the Cavaliers playing with more zip and zest, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. The team is now 4-1 since Lue took over as head coach for David Blatt and was humming on all cylinders in taking apart the contending Spurs on Saturday night:

“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on it,” Lue said. “I just want to make sure our style of basketball is what we want to play. I know it’s a big game because it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s only one game for us. If we take care of our business and do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t have to beat this team until June.”
Skeptics will say this was a classic case of an underpromise and overdeliver by Lue. If you set expectations low, you can control the threshold for what is deemed a success.

However, after watching the Cavs completely handle the Spurs 117-103 while playing a get-it-and-go brand of basketball that Lue introduced the team to when he took over a week ago, it’s easy to see the merit in Lue’s point.

If the Cavaliers can beat a great team such as the Spurs, albeit without Tim Duncan, just a week into playing this way and can look like the best version of themselves while doing so, how good can they look in four or five months, when the games really matter?

There was a lot to like about this game, starting with the offensive balance among LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who all topped the 20-point plateau for the second consecutive game.

“I think our team responded well, playing fast, getting easy shots, Kyrie and LeBron attacking early, and then Kevin in the low post and making jump shots, so I thought tonight was a picture-perfect way of how we want to play,” Lue said. “The guys came out and executed it.”

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors finally lose | Gentry, Pelicans look to move up | NBPA offers heart help | Harden remains a Kobe fan

No. 1: Warriors finally lose Turns out the Golden State Warriors are human after all. Sure, they managed to win 24 in a row to start the season, but on the seventh game of a road trip, less than 24 hours after a double-OT win in Boston, it all caught up with the Warriors, as they lost in Milwaukee, 108-95. And now, as our own Steve Aschburner writes, the Warriors begin the real work of trying to improve and expand on that historic start…

The Warriors’ streak ended at 24 victories as their long road trip, a succession of opponents’ best efforts and their own human frailties (mostly fatigue) reared up in a 108-95 loss to Milwaukee.

The Bucks did so much right. Center Greg Monroe (28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) asserted his bigness against the NBA’s most dangerous band of smalls. Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) picked the best possible time to post the first triple-double of his young, versatile career. O.J. Mayo put starch in the home team’s shorts early, while Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams saved their best for later. And Milwaukee’s lanky, reaching defense held the previously perfect defending champions under 100 points for the first time this season, limiting them to just six 3-point field goals in 26 attempts.

What did the Warriors do wrong? Nothing, really, beyond succumbing to the wear and tear of their record-setting start to the season. Stephen Curry scored 28 with seven rebounds and five assists but backcourt mate Klay Thompson was off after missing Friday’s double-overtime game in Boston with a sprained ankle. The bench, other than Festus Ezeli, brought little offensively.

Still, to pick at them any more would seem out of line. Only one team in league history — or two, depending on how you’re counting — ever strung together more victories: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 in a row, and the 2012-13 Miami Heat got to 27. Golden State made it to 28, if you count the four victories in April at the end of last season, or 24 if you don’t.

Just in terms of this season, the Warriors went 47 days deep into 2015-16 before they lost for the first time. None of the NBA’s other teams lasted more than 10.

“Y’all thought we were gonna be sad, huh?” Draymond Green said to reporters milling about, long after the final horn and the green confetti preloaded by the Bucks’ operations crew in hopes of precisely what happened.

While the Bucks were thrilled — their 10-15 start largely had been a disappointment until Saturday — and their sellout crowd of 18,717 was giddy, the Warriors were a long ways from sad.

Green even made sure of that, speaking up immediately afterward to the crew that had accomplished so much. The streak is dead? Long live the season.

“I just told the guys that now we can have a regular season,” the all-purpose Warriors forward said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, with the streak and all the media and attention around. But our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor. … I think that, probably the last seven or eight games, we’ve stopped getting better and we’ve just tried to win games.”

Interim head coach Luke Walton had talked longingly for several days of teachable moments, the “issues that get swept under the rug” when a team keeps winning. It’s hard to be hyper-critical, and to get players’ attention, when small flaws don’t undermine the big picture.

Now the Warriors can exhale. And clean a few things up.

“We didn’t have our shots falling and we were a little slow on our defensive rotations,” said Walton, filling in while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from back issues. “It happens. It takes nothing away from what they’ve done to start the season.”

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No. 2: Gentry, Pelicans look to move up — After a playoff appearance last season, the New Orleans Pelicans hired a new coach, Alvin Gentry, away from Golden State and embraced higher expectations for this season. Only, it hasn’t worked out that way. Sure, the Warriors have been rolling, but the Pelicans have been beset by injuries, making it hard to implement Gentry’s system. And as Jeff Duncan writes for Nola.com, for now the Pelicans are just focused on getting out of the Western Conference basement.

Where Gentry finds himself today isn’t where he expected to be six months ago when he accepted the head coaching job here. After Friday night’s 107-105 victory against Washington, the Pelicans are 6-16 and holding company with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference cellar.

