Posts Tagged ‘Kevin McHale’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Next man up is new normal in Cleveland | Riley says Heat not looking to trade | Howard responds with love in Houston | Shumpert truly delivers

No. 1: Next man up is new normal in Cleveland The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Cleveland having won six games in a row, but the Cavs used a strong second half run to build an insurmountable lead and win, 104-100. While Kyrie Irving has still yet to return from injury for the Cavs, LeBron James once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds to lead the way for the Cavs. And as our Steve Aschburner writes, it’s still early, but the Cavs look locked in:

No Kyrie Irving (recovery from knee surgery), Iman Shumpert (groin) and Mo Williams (thumb sprain) meant minutes and opportunities for others. No biggie for the Cavs, for whom short-handed is the new normal. You have to go back eight months and 44 games, to the postseason opener against Boston, for a game in which Cleveland had all its guys healthy.

“Our motto is the next man up,” said James, who now has a 16-4 personal record head-to-head (regular season or playoff) against OKC’s Kevin Durant. “There’s no excuses around here. Whoever’s in the lineup is ready to go.”

While OKC was missing the playoffs last spring, done in by Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook‘s injuries, Cleveland was busy getting resourceful. The Cavs beat the Celtics, the Bulls and the Hawks, and pushed the Warriors to six games in the Finals, by leaning on the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson like never before. James at times seemed startled by how much those role players could handle, but by doing so they toughened up and built a bond.

That was evident again Thursday. Thompson gave the Cavs repeated extra chances by grabbing 15 rebounds overall — 11 on the offensive end — to go with 12 points. Dellavedova chipped in his own double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. Veteran Richard Jefferson scored 13 points and wild card J.R. Smith was big early, both scoring and making timely defensive plays.

This essentially was the crew that pushed Golden State to an extra level of great last spring. It’s the team that, with Irving, Shumpert and Williams all due back soon, knows how to fold back in talented players because it did that over the second half of last season. It’s the biggest reason Cleveland stands alone as a legit contender from the East, while the Thunder will slug it out with two or three rivals out West.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 52 points and Serge Ibaka added 23 more, but the OKC bench went from good enough in the first half to ghastly in the second. New coach Billy Donovan appeared to get caught in his rotations, asking the Thunder to survive too long with neither of its two scoring stars on the floor. Enes Kantner was a liability defensively and two-way mishap Dion Waiters reminded the sellout Q crowd why their team is better off without him.

James and the Cavs are playing chess right now relative to the Thunder’s checkers. He knows what Cleveland needs to win a title because he’s been there and done it so recently. The Thunder went to the Finals in 2012 but in this what-have-you-done-lately league, that’s old news in a rapidly changing game.

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No. 2: Riley says Heat not looking to trade The Miami Heat are currently 15-9, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. But we know team president Pat Riley is always looking to improve the roster, which could involve making a trade somewhere along the way. A recent report had center Hassan Whiteside on the trade block, and yesterday Riley spoke to the media to say he wasn’t ready to make any moves, at least not quite yet, as Manny Navarro writes in the Miami Herald:

“I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days,” Riley said of rumors Whiteside could be headed to Houston or Sacramento. “I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.”

Riley said he expects the Heat, which plays the Toronto Raptors at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, will be “one of [the teams] that is going to be for real” when that 40-game mark is complete Jan. 15.

What does he like about this Heat team?

“Well, we’ve got great depth,” Riley said during a five-minute interview with The Miami Herald and a two local TV stations Thursday during a holiday event for veterans at the Miami VA Fisher House. “I think we have a three-tiered team which is we have a group of great veterans, mid-aged veterans, and then we have youth. We have a lot of spirit. There’s a lot of energy with our young guys.

“Probably some of our best defenders are our young players. They’re trying to get their offensive games to match their defensive games.”

He also likes the leadership that team captains Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have brought.

“They have no idea how proud I am of them and how they conduct themselves every single night, good or bad — to the community, to the media,” Riley said. “It’s not easy. This league is not easy, and when there’s a high-expectation level, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of winning and the consequences of losing, and I think our guys do it very well.”

He said coach Erik Spoelstra has done “an exemplary job.”

