Posts Tagged ‘George Hill’

Blogtable: New, And For Real

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


New and for real | Westbrook’s speedy return | Bynum’s impact on Cavs, East



VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Kevin Love

Give me something new you’ve seen, from a player or team, that you’re convinced is real.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It would be hard to find anything more new than Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ top draft pick who won’t turn 19 for another month. He’s a long-term project but with the right tools — 6-foot-9, arms that stretch from Pewaukee to Oconomowoc — and the right demeanor. He’s eager to learn and, naturally, the Greek import needs to learn plenty. But both in preseason and through the first week, he has been up to the many challenges. We can’t run wild with Kevin Durant comparisons — OK, so they’re built alike — but check out “G-Bo” and his early stats (2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 42.9 FG% in 11.3 mpg) next to No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett‘s (0.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.0 FG% in 12.5 mpg) in Cleveland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: TRD (the real deal) is MCW (Michael Carter-Williams).  In the golden age of NBA point guards, the Sixers rookie looks like 21K.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Warriors and Andre Iguodala. The former All-Star is essentially a fourth scoring option who is shooting 55.3 percent, 10-for-20 behind the arc. On any given night he can go off, as he did Monday at Philly, for 32 points, or for 11 assists as he did against the Clippers. More valuable is the big-time perimeter defense he provides, a real game-changer for the Warriors, especially combined with a healthy Andrew Bogut under the rim. So far, Golden State ranks third in defensive rating (the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions) at 93.0, seven points better than the league average and a nine-point improvement over last season, when they ranked 13th.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I think Minnesota’s start is real, after the much different look last season. Not .750-ball real, but this is a playoff team when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are going good, when Nikola Pekovic is a factor on the boards and when Kevin Martin is hitting shots. If the defense keeps up — I am not nearly as confident about that aspect — the Timberwolves really have something.

Paul George

Paul George (Glenn James/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m convinced the Indiana Pacers are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Paul George (62.9 effective field-goal percentage) and Lance Stephenson (64.3) aren’t going to keep shooting this well, but they are better players than they were in May, and that means a lot to what was a below-average offense last season. More importantly, they have the No. 1 defense in the league, which will win them a lot of games when the offense isn’t there. Even with George Hill missing some early games, the Pacers have hit the ground running. And though there will be highs and lows over the course of 82 games, that defense isn’t going to let up. I don’t know that they can beat the Heat (or Bulls, or Nets) in a seven-game series, but I believe the Pacers will be the No. 1 seed in the East.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Minnesota Timberwolves. I think the playoff movement in the Twin Cities is legit. They’ve got superstar talent in Kevin Love and potentially Ricky Rubio. They have a coach in Rick Adelman, who has been to the postseason promised land before and knows how to get teh most out of the most complete roster Timberwolves fans have seen in years. All that depth in just the right places, coupled with good health from their core group (go ahead Timberwolves fans, cross those fingers) and this hoop dream should become a reality by season’s end. I know they’ve been in this position before, where things appeared to be lined up perfectly for a potential playoff chase, only to see it all come tumbling down in a pile of injuries or miscalculations on the personnel side. I believe those days are over with the group currently assembled. This is the year … I can feel it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: A larger audience saw it in the playoffs than saw it in the regular season, but Paul George is a beast. He’s currently tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring, and is averaging over eight boards per game. Not to mention he’s one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, which plays a large part in the Pacers’ early shut-down defense. As I write this, the Pacers currently lead the NBA in opponents points per game allowed. I think everyone suspected that Indy’s improved bench would be a big help this season, but to me their commitment to team defense is going to propel them to the top of the Conference.

Selçuk Aytekin, NBA.com Turkiye: Since being Most Improved Player in 2007, Monta Ellis is set to have his best season in NBA. He is prolific scorer. And I’m sure that Dirk Nowitzki and his friends are going to help him a lot. I knew that he was a good player player, but I wasn’t expecting this much impact from him at the very beginning of the season. With Kobe out, now I’ve got someone else to watch.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA.com Philippines: If the Minnesota Timberwolves stay healthy they will crash the post-season party at the end of the year and actually make some noise. They have the right materials for Rick Adelman’s system and it’s been that way the last couple of years — they just need avoid the injury woes they’ve had to their stars. The core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic is a great trio and to add a proven offensive threat in Kevin Martin makes the T-Wolves poised for something big.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Deutschland: I’ve become an Evan Turner fan over the past month. He’s a guy that’s always taken too many tough jumpers in the past, but is now making an effort to get to the rim more often. His ballhandling has always been good, and he’s lost some weight and worked on his foot speed. I see him continuing to attack — and I love this version of Evan Turner!

Another Granger-Free Start For The Pacers … No Problem!




