Posts Tagged ‘Lou Williams’

Wizards taking out Toronto guards


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Raptors going down 2-0 to the Wizards at home.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As bad as the Toronto Raptors’ defense was in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, they’ve also got some things to figure out offensively as they prepare for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

The Raptors ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season. But through two playoff games, they rank 14th. Their offense was much better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1, but not good enough to keep up with their defensive issues.

The problems on defense aren’t getting fixed overnight. The Wizards will continue putting Jonas Valanciunas in situations where he has to move his feet, and he will continue to not move them quickly enough. The Raptors ranked 26th defensively after Thanksgiving, and they’re probably not going to flip the switch on that end of the floor.

So if Toronto is to give themselves a chance in this series by winning Game 3, they have to start looking like a top-five offense again. And to do that, they have to unlock their guards.

It’s no secret that the Raptors’ offense is guard-heavy. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams were not only their three leading scorers by a wide margin, but also their leaders in usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor), with another guard – Greivis Vasquez – ranking fourth.

The Wizards know this. The Toronto guards are the head of the snake, and that’s where Washington’s defense has been focused.

Here’s DeRozan being double-teamed in the post…

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Here’s Lowry being denied the ball more than 30 feet from the basket…

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And here’s Williams being trapped 10 feet beyond the 3-point line…

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DeRozan and Lowry have each seen a drop in usage rate. Williams’ usage rate has gone up, but the Kia Sixth Man award winner has been forced to … force things. Only 10 (34 percent) of his 29 shots have been uncontested, a drop from 47 percent in the regular season.

The key to beating extra pressure on the perimeter is to pass the ball. But the Raptors aren’t exactly the Spurs in that regard. They averaged just 281 passes per game, a rate that ranked 24th in the league. And they were one of four teams that isolated on more than 10 percent of its possessions.

The Raptors were able to get DeRozan some more space by having him catch the ball on the move and operate one-on-one against Paul Pierce early in Game 2. He also went away from the screen (or just told his screener to back off) to avoid an extra defender.

Here are a few more suggestions for the Raptors to get their guards some more space to operate or take advantage of the perimeter pressure…

1. Catches at the nail

The Raptors can take a lesson from last year’s series against Brooklyn, when the Nets got the ball to Joe Johnson at the middle of the foul line to avoid double-teams in the post. If the ball is in the middle of the floor, it’s difficult to double-team, because the four other offensive players are all just one pass away. There’s a reason why a lot of defenses (the Spurs are a great example) do everything to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor.

A pin-down screen for DeRozan and a catch above the foul line will give him a one-on-one situation, a look similar to this…

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The spacing above isn’t ideal, but if you replace Tyler Hansbrough with Patrick Patterson and put him on the left wing, DeRozan would have more room to operate and no Washington defender would be able to offer help without leaving a shooter open at the 3-point line or Jonas Valanciunas open on the baseline.

2. Three-guard lineups

The Raptors’ backcourt goes four deep, with Williams and Vasquez able to make plays off the bench. And they’ve played with three of the four on the floor together for about 60 of the 101 minutes thus far in the series.

Not surprisingly, the offense has been much better (104.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in those minutes than in the minutes with just two guards (83.0). Simple math tells you that if there are three playmakers on the floor, the defense can’t double-team all of them. And if a guy who’s being double-teamed can get rid of the ball quickly, he’ll have at least two teammates who can take advantage of a four-on-three situation.

3. James Johnson

When the opponent defends your pick-and-roll aggressively, it helps to have a screener who can get the ball from the ball-handler and quickly make a play before the defense recovers. See Diaw, Boris.

In Game 1, Amir Johnson was often that release valve for the Raptors and led the team with 18 points as a result. On several possessions in the second quarter of Game 2, the Raptors used James Johnson as the screener and had him attack the rim while the defense was still moving. Here’s an example.

The results would have been OK if Johnson didn’t shoot 0-for-4 from the free throw line. The bigger problem was that the Raptors’ defense was getting scorched at the same time. Johnson was a minus-14 in just seven minutes of action, with the Wizards scoring 26 points on the 15 possessions for which he was on the floor.