“I think he’s finding his way to the heart of his team and how they’re going to play, how he can adjust and make those adjustments,” Riley said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, we have a team that can play big. We have a team that can play medium. And we have a team that can play small. You don’t want to get caught up in any one thing. You just want to create your own identity, which is what I think [Spoelstra is] talking about. Whether you’re big or you’re small, that’s how you’re going to play. I think we’re showing that.”

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No. 3: Howard responds with love in Houston The Houston Rockets got off to a slow start, including firing coach Kevin McHale. Part of their inconsistent play has come from center Dwight Howard, the former All-NBA player who has suffered various injuries in recent years, and has seen his production fluctuate. But recent reports of Howard wanting out in Houston are, at least according to Howard, not true, as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“The one thing that I don’t want to happen is people to assume that because things are not going quite well for us that I’ve quit on the team and take away from all the positive things we have done, despite the loss, making the city feel like they’re unwanted,” Howard said on Thursday. “There’s a lot of negativity going around. I haven’t caused it. I haven’t said anything negative to anybody about this team or this situation. I’ve just been trying to find ways to make this situation better, trying to grow as a man, as a basketball player.

“You just try to laugh at it. I don’t want to go out and persecute the people that persecute me. That’s the hardest part. The first reaction is to go back at them. You just have to respond with love.”

A report at sheridanhoops.com on Tuesday cited sources saying Howard is “extremely unhappy” with his role with the Rockets and predicted he would be traded to the Miami Heat. Howard called the report “lies.”

Howard can expect to hear plenty from the Lakers fans tonight at Staples Center. He has often laughed at the taunts in Los Angeles, even singing along with chants in his first return to play the Lakers after signing with the Rockets.

“If they boo me, they boo me,” he said. “Just going to say, ‘Hey, I love you guys. If you boo me, I’m going to respond with love, just try to have a good game, not get frustrated with whatever happens on the floor. I don’t want to smile too much because then I’m (said to) not take it serious. I don’t want to not smile too much because then I’m (called) unhappy. Just going to stay positive.”

Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he has over the years talked to some players when they have been subject of trade rumors or other media reports. With Howard, Bickerstaff said they have talked often throughout the season, but did not consider that necessary with this week’s reports and that neither took them seriously.

“There’s certain guys that need to be talked to more about those situations and other guys, it doesn’t bother them. I try not to bring attention to it. If a guy does have a problem or a question and he brings it to me, then I’ll talk to him. For the most part, I try to ignore it because there’s so much noise out there.

“We’ve joked about it. We’ve laughed about it. I don’t think it needs to be addressed. I don’t know when I’ve seen him ‘extremely unhappy.’ We’ve had plenty of conversations. We’re in a good place.”

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No. 4: Shumpert delivers One of the Cavs out with an injury last night was forward Iman Shumpert, recovering from a strained groin. Which meant Shumpert happened to be at home on Wednesday when his pregnant fiancé, Teyana Taylor, unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, Shumpert ended up having to play doctor and delivered his daughter before the paramedics arrived…

The baby, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., was born at 6:42 a.m, according to the post. Taylor nicknamed her “Junie.”

Taylor wrote that she did not realize she was in labor until she could feel her baby’s head. She said Shumpert used the cord from a pair of headphones to tie off the umbilical cord as the couple waited for the ambulance to arrive minutes later.

The birth came about three weeks before the expected due date of Jan. 16, 2016, which Shumpert previously shared on his Facebook account.

Shumpert and Taylor got engaged in November, with Shumpert proposing to her with a ruby engagement ring on the night of her baby shower.

Shumpert was ruled out of the Cavs’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night with a right groin strain. According to the Cavs, his playing status is questionable moving forward.

Before the 104-100 win over the Thunder, Cleveland coach David Blatt said Shumpert had yet to be re-evaluated by the Cavs since the team returned from Boston, because he was excused to be with his family.

“Due to the recent events, we’ve allowed Shump to do more important things,” Blatt said. “The doctor will get his hands on him, hopefully, [Thursday] evening. Then we’ll be a little bit smarter [about his status]. But he’ll be down for a few days for sure.”

Then Blatt cracked a joke about Shumpert’s surprise delivery skills.