VIDEO: What is Danny Granger’s role in Indiana this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When the news broke that the Indiana Pacers would spend at least the first three weeks of the 2013-14 NBA season without Danny Granger (calf injury), the silence was a bit shocking.

Have people forgotten how good a player the former All-Star has been over the course of his career?

But when you have survived and actually thrived without one of your main players (the way the Pacers have without Granger recently), maybe the idea of another three weeks without Granger’s services isn’t a big code red in Indianapolis.

The Pacers made the Eastern Conference semifinals with Granger in the lineup in 2012. They pushed the Miami Heat to a Game 7 in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals without Granger in the lineup.

“This is not a one-man team,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said. “That’s not who we are.”

The Pacers have championship designs for the 2013-14 season, which they kick off tonight in Orlando (7 p.m. ET, League Pass). I’m not arguing for those plans to be put on hold temporarily, at least until they figure out what Granger’s role will be, but it does require some extra attention.

The Pacers disagree, of course. They believe in what’s they’ve built and that the absence of one man, for however long, won’t alter their destiny.

“We have a positive culture, good chemistry and really good guys, who are working every day and we have a chance to win at the highest level,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s indicative of where we are as a franchise and what Larry Bird has built here … everybody wants to know they have a chance to win. And we have a core group of guys in place already that lends itself to a chance to win big.”

Vogel has no doubts that he has a team capable of contending, with or without Granger in the mix. That’s not dismissing the impact Granger can have; it’s simply Vogel’s supreme confidence in the depth, versatility and abilities of his team.

Adding Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland in the offseason to a nucleus that already includes George, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Lance Stephenson, Vogel’s confidence makes sense. That said, a wild card like Granger can push the Pacers over the top if healthy and prepared to play his role.

From all indications, and my own direct conversation with Granger, he’s ready to do whatever he’s asked to make sure the Pacers stay in the Eastern Conference title chase with Miami, Chicago, New York and Brooklyn.

“There’s no doubt our core group of guys has improved,” said Granger, who was drafted by the Pacers at a time when the core group was in flux. “It’s completely different now. When I first came in I didn’t have David West, a Roy Hibbert, a Paul George, a George Hill. I didn’t even have a Lance Stephenson. So it’s good to see where we are. No single guy on this team has to carry the load alone and that’s what separates us, I think, from some other teams. We base everything on team. We don’t have one single guy that needs to take 20 shots a night. We have too much talent for that. We’re a true team.”

A true team without one of it’s main pieces, yet again, to start this season.

Pacers May Look To Stephenson To Put A ‘Whoa!’ To Bench Woes

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CHICAGO
– Some phobias can be worse than others, depending on one’s circumstances. For someone who makes his living in the NBA, gigaphobia – a pathological fear of tall people – would be a problem. So, for that matter, would aerophobia, the fear of flying.

But the five players who started most often for the Indiana Pacers last season set clinicians’ tongues to wagging when they began to develop an oddly contagious case of kathisophobia.

Otherwise known as the fear of sitting down.

“There were times we felt like guys should stay in the game,” center Roy Hibbert said Friday night, “and that we always should have at least two or three starters out there.”

Sitting down became a scary proposition for the Pacers’ starters because no team experienced the sort of performance dropoff – primarily  offensively – that Indiana did when three, two or even just one bench guy subbed in.

When the first unit of Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill was on the floor in 2012-13 in regular season games, Indiana had an offensive rating of 108.6 and a defensive rating of 96.5 for a net of 12.1. When any other lineup was out there, the advantage flattened (98.5/96.7/1.8).

A group of reserves – primarily D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young – that was supposed to develop into something reliable never did.

“In the beginning of the year,” West said after the preseason loss to Chicago at United Center Friday, “we were playing 10, 11 guys, and I don’t know if that worked as well as we hoped. We made some adjustments, making sure there were a couple starters on the floor at all times. Found some lineups in terms of chemistry that worked, and things started to get better for us.”

Maybe, but it didn’t last. The dropoff got much worse in the playoffs: 109.5/94.7/14.8 for the starters to 94.5/107.4/-12.9 for the backups. And in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami, the simplest way to put it is that the Pacers’ first unit outscored the Heat by 46 points. But the bench guys got beat by 74. It only went seven games because the Hibbert-West-George-Stephenson-Hill group stayed on the floor longer than all other combinations put together.

Understandably, there have been changes. Augustin, Green, Hansbrough, Young and Miles Plumlee are gone. Mahinmi is back, but he has been joined by guard C.J. Watson, forwards Luis Scola and Chris Copeland and rookie Solomon Hill. Danny Granger is back, too, after missing almost the entire season with a knee injury, adding to what is hoped – no, actually what had better be – a deeper, more reliable roster. Top to nearly bottom.