James Johnson isn’t nearly the passer that Diaw is, but he is better than Amir Johnson at attacking and scoring. It’s a question of whether or not he can be trusted on the other end of the floor.

4. Hope Lowry is healthy

None of the above matters much if Lowry isn’t close to 100 percent. He’s been dealing with a back issue and then suffered a shin contusion in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He seemingly is lacking both burst off the dribble and lift on his jumper.

The Raptors have a deep backcourt and one of the best benches in the league, but Lowry is still their engine.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 198) Featuring Sam Perkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sam Perkins is a pioneer.

He helped start a movement during his stellar 18-year professional career, expanding his game and his range during his NBA playing days and helping redefine the power forward position. From the low-post grunt work as the man who watches the big(ger) man’s back around the rim to 3-point shooting, floor spacing giant capable of creating space all over the floor is what Perkins took part in during his days with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He said it was a challenge from Byron Scott and Mike Dunleavy (the father, of course, not the son), then the veteran shooting guard and coach, respectively, for the Lakers. They dared him to get in on a shooting contest at practice and the result was Perkins vowing to work his tail off to become a proficient shooter from distance. The unintended consequence was Perkins the Stretch-4.

Big Smooth’s work goes beyond basketball these days. As an ambassador on behalf of the Special Olympic, Perkins is in the midst of preparations for the Special Olympic World Games, which will be hosted by the city of Los Angeles July 25 through August 2. Billed as the largest sports-and-humanitarian event in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games. Some 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries will be participating, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators.

For Perkins, the connection to and participation with the Special Olympics was inspired by the late, great Dean Smith, the coaching icon, humanitarian and activist who schooled Perkins, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, our very own Rick Fox and countless others during their college days at North Carolina and beyond.

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the Special Olympics World Games Perkins will participate in the first-ever Unified Relay Across America, joining others in carrying The Flame of Hope across the country to Los Angeles beginning May 26. Perkins will be running the Dallas leg of the relay June 25. You can go to UnifiedRelay.Org to sign-up.

We talk about life after basketball and the tremendous work still to be done, the playoffs (how the Cleveland crew of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are doing in their first blush as a group), what Perkins appreciates about his time in the postseason cauldron from his own playing days and so much more on Episode 198 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Sam Perkins 

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: All-Star swingman Jimmy Bulter is answering any and all questions about how he and the Chicago Bulls will respond in the playoff cauldron

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Should Blazers fret Aldridge’s future? | Lofty career goals for Pelicans’ Davis | Williams wants to stay with Raptors

No. 1: Should Blazers be worried about Aldridge’s future? — Portland couldn’t have looked much worse in its playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers scored just 86 points (including 15 first-quarter points), got minimal contributions from their thinning bench and saw All-Star guard Damian Lillard shoot 5-for-21 for 14 points. The lone bright spot was LaMarcus Aldridge‘s play (32 points, 14 rebounds) and in the day between Game 1 and 2, talk is bubbling up that losing the series might not be Portland’s only concern. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more:

After an atrocious performance by the Blazers that at one point left Aldridge sitting alone on the bench as his teammates joined a late-game huddle, the Blazers need to worry about more than just losing this series.

They need to worry about losing one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.

Personally, I’ve always believed Aldridge will return to Portland. Paul Allen can offer more years and more money to Aldridge than any other owner. But behind the numbers and dollar figures is the undeniable fact that he has become comfortable in the city and feels valued within the organization. With Aldridge, that means more than any wad of money or the attention of any big city can offer.

It’s why Aldridge took a bold stance last summer after he politely turned down an offer to sign a three-year extension, saying he would rather sign a five-year deal with Portland.

“I don’t want it to be perceived that I’m not happy, or I’m not staying on because I’m not signing a three-year deal,” Aldridge told The Oregonian last July. “It’s just financially smarter to wait … and I’m looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.”