“Dr. Shumpert now,” Blatt said. “And congratulations to Teyana, as well.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Scary moment in Cleveland last night, as LeBron James dove for a loose ball and slammed into Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, sitting courtside. She was taken away on a stretcher and, according to Cleveland.com, treated and released from a local hospitalSteve Kerr hopes to be back on the Warriors’ bench in the next “two to three weeks” … Are the Sacramento Kings interested in trading for Kevin Martin? … Mike D’Antoni was spotted in Philadelphia, presumably there to meet with the Sixers about a job as an assistant … The Milwaukee Bucks held an “informal” meeting with Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles … The Bucks also took a team bonding trip to AlcatrazThe Currys and Drake made a postgame trip to In-N-Out …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant closing in on return | Nash lauds Curry’s play to date | Ainge: McHale has a ‘spot’ with Celtics

No. 1: Durant closing in on return to lineup — Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Kevin Durant hasn’t played in the last four games, but OKC has held down the fort pretty well in his absence. They are 2-2 in that stretch after last night’s win against the New Orleans Pelicans and may not have much longer to go until Durant returns to the fold. The Oklahoman‘s Erik Horne has more:

Kevin Durant looks like he’s getting closer to making a return to the court with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A week after he was diagnosed with a left hamstring strain, Durant was seen after Thunder practice Wednesday taking some jump shots and showing more mobility than the last time we saw him on the practice court late last week. Last week, Durant was only seen taking a few set shots, but on Wednesday, he went through a series of drills with assistant coaches Monty Williams and Royal Ivey.

In addition to jumpers, Durant also went through a drill with Ivey and Williams in which he had to beat the double team while dribbling from halfcourt then pull up for a 3-pointer in transition. Williams and Ivey also did some light jogging with Durant the length of the court.

“I hadn’t really talked to anybody medically about him,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he’s doing more than certainly he was a week ago. How close he is to being able to return, I’m not really sure; I haven’t been updated on that, but I know that he’s doing more physically just me watching and seeing what’s happened over the last week.”

The Thunder initially said last Wednesday that Durant would be re-evaluated in seven-to-10 days following the MRI on his strained hamstring.

“Looking good,” Anthony Morrow said of Durant. “Looks like Kevin Durant.

“I think that our staff is doing a good job with him. He’s doing a great job of being patient. I’m glad to see him getting up shots, taking it one day at a time. One thing he’s doing is really staying in guys’ ear, even from the sideline when he’s out. To me, that’s a sign of growth and leadership. He’s doing that even more so than last year.”

Durant’s return could come in the next two games. The Thunder plays the New York Knicks on Friday and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, both at Chesapeake Energy Arena.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook discusses OKC’s win against New Orleans

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Blogtable: Fallout in Houston after Kevin McHale’s firing

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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: Fallout in Houston after firing? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?