The Pacers’ 0-5 mark with 11 days left in the preseason isn’t a cause for panic yet. Their schedule has been outrageous, with the longest of the NBA’s Global Games trips (Philippines and Taiwan) and now a stretch of four consecutive October road tuneups. Granger still is working his body and conditioning into game shape. Derrick Rose went on a 32-point romp in an early-comeback performance with a 2010-11 smell.

Still, the newness of all those freshly acquired Indiana subs has been showing.

“Obviously we’ve added some experience,” West said, “But we’ve got to get guys acclimated to the way that we play. It’s taking us probably a little more time than we expected, but we have faith in the guys in this locker room. And we know the [defensive] mindset, our approach every single day, is something guys have got to adjust to.”

Scola, for instance, was indecisive and out of rhythm against the Bulls Friday, shooting 1-of-5, committing three turnovers and holding the ball out top while desperately seeking unfamiliar teammates. The 6-foot-9 veteran is considered one of the prize pickups of the summer, an international star who has averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in six NBA seasons. But he also started 371 of 386 games the past five years, so his preseason stats (9.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 36.4 percent shooting) can be attributed in part to his new role.

New system, new coaches, new teammates, new emphasis on defense, new role – it’s a lot.

“I hope I can bring a lot,” Scola said Friday. “I’m not sure. I’m trying to find a way to be more effective in this position. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work out. It’s just a different way to play.”

Watson is averaging 6.0 points with 11 turnovers to five assists. Copeland got on the floor for 12 seconds against the Bulls and has missed 26 of his 34 field goal attempts. Teams have outscored the Pacers 500-453 through five games.

The Granger-Stephenson decision eventually has to get made, too. Initially, lots of folks took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, suggesting Granger be used off the bench to avoid, at least, disrupting the bankable starting five.

Then again, Granger’s shooting range could be a big help to the first group. And Stephenson, who subbed in for the first time this preseason Friday, really asserted himself with the backups. He fouled out after missing some key free throws late, but Stephenson scored 11 points with seven rebounds and eight assists, playing 34:22 partly because Granger’s left calf strain flared up.

“I’ve always started, so obviously I’m more comfortable doing that,” Granger told NBA.com afterward. “And Lance, he’s more of a playmaker. So when he’s in the second group, I think he actually excels more. He has the ball in his hands, he can make plays. When he’s with the starting group, the ball’s going into the post or Paul [George] has it. I play off the ball a lot.”

Coach Frank Vogel said he called a play for Stephenson “nine or 10 straight times” against the Bulls. If the fourth-year wing can take a stride this season similar to what he did last season, he or Granger can bring serious relief to the Pacers’ backups.

The thing is, with expectations high for a run at The Finals, there really is no room for if’s.

“He’s just a load,” West said of Stephenson. “He’s a playmaker, a shot maker, a shot creator. Lance is a big part of what we’re trying to do, and he has to have a great year for us. He’s beyond that stage of kind of proving himself. It’s time for him literally to be who we know he is.”

Soon enough, it will be time for the Pacers’ upgraded bench to prove that it is, too.