Gentry already has lost more games with the Pelicans than he did all of last season as an assistant with the Warriors (67-15).

“It’s difficult,” Gentry said. “I didn’t anticipate having a record like this. I’m sure the guys didn’t anticipate having a record like this.”

This wasn’t what Gentry signed up for last May. At age 61, New Orleans was likely Gentry’s final chance as a head coach. After struggling in previous stints with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans represented a shot at redemption, a chance to resurrect his head coaching career and move his career won-loss record from red to black. Here, he had Anthony Davis, one of the best young players in the world, and a talented young core in place around him. All systems were go — until they weren’t.

Injuries beset the roster before the Pelicans took their first dribbles. Gentry’s team opened the regular season against Golden State with projected starters Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik and key reserve Quincy Pondexter sidelined. Gentry took the court one night without six of his top eight players because of various maladies.

He’s fielded 13 different starting lineups in 22 games and is still defining roles and playing time as key regulars work their way back into the mix.

“Really we’re going through a training camp right now,” Gentry said. “The injury bug has bit us, and we didn’t anticipate that. We have to commit ourselves to make a conscious effort to get ourselves back in the race.”

To get there, the Pelicans must start playing more consistently, with better effort and execution nightly. Gentry is as confounded as anyone as to how the Pelicans can beat Cleveland one night then turn around and get blown out at home by Boston three nights later.

Gentry lit into his troops for what he thought was their half-hearted effort in a 111-93 loss to Boston on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

While he arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a genial players’ coach, Gentry has shown he’s not afraid to bust out the “over-18 lecture” when necessary.

“He’s liable to cuss us out if we don’t compete or execute the plays,” Holiday said.

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No. 3: NBPA offers heart help After several former NBA players passed away this summer from heart-related issues, the National Basketball Player’s Association announced plans to offer free heart- and health-care screenings for retired players. The first of those cardiac screenings happened this weekend in Houston, writes ESPN’s J.A. Adande…

About 25 retired NBA players showed up for the screenings, which included heart testing. The NBPA initiated talks on the screenings at their July meetings, and the effort was given added urgency with the heart-related deaths of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

In a conference room provided by the Houston Rockets, physicians met with the retired players to discuss their medical history, test blood pressure, administer EKGs to check the heart’s electrical activity, perform an echocardiogram to check the structure of the heart, scan carotids to look for plaque buildup in the arteries, check for sleep apnea and draw blood. The retired players also received attachments for their cellphones that can perform EKGs and send the results to cardiologists.

“Even in this small sample of patients that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get some abnormalities,” said Dr. Manuel Reyes, a cardiologist with Houston Cardiovascular Associates at the Houston Medical Center. “A couple of incidents with decreased heart function, weakened left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart.”

Since 2000, more than 50 former NBA players have died of complications related to heart disease, according to the Philadelphia-based news site Billy Penn. It is unclear if basketball players are more susceptible to heart disease, which was one of the secondary aspects of screening former players.

“That’s one of the things that we’re looking to benefit is the research component,” said Joe Rogowski, the players’ union director of sports medicine and research. “We’re looking for trends. There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver both said earlier this year that cardiac testing was a high priority. Silver said the NBA was prepared to provide the union with both financial support and a vast array of medical resources.

Union representatives presented their vision of comprehensive screening for retirees to current players at their annual Las Vegas meeting in July. Sources said players voted to set aside funds to implement screenings. The larger — and more costly — issue of supplementing health insurance is slated to be addressed at their February meetings, when a more comprehensive blueprint would be available.

The ages of the deceased players are alarming. Malone was 60. Dawkins was 58. Caldwell Jones, who died last year, was 64. Other recent deaths of former players include Jack Haley, 51, and Anthony Mason, 48.

“Something’s got to be done,” said Rogowski, who was an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 10 years in the NBA. “The NFL is dealing with their issues with retired players. This may be our issue that we’re dealing with retired players on.”

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No. 4: Harden remains a Kobe fan Greatness attracts greatness, and as Rockets guard James Harden explains, after growing up in California, he had been a Kobe Bryant fan for years. But later, he was able to become a Kobe friend. And as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, Harden is looking forward to squaring off against Bryant this week in a Houston stop on his farewell tour…

James Harden had long known what he wanted in life. Before the shoe deals and stardom, before the first stubble on his chin, he had watched Kobe Bryant in his prime, young and gifted, hungry for greatness and a place in NBA history. That was, Harden decided, what he wanted.

“Kobe was my guy,” Harden said. “I was a Laker fan. And I was a Kobe fan. Always.”

Eventually, when Harden finally had his first chance to face his hero, Bryant might have seen something in Harden, too. They will face one another again Saturday night in Toyota Center as Bryant’s farewell tour rolls through Houston. But their first meeting came far removed from the NBA, far from the media circus that follows Bryant through his final season.