VIDEOKevin Mchale reportedly fired by Houston

> Kevin McHale was fired by the Rockets today. Right move or wrong move? And what does new coach J.B. Bickerstaff need to do to right this Rocket ship?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Unfortunately, the coach is easier to fire than the players. Unless Kevin got real dumb over the summer, he’s the same coach that got Houston to the Western Conference finals last season. It’s the players who aren’t playing up to par. But, that’s the deal for NBA coaches. The wins are because of the players; the losses are their fault. J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make Dwight Howard healthy or shake Harden out of his funk, but maybe he can get some of the younger guys to contribute more.  He’s a big fan of Clint Capela, and maybe we’ll get even more from him than we’ve seen so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wrong move, so wrong that I’m inclined to refer to them henceforth as the “Wrockets.” If management trots out the tired, old “he lost the locker room” justifications, then Houston, it has a problem. I thought McHale and his staff did wonders to steer that crew through injuries to 54 and 56 victories the past two seasons, reaching the West finals last spring. But talent can only take a team so far for so long unless it’s backed up with leadership and character. I don’t see much of either on the roster, at least not coming from self-absorbed big dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard. Maybe the Wrockets will be able to analytics their way out of this mess but I’m skeptical. Good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff, who has earned a shot and now is stuck with this one. Best thing he has working for him? The big lazy move — firing the coach — has been stripped away, shifting any further blame to the team’s performance and alleged stars.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wrong move, because McHale didn’t suddenly become incompetent in the six months since he took the Rockets to the Western Conference finals. Only move, because it’s what teams do when they can’t hit the reject button on the roster. First things first for J.B. Bickerstaff and that’s to repair the gaping holes in the Rockets’ defense, which has gone from a level near the top of the league to practically scraping bottom. But none of that will help in the long run if he can’t repair dysfunctional, broken relationships at the core of the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wrong move. You get where management is coming from — the team looked terrible in the opening weeks, they can’t let another season slip away. But if McHale was the right guy in the playoffs about seven months ago, when Houston beat the Mavericks in five and had a great comeback against the Clippers before losing to the better team in the Western Conference finals, he was the right guy now. The personality of the roster is the problem, not the coach. Bickerstaff will be a new voice, which sometimes helps, but he won’t be able to right that part of the ship.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right or wrong move? As always, it depends. If the Rockets wake up and get right, then fine. If not, they panicked, because just months ago McHale coached them past the Clippers in an epic playoff rally, took them to the West finals and earned a contract extension. He’s suddenly a crummy coach? Well, either J.B. Bickerstaff or Tom Thibodeau, if they hire him, better be right.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If this move gets the Rockets to play like they care about whether or not their opponent puts the ball in the basket, then it was the right move. But there was no excuse for not caring in the first place, and I doubt that McHale was to blame in that regard. Last season, the Rockets ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, even with their three-time Defensive Player of the Year playing only 41 games. This season, they rank 29th, and have been terrible whether Dwight Howard is playing or not. He ranks at the bottom of the league in rim protection, in part because his perimeter teammates can’t contain the ball. The film shows too many examples of Rockets defenders playing downright lazy on defense. There are surely other issues, but they can be addressed once the team collectively wakes up and starts playing defense like it matters, which it does.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Wrong in so many ways for McHale, but potentially right for the Rockets and Bickerstaff. McHale’s serving as the fall guy after pushing this crew to 110 regular season wins the past two seasons and last season’s wild playoff ride that ended in the Western Conference finals. He lost his powers after 11 games? Ridiculous. The Rockets have much bigger issues that begin and end inside the locker room (hence Tuesday’s players-only meeting). And that’s where J.B. Bickerstaff‘s opportunity comes into play. If he can find a way to inspire James Harden, Dwight Howard and this crew to commit themselves to improving defensively from the bottom of the NBA pile, there is a chance this ends up being the right and best move the Rockets could have made to salvage this season. But right or wrong, 11 games in … we need time before it becomes clear.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: There’s not much that any coach can do until the Rockets get the leadership they need on defense from James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets’ two best players should be dominating that end of the court and thereby establishing the highest and most meaningful standard for their teammates. It should be flattering to Harden and Howard that the responsibility to fix this is on them. Maybe a new voice — or the shock of losing McHale — will get the message through to them, which is a shame.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If this turns things around and propels the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, I suppose it will be looked at as the right move. But right now it certainly doesn’t feel like firing the coach who just got a three-year extension and took you to the Western Conference finals is the right move. If Bickerstaff can get them to commit defensively, that’s great, but this isn’t a team built to survive on their defense. To me they should go the other way and commit to their offense … and I’m pretty sure there’s a coach named Mike D’Antoni available out there and known for preaching offense.

McHale takes the fall in Houston

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Just months removed from a trip to the Western Conference finals, Kevin McHale is out in Houston and J.B. Bickerstaff is in as his replacement after the Rockets’ wobbly 4-7 start to this season. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the news of McHale’s firing.

McHale compiled a 193-130 record in four-plus seasons in Houston and signed a three-year extension in December of 2104. But losing streaks of three and four games, longer than anything they endured last season, prompted a players-only team meeting before practice Tuesday.

If James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the players couldn’t come up with a solution for what ails this crew, the Rockets’ front office did it for them. And McHale serves as the fall guy.

Bickerstaff, a longtime assistant and the son of veteran NBA coach and executive Bernie Bickerstaff, certainly provides a new voice, albeit from a familiar face. He is well respected around the league and was destined for a head coaching job that doesn’t include an interim tag.