Blogtable: The Pulse Of The Pacers

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


League Pass hero | Indiana worries | Phoenix, Boston, Philly, Sacramento


The Pacers lost two to the Rockets in the NBA’s Global Games. Any concern there? What, other than injuries, could go wrong for Indiana?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not short-selling them yet, but the Pacers do face a few challenges (don’t they all?). Their shooting isn’t very bankable, turning a higher percentage of their possessions into grinds. Paul George, after his coming-out season, will face game-planning like never before, a fresh hurdle. A second straight year of “insta-bench,” hurriedly building cohesion in the second unit, asks a lot of any team. Veteran forward Danny Granger might not return healthy and productive enough to A) offer much help or B) be very marketable. And coach Frank Vogel and his guys have yet to stub their toes in a step-by-step advancement toward The Finals — this spring would be a lousy time to start.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Other than a mild ankle sprain suffered by George Hill, no harm was done. Indiana and Houston played hard in both games, but the Pacers went with a mostly vanilla attack offensively. The only thing that could derail the Pacers is an assumption that since they pushed the Heat to Game 7 in the East finals last spring, they’re entitled to get back there. I just don’t see that happening. They’re for real and in it for the long haul.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Two preseason losses in the Philippines and Taiwan to a Houston team that was already pretty good before Dwight Howard? Please. The Pacers have new personnel to work into the rotation and that includes former starter and All-Star Danny Granger. Indy will be fine. It’s a process. If the regular season was a book we’d be skimming through the Introduction. Can we at least get into Chapter 1 before we start making up concerns? But since you asked what could go wrong … well, Indianapolis could be attacked by aliens or St. Elmo Steak House could go vegan. Indy is going to be very good. The serious answer for what could wrong? LeBron James and/or Derrick Rose. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I no more am concerned about the Pacers based on two exhibition games than I am anointing the Rockets the favorites in June because Houston beat the team that nearly won the East last season. What could go wrong for Indiana? Easy. Miami could go right. That is still the biggest obstacle to Indy taking the next step. The Pacers are good. I like their chances to recover from the massive setback in October.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: They lost two preseason games?!?! Blow it up! But seriously folks, the Pacers’ priorities in the preseason should be helping Danny Granger get comfortable on the floor again and developing a second unit that can perform better than the one they had last season. The results — wins, losses, field goal percentage, defensive breakdowns, etc. — don’t matter right now. It’s a process and what matters is how the Pacers play in April and May. Other than health, their primary concern is the same as it was last season: turnovers. They have to find a way to move the ball without coughing it up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAbsolutely none! It’s preseason, man. Relax. The only glitch for a team as well-stocked as the Pacers is an injury to the wrong guy. They survived and thrived without Danny Granger last season. So they already know how to deal with that sort of adversity. So no, I’m not ready to scrap my prediction of the Eastern Conference order of power after two (meaningless) exhibition losses.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wasn’t there a question last week about seeing an overblown headline sometime soon? I think we may have found it! Joking aside, I do think the Pacers will have a more challenging road ahead of them this season than last year. Now that everyone else saw them come within one win of the NBA Finals, opposing teams will target them the way they would any other real contender every single night. And though they have a better roster than they had last season, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes them some time to come together and figure which rotations work best. But losing two games after flying halfway around the globe does not bother me.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: No concern. It’s the preseason, not the playoffs. If we were to go strictly by results now, the New Orleans Pelicans, winners of four straight, could well be handed the Larry O’Brien trophy. But that’s not what this is. The Pacers still have to figure things out, whether Danny Granger will play coming off the bench or form part of the starting unit. And there could be other blips — their offseason moves don’t give them required results or that any one of their starting five from last year suffers a dip in form. But I would still watch them over the first couple of months before sounding the alarm.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com/Brazil: Not at all. First, I know we write for the NBA and all and maybe we shouldn’t let this badly kept secret out … but results from the preseason don’t matter. Second, the Rockets were basically playing at home there, all eyes were on Howard and Lin, so you knew both would bring their A-game. Third, the Rockets are looking like one of the stronger teams in the league, so if you can’t beat them in October, it’s OK. Once the real games start, the Pacers will show their real face.

Taipei Gets A Full Dose of Linsanity


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TAIPEI, Taiwan – It was an afternoon that began with a greeting from Paul George.

Yet the 12,905 squealing, appreciative fans who came early and stayed on their feet often left the impression that John and Ringo were also inside Taipei Arena.

It might not have quite reached the level of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but Jeremy Lin’s return to his ancestral roots hit all the notes of cultural phenomenon, NBA star and real life dream come true.

They love you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

It was the return of Linsanity, all of the attendant pregame hype and palpable buzz in the air meeting up with a performance that delivered by the main attraction.

From the moment he scored the Rockets’ first basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to his exit midway through the fourth quarter of Houston’s 107-98 win over the Pacers, Lin was the focus of virtually all attention and idolatry.

When Lin left the game with 5:52 left to play with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, four assists, two rebounds and one monster block, teammate Francisco Garcia encouraged the throng to come to its feet and then he clamped Lin like a little brother in a headlock and patted his approval.

Lin stood in a back hallway smiling and shaking his head at the experience.

“It wasn’t like anything I’m normally accustomed to, going out there before the game for warmups and having everyone yelling,” he said. “Yeah, I was nervous. I haven’t felt that way before a game since probably the first time back to MSG last season.

“Really, it was everything I could have hoped for. (Asssistant coach) Chris Finch said, ‘It was like all your birthdays rolled into one. You got the 3s, the dunk, the block.’ I think he was right. I didn’t know how this was gonna go, but I definitely didn’t think it would go this good.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Lin’s play was simply a continuation of the progress he’s made since the opening of training camp.

“He played very well,” McHale said. “The last week to 10 days he’s been very, very good in our games and our practices. I think he’s really comfortable with who he is. He’s in a good state of mind … Jeremy’s in really a good place. This is the way he’s been playing in practice.”

Nearly half the crowd wore some kind of NBA jersey or T-shirt and the lion’s share of those bore Lin’s name and number from various career incarnations. There were red Lin Rockets jerseys and white Lin Rockets jerseys. There were even a few with Lin’s name on the back of the throwback navy blue pajama-striped jerseys that Lin never wore. There were Lin jerseys from Harvard and his time with Golden State. And, of course, there were Lin’s jerseys from that magical five-week stretch of 2012 when Linsanity was born in York.