But one Blazers player cautioned that Aldridge already has enough money. Happiness is what he is truly seeking, and that could be found in being closer to family in Texas.

It’s the tricky thing about Aldridge. No one ever really knows where he stands. He is fickle. Moody. And unpredictable.

So as this Blazers season has devolved into a snowball of snafus, epitomized by Sunday’s Game 1 that featured wild shots, broken assignments, and embarrassing miscues, it was safe to wonder where Aldridge’s mind was headed.


VIDEO: The Starters address the state of the Blazers-Grizzlies series

*** (more…)

Williams made a good bench better


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers preview: Raptors-Wizards


VIDEO: Series Preview: Wizards – The Game Time crew previews the Wizards vs. Raptors series.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — From 46-15 through Dec. 29 to 49-54 thereafter, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards combined for a collective, second-half swoon that probably doesn’t have either fan base feeling great about their season.

The Raptors ranked 23rd defensively after Dec. 29, while the Wizards ranked 23rd on offense. But the playoffs provide an opportunity to start fresh and maybe take advantage of an opponent that’s been similarly mediocre.

Neither team has been mediocre on the other end of the floor. In fact, this is one of two first round series (Clippers-Spurs is the other) that pits a top-five offense against a top-five defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Raptors-Wizards, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Toronto Raptors (49-33)

Pace: 95.4 (20)
OffRtg: 108.1 (3)
DefRtg: 104.8 (23)
NetRtg: +3.2 (10)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

  • The only team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency last season and the bottom 10 this season.
  • Outscored their opponents by only 0.8 points per 100 possessions in 2,299 minutes with three or more (of their regular) starters on the floor, but were a plus-7.0 per 100 possessions in 1,671 minutes with two or fewer starters on the floor.
  • 39.4 percent of the Raptors’ jump shots were contested, according to SportVU. That rate ranked second to only the Lakers (42.4 percent).
  • Jonas Valanciunas was one of two players that shot better than 50 percent on at least 200 shots on post-ups, according to Synergy play-type data. The other one is also Lithuanian.
  • Among players who came off of at least 200 ball screens, Terrence Ross was the second most likely to shoot. According to SportVU, he shot 46 percent of the time as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a mark that trailed only Nick Young (48 percent).
  • According to SportVU, Lou Williams led the league with 102 fouls drawn on jump shots. DeMar DeRozan ranked third with 85.

Washington Wizards (46-36)

Pace: 96.0 (16)
OffRtg: 101.8 (19)
DefRtg: 100.0 (5)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-0 (2-0 in Toronto).
Pace: 95.3
TOR OffRtg: 107.0 (6th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 99.6 (24th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Best under-the-radar free agents this summer?

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


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOKhris Middleton’s play has grown by leaps and bounds this season