The Rockets, however, clearly are in need of much more than just a different voice.

They’ve fallen apart since grinding their way to the conference finals. They rank near the bottom of the league in defensive rating (29th), points allowed (29th) and opponent field goal percentage (26th). They have yet to hold a single opponent under 100 points this season.

The addition of veteran point guard Ty Lawson has not produced any tangible benefits either. Plus, the team that led the league in made 3-pointers last season ranks next to last in 3-point percentage this season (29 percent).

The fact is, Howard has been a shell of himself and is not the impact player on defense that he has been throughout his career. Harden’s struggling as well, not playing anything like the player many (including his peers) felt deserved Kia MVP honors last season.

Something had to change. Better yet, someone had to go.

But McHale, the winningest coach in franchise history by percentage, and after just 11 games?

There has to be more to this story, more to come from GM Daryl Morey and the Houston brain trust.

For now, it’s up to Bickerstaff to steady things and reshape this team into the outfit that was expected to contend in the Western Conference this season.

Report: Rockets fire coach McHale

NBA.com staff reports

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have fired coach Kevin McHale after a 4-7 start, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

McHale posted a record of 193-130 in more than four seasons as head coach of Houston. He signed a three-year extension with the Rockets in December 2014.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets a mess after latest loss | Shumpert could return by mid-December | Durant says hamstring feeling ‘way better’

No. 1: Rockets a mess after latest loss — After reaching the Western Conference finals a season ago, the Houston Rockets entered 2015-16 with hopes of a Finals run. Eleven games into the season, they sit at 4-7 after last night’s home loss to the Boston Celtics and are searching for any kind of answers. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene in Houston last night and has more on the state of the Rockets:

The Rockets are a team that won 56 games last season without ever losing more than two in a row. Now they’ve already had a three-game losing streak, followed by the current four-game skid and, even worse, they’re making a habit of getting blown out, perhaps giving up. The second half at Miami, the first half at home against Dallas, surrendering a 32-13 third quarter to the Celtics.

“I wouldn’t say full effort all the time, no,” said coach Kevin McHale. “We’re hanging our heads. Things aren’t going our way and we hang our head. We haven’t put together really good basketball all year long.”

Can anybody remember the last time a team that had advanced as far as the conference finals less than six months earlier, fell this far this fast without suffering a major injury to a key player?

Have Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Kostas Papanikolaou ever been missed so much by anyone outside their own families? Should the acclimation to new point guard Ty Lawson be quite so difficult?

The Rockets are not just 4-7 on the season, but 2-5 at home in the Toyota Center, where boos are becoming a regular part of the fan experience. Of those seven losses, five of them have come by margins of 20, 20, 20, 18 and 16.

In case anyone’s wondering, the winless Sixers come to town on Nov. 27.

“There’s negativity all around,” said Dwight Howard. “Out there, in here. We have to stay away from it. We have to be positive. That’s my job.”

It should be the job of Howard and James Harden as co-leaders, yet neither is truly comfortable in the role of fully shouldering the responsibility. Harden is nonpareil in his brilliance at the offensive end, but has fallen back into many of his old defensive shortcomings. Howard plays confidently and aggressively at defense and rebounding, but at no point in his career has he ever been a tall flagpole to rally around.

The criticism and the fingers have already pointed at Kevin McHale for his inability to pull the Rockets out of the ditch, though he’s changed lineups, tried different tactics, done virtually everything but consult a Ouija board. A year ago McHale guided a team that played without Howard for 41 games to the Southwest Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, then pushed them all the way into June.

Has this team suddenly tuned him out and, if so, why? McHale, who is in the first season of a new three-year contract, is the winningest coach by percentage in franchise history. In his four years in Houston, he’s established a reputation as a players’ coach, one that cajoles, relates, inspires and does not grab at the spotlight to bask. If he is being rolled under the bus by anyone inside the locker room, it would only be to cover up their own deficiencies.

The Rockets have fallen into the habit of letting one or two bad possessions snowball until it starts an avalanche. The Celtics fed off the on-court sniping and squabbling that resulted in a 34-point turnaround from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third.