They screamed with delight when Lin came out of the tunnel and ran onto the court for pregame warmups nearly an hour before the opening tip and they roared in appreciation when he stepped into the spotlight and shined in front of an audience that included his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and thousands of other Taiwanese who claim him as their own.

“I have been an NBA fan for about 10 years,” said Taiwan native Tony Kuo, 25, who studied business at Michigan State. “The truth is the Pistons were always my favorite back, back from the days of their (2004) championship.

“But when Jeremy first came into the league with the Warriors and then he went to New York and did what he did, well, now he is my favorite and the Rockets are my team.

“I followed Jeremy when he was in Harvard and hoped that he would get a chance. But I wasn’t really sure if an Asian player could ever have the experience he did in New York.

“When Yao Ming played, he was famous here. But nothing like Lin. There is no question that Jeremy Lin is the No. 1 sports celebrity in Taiwan today. I can’t even think of anyone close enough to him to be No. 2.”

Kuo’s girlfriend, Ashley Wu, 29, said she never really took to the NBA when she was at Michigan State.

“I guess now I like the Rockets, but I went out and bought this Knicks shirt because the blue is a better color,” she said. “This is a really exciting and fun event and it’s fun to be here to support Lin and him,” she said, pointing at Kuo.

For the most part, it was fast-paced and seemed to be more intensely played for a preseason game with plenty of banging and with regulars getting a lot of minutes.

James Harden led the Rockets with 21 points. George had 19 to top the Pacers and George Hill had 17.

Nevertheless, according to how a script might have been written, Lin practically took the game into his hands in the first quarter and shaped it to fit the hype and his image. By the time the opening period was done, Lin had drilled a pair of 3-pointers, closed out a fast break with a crowd-pleasing dunk and then got a real rise from everyone when he chased down Indiana’s Danny Granger on a breakaway and used a sweeping swat of his arm to send the ball into the first row of seats.

“When I got that shot, just about all I could do was smile,” Lin said. “Not at him, but just the fact that it happened, because I’ve never done anything like that before in a real NBA game. Maybe in practice. So when I got that shot, I all could think was everything was going my way.”

Half a world away from where it was born, Linsanity was back. And, fittingly, at home.

Manila Thrilled, But A Tad Bit Subdued, With Rockets’ 20-Point Win Over Pacers

 

MANILA, Philippines — It was 2 1/2 hours before the historic first NBA tipoff in Southeast Asia when the Rockets’ team bus pulled up to the stage door entrance at Mall of Asia Arena and was greeted by a throng of several hundred Filipino fans.

This was the night that the NBA’s most rabid international following had waited more than six decades to see. The hope of catching a glimpse of the stars toting luggage was enough to create a noisy stir.

“Rockets! Rockets! Rockets!” came the chant from behind the barricade. Then it was followed by “Harden! Harden! Harden!”

James Harden, the All-Star guard, had already entered the tunnel and walked up the ramp when he suddenly made a U-turn and went back outside with his cell phone raised to takes videos of the fans with one hand while pumping a fist into the air with the other.

It was thought to be a prelude to the general craziness that would consume the atmosphere out on the court. But the emotional intensity and anticipated craziness never materialized from the crowd of roughly 20,000 that paid anywhere from $13 to just under $800 face value for tickets. An early evening downpour tied up traffic outside the arena. The game began with large blocks of empty seats.

In the end, it was not exactly the Thrilla in Manila.

The in-game atmosphere  seemed to be more studying, nodding, learning and taking in the proficiency of the NBA teams than mass hysteria. The Filipino fans rarely came out of their seats. A glimpse throughout the building saw few hands full of snacks, drinks and beers as the fans focused on the event.

Omri Casspi led the Rockets with 17 points, Donatas Motiejunas had 16, while Harden and Chandler Parsons scored 15 points each as the Rockets went wire-to-wire for a 116-96 win. Dwight Howard had seven points, three rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes. Paul George led the Pacers with 13 points.

There were plenty of red Jeremy Lin jerseys in the crowd, but no more than you’d see during a regular season game at Golden State or Portland. Lin came off the bench and generated the most energy from the fans, especially with a pair of strong drives in the fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points.

There were a number of Pacers fans in the crowd, but the loudest buzz for a member of the Indiana contingent came when team president Larry Bird was on the video screen sitting near mid-court.

The Pacers and Rockets were greeted warmly when both teams took the floor for and received a nice ovation when they were introduced. There were appreciative cheers for 3-pointers made by Paul George and C.J. Watson, shots blocked by Roy Hibbert and slick drives through the lane by Harden. The lines at the temporary NBA Stores set up on the mezzanine level were six and eight deep as fans gobbled up replica Pacers and Rockets jerseys. Most customers came through the cash register lines carrying plastic bags crammed full of merchandise.

“The Philippines has a population of 100 million or so, so they’re a very important part of our Southeast Asian strategy,” commissioner David Stern said during a pre-game press conference. “It is the most intense and robust and knowledgeable basketball market. I was going to say outside of the U.S., but it may lead the world. I’m not sure.”

However, the knowledgeable Filipino fans were far more polite than rabid or noisy, sounding more like an All-Star Game crowd, where the sound of the dribbling ball and the voices of Pacers coach Frank Vogel and the Rockets Kevin McHale could be heard echoing throughout the arena.

As if to prove that they have the attitude to match regular American fans, the crowd finally rose to its collective feet and let out a roar for giveaway promotions — NBA 2K posters and t-shirts — during a couple of second-quarter timeouts.

The controlled enthusiasm and overall politeness was in keeping with experiences by the two teams during the four days they’d spent in Manila. When George, Hibbert and George Hill of the Pacers and Parsons, Lin and other Rockets went out in public, the Filipino fans were excited and crowded round to get a look and snap photos, but also kept a respectful distance. There was none of the fear-for-your-life frenzy that marked the Rockets’ first visit to China with Yao Ming in 2004. Of course, the din should come Sunday when the teams make the hop across the South China Sea and Lin plays his first game in Taipei.

In Philippines, Passion For NBA Runs Deep

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MANILA, Philippines – It could have been the high-pitched busload of school kids that shrieked its giddy joy and approval as they passed by on the traffic circle while All-Stars Dwight Howard, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets were lining up for a team photo in front of the giant-sized steel globe outside the Mall of Asia.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Fans mob Paul George during his visit to a local basketball court in Pasay City in Manila.

It could have been the pulsing throng of photographers and well-wishers that swarmed and followed Hall of Fame legend Larry Bird’s every step, even two decades past his retirement, now just trying to find his way to a team bus in his current role as Pacers president of basketball operations.

But to truly get to the depth of the passion Filipinos possess for the NBA, one needed to look no further than the jubilant crowd inside the Cuneto Astrodome. The cozy gym in the Pasay City section of Manila, which regularly hosts neighborhood rec league play, was interrupted during an afternoon “drop-in” visit by George Hill, Paul George and Jalen Rose.

A young bespectacled fellow was standing almost slack-jawed at courtside.

“Oh man, I’ve been following George Hill since his days at IUPUI,” said 24-year-old Lorenzo Hortaleza. “The San Antonio Spurs have been my favorite team since 1999 and I was excited when they drafted him a few years ago. I was disappointed at first when they traded him to Indiana, but now it gives me a reason to be a fan of the Pacers, too.

That half a world away somebody actually had taken notice of a player from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis would be generally regarded as surprise. That is, anywhere but in the basketball-mad nation of the Philippines where the game is as much a staple as lumpia and pancit.

Love of basketball woven into everyday life

When the Rockets traveled less than a decade ago to Beijing and Shanghai to play a pair of preseason games against the Kings, it was mostly an acknowledgement and celebratory homecoming for 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming. As the same time, the league was making a foothold in the China market, where the first live broadcast of an NBA game had been the 1994 Finals between Houston and New York.

However, long before it became fashionable to pull on NBA shirts, jackets and assorted merchandise in China and the rest of Asia, the NBA had an established passionate following in the Philippines that frankly outstrips the rest of the world — even as commissioner David Stern continues to plant the NBA’s marketing flag in every far corner of the planet.

This year’s Global Games are part of the largest schedule of international games with 12 teams playing 10 games in 10 cities in seven countries. The league is playing games for the first time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Bilboa, Spain and Manchester, England. But here in Manila, the wait has been the longest and the interest runs deeper than the Marianas Trench.

The raw numbers don’t lie. NBA.com gets more page views and the league’s social media presence on Facebook and Twitter has more “likes” and “follows” from the Philippines than any country outside the United States. The Facebook page of the two-time defending champion Heat has more “likes” from Manila than from Miami, in part due to the Filipino roots of coach Erik Spoelstra.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Jeremy Lin (center) talks with reporters before the Rockets’ practice at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila.

But the level of interest in the game is about far more than just one favorite son. The sport that was reportedly introduced by American missionaries more than a century ago has been an integral part of the sports fabric of the Philippines since the 1930s.

“The only reason I know a little about that is because I have a neighbor who’s Filipino and he’s often asked me to sign things for him to send back here to friends and relatives,” said Pacers forward David West. “Even then, it’s one thing to think that somebody has a group that follows the NBA. It’s entirely different to hear the numbers about the support we get from the Philippines. It’s staggering. It’s humbling. It gives these games that we’re going to be playing here a little bit more weight, even tough it’s preseason. These people have waited a long, long time to see something like this, to have us here. It’s important that we honor their commitment to us.”

The league has been sending emissaries here since 1975 when Knicks legend Walt Frazier headed up a team of NBA players. Eight members of the 1979 Washington Bullets championship team visited, Shaquille O’Neal led a dunking delegation in 1997 and in 2011 it was an All-Star collection that included Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Harden.

Even though Thursday’s game (7:30 AM ET, NBA TV) does not count in the regular-season standings, it is a significant step of progress and recognition for what has long been the league’s hotbed of international interest.

“This means everything to us,” said Glenn Agranzamendez, 35, who plays regularly in the games at the Cuneta Astrodome. “This is a country that loves sports. We love boxing, Manny Pacquiao. But basketball is by far the most popular sport, the favorite of the country. You should have seen what it was like here when we had the Asian Championship in Manila this summer.”

The Philippines posted a 7-2 record overall, lost to Iran in the finals and qualified for a spot in the FIBA World Championship in 2014.

“It was craziness,” Agranzamendez said. “It was like bedlam everywhere. This place is crazy about basketball.”

It is a place where basketball goals — regulation size or makeshift backboards — can be found around almost every corner. It’s also where, as Rafe Bartholomew noted in his book, Pacific Rims: Beerman Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair With Basketball, your average street game can find amazing moves made often in bare feet or sandals by a population where the average height is 5-foot-5.

There is a devoted following of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which plays assorted competitions virtually year-round.

Manila is a city where basketball is ubiquitous. The dozens of players ranging from four years old to their forties who took part in shooting games with Hill, George and Rose on Tuesday wore an assortment of jerseys that represented the Rockets, Nuggets, Nets, Lakers, Bulls and even one throwback Sonics number.

Fans more than just star-watchers

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Hundreds of fans turn out for a local basketball clinic as part of 2013 Global Games in Manilla, Philippines.

When a group of Rockets players went cruising through the Mall of Asia on a sightseeing expedition Monday night, they were recognized and followed immediately. Of course, it probably didn’t help that Donatas Motiejunas wore a Rockets practice shirt.

“Yeah, he kind of gave us away,” said Jeremy Lin, who had tried to go incognito with a ball cap pulled down over his face. “We gave him a little grief about that.”

It is a far cry from 1988 when Rockets coach Kevin McHale was a member of the Celtics team that played in the first preseason international game, the McDonald’s Cup, held in Spain.

“Yeah, we did the first global trip and I don’t think anybody at that time ever envisioned coming one day over to the Philippines or going to Taiwan and how huge the NBA would become globally,” McHale said. “I think it’s great for the game. I think our guys get exposed to a whole new culture. It’s something that a lot of guys, if they didn’t take a trip here with the Houston Rockets or Indiana Pacers, in their whole lives would never get to this part of the world. I think it’s good. I’m amazed at where the NBA has grown from the fall of 1980 when I entered the league as a rookie.

“When we were in Spain, whatever year that was, I was real surprised that there were fans there that had Celtics jerseys and the kind of knowledge they had about us. They weren’t just wearing the shirts. They were fan-fans.

“Hey, I got in the league in the fall of 1980 and in my first time to play in The Finals (1981) it was taped delayed and my parents couldn’t even watch it how. So I’m thinking, ‘How in the hell could those people in Spain watch it and know who we are?’

“One thing that surprised me was the amount of Celtics jerseys and stuff that followed us around. Look, maybe at the time there were really only 500 Celtic fans in all of Spain and it just so happened they all came out at once to see us. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, to see this stuff now, to see the reception we’re getting halfway around the world in the Philippines, wow, it makes you shake your head. Somebody’s doing something right.”

Since the days of Yao as the symbolic tall bridge across the Pacific to a burgeoning Asian market, the NBA has held more than 125 international events in 27 different countries and 67 cities. The league has 125,000 retail locations in 100 countries and a commercial presence on every continent except Antarctica.

Now, decades after the average Filipino sports fan engaged in the classic Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry and debate, the NBA has finally come to Manila for the most practical of business reasons — the shiny Mall of Asia Arena that opened in 2012. All around the world, the Global Games are tipping off in far-flung cities with NBA-caliber arenas, complete with luxury suites. Ticket prices for the Rockets and Pacers run as high as $700 for the best seats, a price that is well beyond the means of most of the citizens. Yet, the game will be sold out.

It is quite one thing for a bus load of school kids to recognize stars such as Howard, Harden and Lin. But stand outside the team bus as the players disembark for practice and listen to one nearby arena worker who has nudged a companion.

“Look, that’s Patrick Beverley,” he said.

The NBA passion here truly runs deep.

One Team, One Stat: No Lillard, No Offense

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Portland Trail Blazers,

The basics
POR Rank
W-L 33-49 21
Pace 93.7 18
OffRtg 102.7 16
DefRtg 106.9 26
NetRtg -4.2 23

The stat

11.5 - Fewer points per 100 possessions the Blazers scored with Damian Lillard on the bench than with him on the floor.

The context

That was the biggest offensive, on-off-court differential in the league for players who logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team. And though Lillard has a fantastic season as a rookie point guard, the drop-off was more about the Blazers’ bench than it was about him.

With Lillard on the floor, the Blazers scored 105.0 points per 100 possessions, a number which would have ranked 10th in the league. With Lillard on the bench, they scored 93.5, which was four points per 100 possessions worse than the 30th-ranked Wizards.

Biggest on-off-court differential, points scored per 100 possessions

Player MIN On OffRtg On MIN Off OffRtg Off OffRtg Diff.
Damian Lillard 3,167 105.0 804 93.5 +11.5
LeBron James 2,877 113.4 1,099 102.1 +11.2
Chris Paul 2,335 112.1 1,611 101.3 +10.8
Lance Stephenson 2,278 106.1 1,640 95.4 +10.7
George Hill 2,620 104.8 1,298 95.3 +9.5

Minimum 1,000 minutes on the floor with one team

(Yes, the Pacers’ bench was pretty terrible, too.)

There’s a reason Lillard led the league in minutes played. The Blazers did everything worse offensively when he sat down. They shot worse (especially from 3-point range), they turned the ball over more, they got to the free throw line less and they got fewer offensive rebounds.

And this is all with LaMarcus Aldridge playing 503 (63 percent) of the 804 minutes Lillard was on the bench. Aldridge can step out to 20 feet, but the Blazers’ second unit lacked both deep threats and guys who can make plays with the ball.

The Blazers traded for Eric Maynor at the deadline with the hope that he would give their second unit a boost. But after the deal, the Blazers still scored just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in 248 minutes with Lillard on the bench.

Here are some ugly possessions from a March 30 game at Golden State, in which Portland scored just 22 points in 16:34 (64 points per 48 minutes) with Lillard on the bench …


.

So the Blazers let Maynor leave for Washington and made some more moves this summer. Though C.J. McCollum was lost to a broken foot on Saturday, they still have Earl Watson (not a shooter) and Mo Williams (a shooter) in the back-up backcourt and Dorell Wright (a shooter) on the wing.

More important, they have Robin Lopez to improve their starting-lineup defense. Though the Blazers were solid offensively with Lillard on the floor, they were pretty poor on the other end, allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions.

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

George Is A Perfect Fit For Pacers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.

From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.

That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.

Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:

When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul's].

Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.

“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”

Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.

“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”

With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.

“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”

I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.

A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.

They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.

They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).

It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.

The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.

George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.

But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.

Bird Returning To The Pacers



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One year away from the game was apparently all Hall of Famer Larry Bird could take. The former Boston Celtics star and Indiana Pacers coach and executive is returning to his Indiana roots once again and rejoining the Pacers’ front office.

The Pacers announced Wednesday afternoon that Bird is rejoining the franchise as president, giving the Pacers a front office “Big 3″ of sorts with Donnie Walsh , who will move into his role as a consultant, and general manager Kevin Pritchard already in place.

“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” Pacers owner Herb Simon said in statement released by the team. “When he left last July, Donnie and I both told him the door would be open for him to come back when he’s ready. Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time. Donnie has been a friend and a valuable contributor to the franchise and will continue to be both. I wanted him to agree to stay in some capacity as I believe with Larry and Kevin, it gives us three of the best basketball minds in the business.”

The Pacers that Bird built during his previous stint as president, which culminated in NBA Executive of the Year honors in 2012, pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals this season. Bird is responsible for youngsters like All-Star Paul George and Lance Stephenson being in the Pacers’ fold alongside veterans like David West, George Hill and All-Star Roy Hibbert, not to mention coach Frank Vogel.

Bird took the Pacers to The Finals during his stint as coach, from 1997-2000. He left after that Finals trip in 2000 but returned in 2003 to work alongside Walsh in the front office as president. Walsh returned to replace Bird this past season and now they will team up again with Pritchard in a significant role as well.

Bird cited health reasons for his departure at the end of last year. He had been the Pacers’ president of basketball operations from 2003-12. The year off, however, served him well.

“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” Bird said in that statement. “Donnie and Kevin did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship.”