> There are some big-name free agents on the market this summer (LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan to name a few). But give me a few under-the-radar free agents — some not-so-big names — who could make a big splash on a new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Greg Monroe is a pretty big name, but he wasn’t mentioned in the question so I’m going with him here. The Pistons’ big man has limped down the stretch (sore knee), but he gambled on himself in seeking unrestricted status and it will pay off big for whoever signs him. He’s an 18-12 guy. Indiana backup point guard Donald Sloan is ready for a bigger role, not a smaller one, after being pressed into service through George Hill‘s absences. And if Washington doesn’t bring back forward Kevin Seraphin, he can bring his energy, wrecking-ball physical play and ability to create some offense to a happy suitor.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAssuming that Draymond Green is no longer underrated, so I’ll lead with Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. He’s restricted and the Bucks won’t let him go. DeMarre Carroll was the only member of the Hawks starters not voted to the East All-Star team, but gets it done as a 3-and-D guy and would fit in anywhere. The Blazers will want to keep Robin Lopez around for his presence in the middle and offensive rebounding, but the 7-footer will get plenty attention from around the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’ll give you two shooting guards if you want under-the-radar: Wesley Matthews and Danny Green. I don’t think either are relocating. But if they do, or you want splash on the current/future team, there’s your cannonball. Shooters with range, willing to accept a complementary role without chirping about the lack of opportunities — a lot of teams would love the chance to sign Matthews or Green away.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ll assume Draymond Green is a big name and leave him out of the conversation. Not sure how many restricted free agents will switch teams and potentially leave money on the table in what would be their first big contract. But two come to mind: Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris. Both are young and improving, and had the Bucks refused to trade Harris to Orlando so it could rent J.J. Redick for two months, Milwaukee would be sitting pretty. As for unrestricteds, Lou Williams and Rodney Stuckey could be good value.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Wesley Matthews isn’t too far under the radar, but isn’t a big name either. He’s more than a 3-and-D guy, because you can post him up. Mirza Teletovic gives you great shooting at the four, DeMarre Carroll has proven to be a valuable fifth wheel in Atlanta, and nobody runs the floor as hard and as consistently as Corey Brewer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: DeMarre Carroll does not get the shine he deserves as the fifth member of the ensemble cast in Atlanta. But he’s turned heads all season with his play and should cash in this summer. He’d fit anywhere with his versatility and ability to guard multiple positions at an elite level. Same goes for Wes Matthews from Portland, Danny Green in San Antonio and Rodney Stuckey in Indiana.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Brandan Wright gave Dallas an efficient 20 minutes off the bench before being traded to Boston. Lou Williams’ scoring, Rodney Stuckey’s toughness and Brandon Bass’ mid-range shooting could help any contender — and all three are capable of filling out starting lineups if necessary.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLiving in New York City, I hear a lot of talk about which free agents the Knicks could sign, who they could make a splash with, etc. And while sure, there are some big names out there such as the ones you listed, I also think there are some comparative bargains out there. Instead of spending $20-million a year on one guy, why not spread that around between a few players? I mean guys like Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Aaron Afflalo or Brandan Wright. Or maybe you make a run at Wesley Matthews as he returns from his Achilles injury. Either way, for smart teams, there are some interesting options available this summer.

One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In general, the more you get to the basket, the more you get to the free-throw line. The Toronto Raptors are the exception to the rule.

Last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in shots (both made and attempted) in the restricted area. But they also ranked sixth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), getting to the line 31 times for every 100 shots from the field. That (and shooting those free throws at the league’s fifth highest percentage) helped them rank ninth in offensive efficiency.

“There’s a knack by our guys to get in the mid-range area and get fouled,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in the preseason.

Indeed. According to SportVU, DeMar DeRozan led the league in shooting fouls drawn from 10 or more feet from the basket.

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Right below Stephen Curry on the above list was DeRozan’s backcourt-mate Kyle Lowry, who drew 46 fouls from 10 or more feet from the basket.

And guess what? The Raptors are at it again. They’re getting to the basket more than they did last season, but they’re still getting to the line at a disproportionate amount. They rank second in free throw rate, now getting to the line 41 times for every 100 field goal attempts, in part because they’ve added a third guy with that knack for drawing fouls away from the basket.

According to SportVU, DeRozan, Lowry and Lou Williams are all in the top 10 in shooting fouls draw 10 or more from the basket through Wednesday’s games.

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The video above is our third installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at how the Raps put DeRozan in position to draw fouls on helpless defenders outside the paint. It will be something to keep an eye on as Toronto’s No. 3 offense faces the Chicago Bulls in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Talking numbers with Raptors’ Casey


VIDEO: 2014-15 Raptors Team Preview

NEW YORK — To be a true title contender, a team must be among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.

There were four teams who ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. Three of them should be no surprise. But four months later, it’s still strange seeing the Toronto Raptors as the Eastern Conference’s only representative on the list.

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The Raptors were a surprise in the standings too. After five years outside the playoffs and a 6-12 start, the Raps went 42-22 over the final four months and finished third in the East.

But the Raps still finished one possession short of the conference semifinals. So they have to find ways to keep getting better after making jumps on both ends of the floor last season. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

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No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

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Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.