“I think every game that we’ve lost it’s been something like that where they go on these crazy runs,” Harden said. “It’s kind of hard to get out of them. I don’t know what the case is … but you have to fight through it. It’s pretty bad, but the good thing about it is it’s still early in the season.”

As for Lawson, Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com reports Lawson may soon be out of a starting job


VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks after Houston’s loss to Boston

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Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.

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No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”

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No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”

***

No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break, Oct. 31

Curry re-inventing NBA highlights | Failure to launch in Houston | Melo owes Dudley thank-you note | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: Curry re-inventing NBA highlights — Perhaps the second biggest knock against the NBA among casual and non-fans – the first being the fallacious need to only see the final five minutes of any game to know what happened – is that the highlight reel of any given night’s action is merely a montage of dunk after dunk after dunk. It’s never been all that accurate, but Golden State’s Stephen Curry has been putting the lie to it like never before. The Warriors point guard can and regularly does dazzle in a dozen ways without ever getting above the rim, from his long-distance splashes to ridiculous blind passes that can turn a series of quick-cut throw-downs into a CSPAN snooze-fest. After Curry lit up the New Orleans Pelicans for 53 points Saturday, our own Fran Blinebury wrote about Curry’s continued ascendancy. And Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ recapped Curry’s early-season domination:

“How far was I off?” Curry, now done with his phone, wanted to know how his 118 points through the first three games stacked up next to Wilt Chamberlain’s record through three. When told it was 156 points, Curry recoiled, “Oh God!” So yes, there are limits to what this guy can do. It’s just not clear we’ve found those limits yet. This is true maybe for the third season in a row. Curry is the rare NBA player who wasn’t expected to become a superstar until the day he became one. [Anthony] Davis? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? They were anointed prior to greatness. Curry has rudely jumped the line. And as he embraces the new reality, he’s only improving, it seems.

“He’s getting to the hole a lot better,” [teammate Draymond] Green assessed. “He can choose the spots when to go, he’s turning the corner like crazy, getting to the hole.” With each game, Curry develops a keener sense of how defenses react to his 3-pointer. The headline after this particular outing might be “53 points” or “28 points in the quarter.”

For much of the second half, Curry also devastated the Pelicans with his passing. If you require attention from half court forward, that attention can be leveraged in many ways. Curry is finding the ways.

To hear him tell it, the recent explosion isn’t about being ranked fifth among MVP candidates by NBA GMs, or what Ty Lawson said, or what Kyrie Irving said, or even what Alvin Gentry said when the current Pelicans coach and former Warriors assistant called Davis and James the league’s two best players.

When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it’s one thing to play like it. It’s one thing to score like it. It’s one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It’s tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That’s dangerous.”

***

No. 2: Failure to launch in Houston — Missing key pieces through the preseason was a strong indicator that the Houston Rockets might not get the sort of lift-off their talents and past experiences suggested for this 2015-16 season. But getting pummeled the way they did by the Nuggets and the Warriors went beyond even tamped-down expectations, and had Houston’s players and coaches working hard and thinking harder in practice Saturday to find solutions before their game Sunday at Miami, as reported by Jonathan Feigen:

The Rockets would not make excuses, or even cite reasons for their stumbling start to the season. With the bulk of their rotation out for the majority of the preseason, they were not ready for the start of the regular season. But why they have crashed no longer was the point.

Instead, Dwight Howard said the Rockets needed to be humbled and have been. James Harden said he needed more work and then worked overtime. Ty Lawson cited pace and pushed it through a practice that even Kevin McHale called “great.”

The problems, and probably their cause, had been obvious. The search for solutions had them pointing to attitude and execution.

“We got to lock in and get to business,” Harden said. “No more cooling around. We’re too cool, walking around cool. Even myself, as a leader. I just have to pick up my mojo a little bit.”

Whether attitude adjustment, extra work or mojo elevation will be enough to turn things around, with a back-to-back beginning Sunday in Miami, is less clear. But if the Rockets needed to learn the hard way, as Howard, contends, they have gotten hard lessons part out of the way quickly.