They met in a summer pickup game at Loyola-Marymount. Harden was not in awe, he said, but remembered the day as more special than all the summer sessions to come.

“I wanted to go at him,” Harden said, indicating he learned his lessons well.

“I remember he came in the gym, took off his shirt and was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Harden’s agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. “Kobe was (Harden’s favorite) because he works so hard.”

Years later, Harden considers Bryant a friend. He received texts from Bryant before last season’s playoffs encouraging him, as if welcoming Harden to that highest echelon of stardom.

“He’s my guy,” Harden said. “We talk. He’s a pretty cool guy. Obviously, on the court, he’s a beast. He does whatever it takes to win games. He’s a winner. He’s passionate about it. But obviously off the court, he’s so savvy. He’s business-minded.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Dave Joerger‘s seat getting warmer in Memphis? … The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for a few more weeks … Gregg Popovich said Kobe’s retirement will mean “a great personality gone” … Dwyane Wade would like to own an NBA team someday … LeBron James made good after losing a friendly wager against Draymond Green …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 220) Warriors, Warriors, Warriors!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — How is this possible, a team navigating week after week of the NBA season without tasting defeat?

The Golden State Warriors are living that dream right now. They are on a remarkable roll, a record 23 straight wins to start the season and counting. Their exploits have overshadowed just about everything else going on in basketball, and some would say rightly so.

Yes, Kobe Bryant stole a few headlines by announcing his retirement at the end of this season. And LeBron James is always good for a headline or two, depending on what’s on his mind at the time and whether or not he feels like sharing.

But otherwise, it’s been all about Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of a Warriors team that literally cannot be stopped right now. It’s beautiful to watch, a team playing this style at this level, and doing so while their head coach, Steve Kerr, is out of commission. Luke Walton is doing a fabulous job filling in for Kerr, a Coach of the First Quarter of the Season caliber job.

So when will the Warriors finally get knocked off the undefeated perch? What team is capable of handing them that first defeat (they don’t face Western Conference powers San Antonio and Oklahoma City until after the New Year)?

If they make it Christmas unblemished, James and the Cavaliers will get their shot in a rematch of The Finals at Oracle Arena.

Now wouldn’t that make for a spectacular Christmas present for basketball and sports fans around the world?

We’re talking Warriors, Warriors and more Warriors on Episode 220 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: A phantom cam look at the Splash Bros leading the Warriors in their record 23rd straight win to start the season

Morning shootaround: Sept. 14


VIDEO: Remembering the great Moses Malone

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career | World Peace ready to return, but where? | A pressure shift in Miami from Bosh to Dragic | Moses the NBA’s most underappreciated great player

No. 1: Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career — Moses Malone, who died Sunday at 60, was a pioneer, a teen phenom who would go on to become a three-time MVP, all-time NBA great and a Hall of Famer who ranks among the biggest and best players the game has seen. But who knew he served as a tutor and guide to another one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon, during the formative stages of The Dream’s Hall of Fame career? Our very own Fran Blinebury tells the story of Moses the mentor and the special bond between these two NBA titans:

It was 1982 and Malone had just won his second MVP award with the Rockets (he’d claim his third the next season). Olajuwon had just finished his first season at the University of Houston.

“Oh Lordy,” NBA veteran Robert Reid remembered years later. “The place got real quiet. It was on that play, at that minute, when a lot of us stood there and wondered, ‘What do we have here?’ ”

What a shrinking world had in this most unlikely union that brought together a made-in-America big man off the streets of Petersburg, Va., with a wide-eyed sponge from Lagos, Nigeria, was perhaps the greatest teacher-student class project in basketball history.

Malone, who died Sunday at 60, combined with Olajuwon to total 54,355 career points, 29,960 rebounds, 5,563 blocked shots, 24 All-Star appearances, four MVP awards, three Finals MVP trophies and two places in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Theirs was a relationship born in the school of hard knocks and forged by the white-hot fire of mutual and insatiable competitive drive, out of range of the TV cameras, away from the prying eyes, where all that mattered was how much you had to give.

“I would never have accomplished what I did if I did not play against Moses at Fonde,” Olajuwon said before his own Hall of Fame induction in 2008. “I knew the rules. I knew the basics of the game and what you were supposed to do. But he is the one that taught me how to do it.

“With Moses there were no rests, no breaks. He was working every time down the court — scoring, rebounding or just making you feel his body. He would laugh when he slammed into you. If you tried to take a breath, he went by you or over you. There was no stop.”

They were opposite sides of the same coin. Where Malone would bump and grind and wear down an opponent with his sheer physical play and relentless pursuit of the ball, Olajuwon wore opponents out with an array or spins, fakes, double- and triple-pumps that were more varied and colorful than a painter’s palette.

“I usually couldn’t go through Moses, because he was just so strong,” Olajuwon said. “So I had to learn to use speed and agility to go around him. That’s how I built my game.”

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