“There’s only one way, that’s up,” Howard said after the Rockets opened the season with consecutive 20-point losses. “We got to keep fighting, trust each other and things will change. The two losses are something we needed. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to humble ourselves, come in every day at practice, forget what happened last season, any accolades that we won in the past. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this moment.”

The formula to turn things around is not complicated. The Rockets have done too many things badly to correct them all in one practice, but focused on playing with more pace, spacing and ball movement offensively and on closing off the paint defensively.

“We had a great practice,” McHale said. “We watched film. Guys moved the ball, moved their bodies. But we’ve had some good practices. We haven’t had any carry over to the games. At a certain point, you are either going to get it and play up to your potential or we’re going to get waxed by 20 again.

“This is a no-mercy league. Nobody cares if you’re hurt or whatever. You didn’t have enough guys for training camp. No one cares about that stuff. They care about trying to kick your tail that night. We had (ours) handed to us the last two games.”

***


VIDEO: Anthony dominates Wizards on Saturday

No. 3: Melo owes Dudley thank-you note — There was talk of payback and revenge in the New York Knicks’ post-victory locker room in Washington Saturday, with Carmelo Anthony‘s big game against the Wizards seemingly motivated by some barbs tossed his way by Washington’s newly added forward Jared Dudley. “Overrated” was the one-word summary of Dudley’s comments, yet Anthony was anything but that in lighting up the Wizards for 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Of course that’s what Dudley had been talking about – Anthony’s inconsistency not at getting buckets but in boosting the play of his teammates by using his overall game. Key boards and dimes were part of the veteran New York forward’s repertoire in this one, reported Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, basically validating what Dudley had said:

Carmelo Anthony rediscovered the shooting rhythm he had been looking for, and the sight of Jared Dudley helped him find it.

Over the summer, the Wizards forward called Anthony the most overrated player in the NBA. He later retracted it and apologized, but Anthony heard about it and said he circled this game on the calendar.

Anthony played brilliantly and scored 37 points to lead the Knicks to a hard-fought 117-110 road win Saturday night, spoiling the Wizards’ home opener at Verizon Center.

“It becomes competitive at that point. You just want to go out there and show what you are made out of,” Anthony said. “[This] is one of those nights. It had nothing really to do with him, but this was a game that I circled on my calendar. I’ll see him three more times.”

At the morning shootaround, Anthony made it sound as if it would be a little while before he got his stroke back. He entered the game 14-for-43 from the field and missed his first two shots Saturday night.

But he made his next eight attempts and finished 11-for-18 from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range. He hit a huge jumper over Dudley with 1:35 to go that gave the Knicks (2-1) the lead for good.

Anthony, who had seven rebounds and four assists, iced the game with four free throws in the last 20.4 seconds.

“There was a composure and a poise to everything that he did,” Derek Fisher said. “He got the shots that he wanted when he wanted them. He also made plays to make other people better.”

***

No. 4: No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson — Even though Tristan Thompson got his business done in time to preserve the consecutive-games-played streak of which he is justifiably proud, it seemed almost certain that his contract holdout through much of the preseason would lead to a slow start off the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench. That has not, however, been the case. In fact, through Cleveland’s first three games, Thompson not only was doing the same things – rebounding, defending, hustling – he did so well in The Finals to boost his offseason price tag to $82 million, he arrived late but in shape and had added a new wrinkle in rim protection. Folks at The Q vividly saw that Friday against Miami, as Marla Ridenour of Ohio.com chronicled:

In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ 102-92 victory in Friday’s home opener at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ sixth man was incensed that the Heat’s Dwyane Wade had just “crammed it” on him. Thompson said he was determined to get even and didn’t care who would pay.

So when [Chris] Bosh took a pass from Goran Dragic and drove the lane for what looked to be a left-handed slam, Thompson launched and blocked the shot with his right hand. The post-play celebration of the monstrous rejection included a mini-salute from LeBron James.

Those who wondered how long it would take Thompson to get back in the flow after his training camp holdout ended on Oct. 22, just five days before the season opener, might have been saluting as well.

Thompson finished with a season-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

That was his only blocked shot, but it showed the emphasis Thompson is putting on that part of his game, especially when center Timofey Mozgov is not on the court.

“Going into the playoffs last year they were saying we don’t have rim protectors outside of Moz,” Thompson said after the game. “I took that challenge upon myself going into this season, if Moz isn’t in I’m still rim-protecting. Let the guards know it’s OK if they get beat off the dribble because I’ll meet them at the rim.”

Thompson ended his holdout by signing a five-year, $82 million contract and he didn’t need long to shake off the rust. But the Cavs expected that from Thompson, who ran his string of consecutive games played to 291, second-longest in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (324).

“He’s one guy that never gets out of shape. We know how durable he is,” James said, knocking on the blond wood of his locker. “It’s like counting, counting, counting how many games continuous he’s played.

“When you have someone who knows the system … he’s learned the offense really fast. He’s one of our best defenders and he plays above the rim. We love it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In two games and a little more than 24 hours, Phoenix’s backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight got the better of Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, boding well overall for the Suns. … Josh Smith didn’t have any problem when DeMarcus Cousins recently said he hated the L.A. Clippers. Smith hates all his opponents. … Speaking of Cousins, the Sacramento big man is listed as day-to-day while dealing with a sore right Achilles tendon. But that might not adversely affect his newfound knack for launching 3-pointers, a trend our Scott Howard-Cooper noted. … As his former running mate LeBron James copes with some physical nods to Father Time, Miami’s Dwyane Wade spoke about aging and adaption in a piece by our Steve Aschburner. … In one more NBA.com staff ICYMI, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell looks at Kent Bazemore and the shoes of DeMarre Carroll that the Atlanta Hawks would like to see him fill. … Many from the NBA’s coaching fraternity – Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, George Karl, Mike Malone, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Thibodeau and others – paid their respects Saturday at a funeral service for Minnesota’s Flip Saunders. Earlier in the week, MinnPost.com’s Britt Robson shared personal thoughts on Saunders that you might have missed in the outpouring of grief and memories. … You can’t exactly clip-and-save digital content, but you might want to print out the 2015 D League draft board that featured Jeff Ayres and Jimmer Fredette. Then again, you might not. … James put Halloween to extra-good use, partying like it was “Nineteen-ninety-nine.” …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose still dealing with blurred vision | James: Love will be ‘main focus’ of offense | Wade says Heat behind ‘eightball’ as season opens | Houston’s new backcourt struggles in opener

No. 1: Rose still dealing with blurred vision — The Bulls are off to a 2-0 start and Derrick Rose has been in the starting lineup both nights. Without context, that’s some pretty good news for Chicago fans. Rose is still recovering from the orbital fracture he suffered early in training camp and while he continues to gut out games, his vision is hardly 100 percent. There’s proof to his point as his stats this season are below his career numbers, and Rose told reporters after the season-opening win against the Cleveland Cavaliers he’s hardly back to his old self. ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

Derrick Rose said he is still dealing with blurred vision as he continues to recover from a fractured left orbital bone.

Rose acknowledged after the Bulls’ 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday that he hasn’t been able to simply blink the eye back into focus as he plays his way back into shape.

The blurred vision continued after the game was over, he said.

“I wish it was a blink, but it’s all the time,” said Rose, who played 32 minutes and scored 18 points. “Like right now, I see two of you.”

“When I’m out there playing, I’m only using one of my eyes,” Rose said. “I close my left eye whenever I’m out there. So I just got used to it from practice.”

Rose’s playing time was a surprise, given that he played only 10 minutes in Friday’s preseason finale against the Dallas Mavericks and had participated in just a handful of practices since the injury.

“I think I’m all right,” Rose said. “A couple of layups I could have hit, but I think that I’m careful when I’m out there. I’m just trying to get back [to] playing. I miss this game too much.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg seemed pleased with Rose’s performance, especially given the circumstances the former MVP continues to deal with.

“I think he sees three baskets right now,” Hoiberg said. “I told him, ‘Aim for the middle one.’ That’s part of it right now — the depth perception. It’s probably still a little bit off. He’s still out there working on [3s], shooting them, but we want him to be aggressive getting to the basket and making plays for his teammates.”


VIDEO: Chicago improves to 2-0 with a win in Brooklyn

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26


VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.

***

No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.

***

No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”

***

No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.

 

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …