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Blogtable: Early-season surprises?

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: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOHow good can the Timberwolves be in 2015-16?

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

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely whiffed on Detroit. I thought the Pistons would only be marginally better, but they seemed to have skipped a whole level of improvement. Someone asked me if I thought they’d be top four in the east and I told them they were crazy. Still think I’m right. I think. Andre Drummond‘s numbers are insane but it’s Reggie Jackson that has been the biggest revelation to me so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOpening the season by playing six of your first eight games on the road – including a five-game West Coast trip – is a sure way to sputter, yet I still assumed the best about the Memphis Grizzlies. I’ve enjoyed watching that old-school crew for years now and have gotten comfortable with their status as contenders-on-the-verge-of-breakthrough. But their coach, Dave Joerger, was right when he said last week the Grizzlies were looking a little old. This team didn’t sufficiently address its shooting need in the offseason and now, in this pace-and-space NBA, points are really hard to come by for Memphis. So, frankly, is court coverage based on opponents’ 3-point percentage thus far (40.4). Mario Chalmers as the cure? Not feeling that.

Fran Blinebury, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Steph Curry and the Warriors come back this season and take their game to an even higher level. After all, they won 67 games en route to the championship and seemed to be at the peak of performance in closing out the Cavs in The Finals. Maybe it is the confidence that comes from having done it. Maybe they’re spurred on a perceived lack of respect and the few folks who picked them to go back-to-back. Maybe they got tired of the summertime talk about the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers in the West. But the reigning Kia MVP Curry has been off-the-charts and the entire Golden State team over-the-moon amazing and could be a real threat to win 70. On the downside, there’s the Pelicans. But nobody saw all the injuries coming.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Deeee-troit basketball. I liked the Pistons a little before the season, figuring they were good enough to be in the playoff conversation but picking them 10th in the East. I thought Andre Drummond would be an All-Star candidate. I did not see this opening statement coming, though. They have been winning on the road, winning on the second night of back-to-backs and winning overtime games, all while continuing the search for shooting. Let’s see where they are at the end of the month, after the current six-game trip ends Sunday and a another series of tests follow, mostly at home. If it’s December and the Pistons are still heading in a good direction, this could be a season of statements.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe wise guy response: The Kings haven’t imploded yet? What’s taking them so long? But seriously, the Warriors blowing teams away is something that could’ve been anticipated. Remember, not only did they win the title last season, but did so with players largely on the upside. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green haven’t reached their potential and Curry is the MVP. I’d also give a shout-out to the Pistons’ fast start.

John Schuhmann, That the Minnesota Timberwolves would be able to compete with (and beat) some of the best teams in the league. Ricky Rubio still isn’t a 3-point shooter, and that’s an issue. But I forgot how much of an impact he has on his team’s numbers, especially defensively and especially with Zach LaVine being the only remaining option at point guard when Rubio was hurt last season. I assumed the Wolves would be at the bottom of the Western Conference with the Lakers, but this team should stay in the middle of the pack. I don’t mind saying that I’m surprised by how good Karl-Anthony Towns is already, but I feel dumb not knowing how much of a difference that a healthy Rubio would make.

Sekou Smith, These young Minnesota Timberwolves came out of nowhere for me. Much like their Eastern Conference counterparts in Detroit, the Timberwolves have piled up an intriguing collection of talented youngsters who appear ready for prime time sooner than expected. Andrew Wiggins looks like he’s ready for a breakout season and Karl-Anthony Towns is absorbing every bit of the wisdom Kevin Garnett and coach Sam Mitchell have to offer. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise, though, has been the play and steady guidance of Ricky Rubio. A 4-0 road record so far for a team that won seven road games last season is another positive. And these guys are playing with a spirit that will serve them will this season and beyond.

Ian Thomsen, I should have known that Detroit would be stronger. There have been a lot of early surprises — for better in Minnesota, Utah and Portland, and for worse in New Orleans and Memphis — which might not hold up over the length of the season. But Detroit is going to be respectable all year long because coach Stan Van Gundy is a proven winner who will get the best out of Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and their teammates. He has created a floor-spreading system that has served him well before.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I didn’t think the Atlanta Hawks would be better than they were last season. And after watching them early on, I think the Atlanta Hawks are better than they were last season. Sure, they lost DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic, and they may not win 60 games again, but this Hawks team is deeper, more versatile, and I think altogether more talented than last year’s team. Part of that is the emergence of Kent Bazemore, who is a capable defender and skilled offensive player, as well as the acquisition of Tiago Splitter, who still doesn’t seem totally in sync with the team but gives the Hawks needed size and bulk. The rest of the Eastern Conference may have improved, but for a team that so highly values player development, I’m not sure why we didn’t suspect that these Hawks would return with sharpened talons, too.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21


Griffin backs a 66-game season | Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks | Next challenge for Valanciunas

No. 1: Griffin says 66 games is ideal NBA season length — The 2011-12 NBA season was a 66-game slate that some considered the perfect amount of games for the regular season. Since that lockout-shortened season, the NBA has resumed its regular, 82-game schedule and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon.’s Ken Berger recently caught up with several of the NBA’s stars and, in a Q&A session, asked them what the ideal length of a season would be. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin was the lone player who voiced support for a shorter season:

If money were no object, what would the ideal length of the NBA regular season be?

Griffin: Sixty-six, spread over the same amount of time [as the current 82-game season]. Fatigue and injuries, and better product. If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more. You see those college guys playing so hard, but they play 36 games in the same amount of time we play 82 almost. I just think it would be a better product.

John Wall: I just enjoy playing. I enjoy loving the game, so it doesn’t matter to me. I think [82 games] is cool … if you get more breaks. They did a great job of giving us more time at the All-Star break, giving us a couple of more days.

Draymond Green: I don’t know if you can necessarily say there’s a better way because it’s never been done. Within the course of the 82, some people catch their stride, as you saw the season before last year. The Spurs caught their stride in like the last 35-40 games. If you’re not playing 82, do they catch their stride? Are they world champions? Who knows? So it’s kind of hard to judge. I think it’s a slippery slope when you get to assessing that because, yeah, what was the lockout year, 66? So you saw that, but you also saw three games in three days, which you can’t judge off that, either. And then there’s going to be an unhappy party, because the owners aren’t going to make as much money, which means the players won’t make as much money. So I think it’s a slippery slope. At the end of the day, our league has done great. Is that something to really tinker with? Probably not. Is there really a reason to? Yeah, guys get tired. But are you going to get tired if there’s 65 games? Probably so. I just think that’s a tough subject.

Chris Paul: Money is an object, though. When we were kids playing AAU, we’d play five games in a day and wouldn’t think twice about it. I don’t know what the right number is. We’ve been playing 82 for a while though, huh? As far as I can remember. That’d be tough [to change].

Kenneth Faried: I think 82 is the proper length. We’ve been playing this game for so long and it’s been 82. [Michael] Jordan played 82. They played more preseason games, so they cut the preseason games and training camp down, which is good for us. But at the same time, these guys before us were playing 20-plus years and they were playing 82 and still being All-Stars and still having big names — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and those guys. So guys who’ve done it before us, they’ve already paved the way, so we just have to follow in their footsteps as much as we can.


No. 2: Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks — If you thought this summer’s free agency period was full of news, wait until next summer. Several big names will be hitting the market, Atlanta Hawks All-Star big man Al Horford among that group. In a chat with’s Jeremy Woo, Horford reflected on Atlanta’s successful 2014-15 campaign, its offseason moves and his own future with the team going forward: Looking back, how would you describe last season?

Horford: It was a great season for our team. I felt like everything started to come together as far as coach’s system. I feel like we really all were able to sink in and play the way he wanted us to play. And it showed—[it was] the first time we made it to the Eastern Conference finals in Hawks history. Now, we’re looking to build on that and try to be the best team we can. Have you had the chance to go back and watch any of the Cleveland series? [The Hawks were swept in four games.]

Horford: Honestly, no. They obviously dominated us, they were the better team. I don’t need to see that, I know what we need to do, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our whole team. So this is the time to do it. Individually, I’m working on my game and trying to get better for the upcoming season. How big was it for the Hawks to be able to keep Paul Millsap?

Horford: It was very important. I think that was the priority for us, to make sure we brought Paul back. Being able to add Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway, really was big. Unfortunately, we lost DeMarre [Carroll, who signed long-term with Toronto]—he’s such a great player, but it was the type of thing he couldn’t turn down, and it’s what’s best for him and his family. What will it take for the team to sustain that success?

Horford: Being healthy, that’s the number one thing for our team. For the most part, we were healthy as a team last season. Two is to be able to keep playing the way we play, being a good defensive team, sharing the ball on offense. We had a lot of success doing those two things, and even though they’re simple, that’s what carried us. Considering the new additions to the team, what are some of the things you look for as far as fitting in?

Horford: I think for them, it’s just being able to get comfortable with the system. We’re just looking for them to impact the game and impact winning, and when you have a guy like Tiago Splitter, an experienced big man, I feel like he’ll be able to help us right away. Tim [Hardaway] I feel like has a lot of potential, and I’m very excited to see him playing in the system. I feel like he’ll be able to help us a lot. Lastly, I know you’ve said you’re waiting after the season to figure out your contract situation. What led you to that decision? [Horford will be a free agent in 2016.]

Horford: For me, I’m very happy in Atlanta. It’s one of those things where I don’t want any contract talks to be a distraction for my team and me. I feel like my focus this year is for us to build and be better. Since we can’t do anything right now, we’ll wait until the season’s over and then we can start talking about all that.



No. 3: Valanciunas gets his deal … now he needs to play some ‘D’ — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is one of the more promising young big men in the NBA. In his three seasons in the league, Valanciunas has grown steadily as an offensive threat and rebounder, but his defense and rim-protection are lagging behind in development. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a $64-million contract extension yesterday, providing the big man with a secure future in Toronto. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports, though, Valanciunas’ value relative to the deal will show up in how he defends going forward:

Whether or not the new contract extension signed by Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas makes good economic sense is secondary to one fact not in dispute.

There is vast room for the 23-year-old to improve as a player, and whether he makes $16 million as season or $16 a season won’t matter a lick if his development stalls.

Everyone connected with the Raptors knows it, and it was the underlying theme to the day when the Lithuanian big man inked a four-year, $64-million contract extension with the only NBA team he’s known.

“It depends on me,” he said during a hastily called news conference at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“I have to get better defensively.”

If he can — and there’s no physical reason he shouldn’t be able to — it will make things vastly better for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey, who barely used Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of any game last season because of perceived shortcomings.

“Everyone in the whole world knew we fell on defence, and how can we get it back to where we were and hopefully better is by maybe doing something different,” general manager Masai Ujiri said.

“That’s coaching, and it’s left to coach Casey and we’re confident he’s put together the right people and he’s identified some of the issues.”

The deal is another step in an expensive summer of moves for Ujiri. Coming off the four-games-and-out playoff elimination at the hands of the Washington Wizards he’s added DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million), Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million), Bismack Biyombo (two years, $6 million) and Luis Scola (one year, $3 million) while saying goodbye to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez.

The general manager has a window until Oct. 31 to think about a contract extension for Terrence Ross, and has at least thought about the possibility.

“We’ll keep monitoring and see how things get done, if anything happens,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had a little bit of discussion.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly changed agents … Golden State Warriors rookie forward Kevon Looney (hip surgery) will be out 4-6 months … Former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer could be playing in China next season … Good Q&A with Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic …  The 2004 Detroit Pistons will be a part of NBA2K16’s classic teams this year

Bazemore, Hawks not looking back as they strive for more success

VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks about the Hawks’ new uniforms

By Nick Margiasso IV,

The Hawks had a pretty unforgettable season in 2014-15. So, how do they follow it up this campaign?

By forgetting about it.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his teammates are ready to turn the page, confident they know the way now after pushing their success to a high point.

“The good thing about pro sports is that every season is a new season,” the third-year defensive specialist said. “We understand what it takes to win 60 games in this league. It’s not any extra pressure or anything different other than to go out and play hard. Every team starts out 0-0 and has the same 82-game grind.”

Bazemore, and surely the Hawks’ faithful, are clamoring to see how the new pieces (and old pieces) fit with the proven ones going into a new season. Whether the squad can keep building on the league’s second-longest playoff streak (behind the Spurs) will largely be up to those fresh faces and how ex-Spurs assistant and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer maneuvers them into his plan.

“We get Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha back, we added Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. — it’s going to be interesting” Bazemore said. “But now we are young, deep, long and athletic. We have a group of guys that will be ready to roll night-in and night-out.”

A lot is made of chemistry in the NBA, especially it would seem on a sort of star-less group like the Hawks, but Bazemore downplays the effort it takes to build that up. If you’re ready to play, it’ll come in due time around Philips Arena, it seems.

“Continuity is not as pertinent in the NBA as people think it is,” Bazemore said. “With all the new money, players want more and teams are trying to move people around to open things up, most teams aren’t bringing the same guys back every year.

“If you love winning, it brings everyone together. You can have the best character people in the world, but winning plays a big part in that chemistry.”

Bazemore is focused on being one of those locked-in, winning players that bring a successful mentality every night. He’s determined to better his nearly across-the-board best campaign of 2014-15 — career highs in games played, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks — by doing what he knows best.

“I’m just going to continue to try to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Bazemore said. “I’ve been doing a lot of alternate training this offseason, playing tennis, golf and certain things to shape my brain to think differently.

“Basketball is always go, go, go, but the best players can see it differently and slow it down. So, I think working on tempo and other things is going to take my game to the next level.”

With talk like that, Budenholzer may have found himself just the kind of floor presence that will be in tune with the mentality the Hawks are betting on to keep on their pedestal atop the East.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.


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

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

VIDEO: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust

Blogtable: No more Hack-A-Shaq?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?

VIDEOShould the hack-a-player rules be changed?

> Lots of chatter recently about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Is sending a weak free-throw shooter to the foul line a sound tactic or a tired tactic, and should the league do anything about it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI suppose the league could extend the time during which fouls off the ball mean two free throws and possession. To be transparent, I haven’t covered one of these in a long time, and sitting through a bad foul shooter’s repeated misses, with all the stoppages of play, is tougher in an arena than watching from home. But free throws are part of the game – Lord knows, that’s about all the media ever gets to see at the end of practice, guys shooting countless free throws – and everyone from the littlest to the biggest players need to perform in those moments. The status quo doesn’t bother me.

Fran Blinebury, I’m fed up, sick and tired of the complaining by so-called professionals who have not been able to become at least proficient in a fundamental part of the game. When Tiago Splitter was a rookie he was a 54 percent free throw shooter and in the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder fouled him intentionally and effectively turned around the Western Conference finals. Splitter’s answer? He went into the gym and worked. Now he shoots free throws at a 70 percent clip and isn’t being hacked all of the time.  If we’re going to change the rules and bail out DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and every other foul-line rim-bender, I also propose that every player under 6-foot-3 should be allowed to jump on the back of a 7-footer on the opposing team to make a layup or dunk. It’s just not fair that the basket is so high!  Commissioner Adam Silver should stop listening to the brick-laying crybabies and back away from this one. Just make your damn free throws.

Scott Howard-Cooper, It’s tired, but it is a tactic. It’s the basketball equivalent of walking the No. 8 hitter to get to the pitcher. That’s not fun either, but it’s strategy. Same think with the Haq. I don’t think the league does anything dramatic. Maybe tweaks it, but it’s not like there is a great outcry from coaches and general managers to alter the rule. The drumbeat for change is mostly from the outside.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ve never seen a situation where intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter absolutely helped a team win a game by itself. Maybe it contributed along the way. I do know the NBA shouldn’t discourage these acts by putting a rule in place. Why create a rule that just affects a half-dozen players, if that? Makes no sense. And a rule would only discourage players from practicing harder. Adam Silver said he hates the way it looks on TV. But that alone isn’t enough to push for change.

John Schuhmann, That somebody who gets paid millions of dollars to play basketball can’t make half his free throws seems ridiculous to me, so I have no sympathy for the player and team being hacked. But I also don’t think it’s that great a strategy from the hacking team’s standpoint. While a 0.9 points per possession return (from a 45-percent free throw shooter) is certainly less than the 1.1 return on a typical opponent possession, they will rebound some of those second misses, and their defense being allowed to set up after a free throw will diminish your own offense a bit. The only great time to do it is at the end of the quarter to get a free possession for your own team.

Sekou Smith, It’s tired, but when executed properly a very effective tool. I understand the desire of many to legislate the hack-a-whoever out of the game, but I think that’s a total cop out. Put the onus on the players and teams to make sure guys work on and improve their free throw shooting. Guys find ways to gain weight, lose wait, work on their quickness, improve their jump shot, handle, post moves and ability to shoot from distance. Why can’t the same emphasis be placed on free throw shooting? Seriously, it’s 2015 … make the players accountable this time.

Ian Thomsen, Change nothing. This is a self-correcting mechanism. Don’t enable bad free throw shooting – instead allow Hack-a-Shaq to shame players into learning one of the game’s basic skills.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogOh man, I get irrationally angry about this. There’s one thing and one thing only that the NBA should do about this: Nothing. Nothing at all. If DeAndre Jordan or Rajon Rondo or whomever can’t shoot free throws, maybe they should work on their free throws! The idea that we should change some rules to make the game easier for players who have a fundamental weakness really bothers me. Did they change the free throw rules shooting for Wilt Chamberlain? Shaquille O’Neal (for whom this strategy is named)? Why change them now, because it makes the game less fun to watch? To me it’s ridiculous to even consider it. If you want the game to be more visually pleasing, get Jordan in the gym, don’t change the rules.

Big test for big men in Spurs-Clippers series

LOS ANGELES — Here’s the big man health report for Game 1 of Spurs-Clippers: Tiago Splitter is feeling less nicked, while DeAndre Jordan might soon feel lots of it.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded “yes” when asked if Splitter, the Spurs’ starting center, would be available tonight (asked if Splitter would start, the secretive Pop said: “You’re pushing it.”).

This is important for San Antonio, because Splitter has been bothered by a creaky right calf, which flared late in the season. His presence and effectiveness could be the difference in a series that’s projected to be tightly contested.

As for Jordan, he of the creaky free-throw percentage, Clippers coach Doc Rivers fully expects Pop to employ the hacking strategy designed to take advantage of Jordan’s 40-percent shooting. When Jordan is hacked, it almost becomes a turnover for the Clippers when he goes 0-for-2, because they get nothing from the possession.

“Pop called me last night and said he wouldn’t,” joked Rivers. “He said it looks bad, and for the sanctity of the game.”

Turning serious, Rivers shrugged. “You just do what you can. You do what you do.”

On February 19 Pop instructed the Spurs to foul Jordan; he attempted 28 free throws and made only 10. The Clippers won by four but that won’t sway Pop from doing it again, and in fact Rivers expects it this series.

Should the strategy work in the Spurs’ favor, it could dictate what Rivers does deep in the fourth quarter if the score is tight. In that situation, he’ll probably be forced to keep Jordan on the bench. And if so, that could cost the Clippers on the boards and on defense, and also force Rivers to reach deep down a bench that is  shaky with the exception of Jamal Crawford. Does Rivers dare trust Glenn Davis or Spencer Hawes with important minutes? That’s precisely the method behind Pop’s madness: Exploit the Clippers’ biggest weakness.



Morning Shootaround — March 23

VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 22


Spurs run clinic on Hawks | Thunder rely on defense (Westbrook) for latest win | Carlisle: We don’t play hard all the time

No. 1: Spurs run clinic on Hawks — The teacher schooled the master Sunday at Philips Arena. Everyone saw it. There was no doubt which system ruled the day. The original pace-and-space kings from San Antonio owned the floor against the imprint version that has led the Atlanta Hawks to outlandish success this season. The Spurs rolled to their third straight win by running a clinic on the Hawks. Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

It was billed as a battle of the Spurs vs. Spurs East, aka the Atlanta Hawks.

Instead, the Spurs ran a clinic on the team that has raced to the top of the Eastern Conference by emulating the Spurs, scoring a 114-95 beatdown to complete a 2-0 season sweep.

Mike Budenholzer, the longtime Gregg Popovich assistant who has incorporated his former boss’ approach since becoming Atlanta’s head coach in 2013, didn’t stick around to watch the destruction, thrown out after getting two technical fouls in the third period.

The win was the third straight for the Spurs, 44-25 and sixth in the Western Conference.

Kawhi Leonard was three assists shy of what would have been the first triple-double of his career, getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in just 31 minutes and 41 seconds, his presence hardly necessary in the final period of a start-to-finish domination by the Spurs.

Beneficiary of Leonard’s slickest assist of the game — a half court bounce pass that produced a layin — center Tiago Splitter recorded a season-high 23 points. It was the second time in the last two games Splitter scored a season-high.

Ball movement again keyed an efficient Spurs offense. They had 30 assists on 46 baskets and shot 56.1 percent.

The Spurs will go down as the only team in the league the Hawks have not beaten this season. But just as important on this lone trip to Atlanta for Popovich was a chance to catch up with his good friend and TNT’s very own Craig Sager:

*** (more…)

Blurry is making Kawhi Leonard worry

VIDEO: The Pelicans beat the Spurs as Kawhi Leonard misses late

If you can’t see straight, how can anyone expect you to shoot straight?

That’s the excuse of the NBA Finals MVP and why he hasn’t ripped apart NBA defenses quite like he did the Heat last June. Kawhi Leonard is dealing with vision issues and while his ailment will eventually pass, he’s clearly frustrated with his eyesight, something we all take for granted until a speck of dust happens to take up residence under our eyelids.

In the preseason, Leonard dealt with conjunctivitis, which is known as “pink eye.” Evidently the issue has stuck around to follow Leonard into the season and, well, the rim appears fuzzy, like a 1940s movie.

Leonard is shooting 31 percent and averaging 9.5 points. He’s still rebounding (8.0) and defending well, but the inability to aim correctly is driving him nuts. He missed two shots on the final possession of a close loss Saturday to the Pelicans (although he did get a double-double anyway). Leonard told the San Antonio Express-News he’ll try to play through it as best as possible:

“My right eye, the vision’s not all the way back yet. Hopefully I can heal up soon. I’ve just got to keep competing so I can get used to it and get my rhythm going. I can’t wait and sit on the sidelines anymore just wasting games. It might not clear up until summer, so I’m playing now.”

Leonard said he was told by team doctor Ed Rashid that some victims suffer blurred vision for weeks and even a few months. What’s tough is that pink eye can’t be controlled by wearing goggles or doubling up the eye drops. It just needs to run its course.

In the meantime, what makes Leonard a valuable player is his multiple skills. Pink eye would seriously reduce the effectiveness of a scorer like Carmelo Anthony, for example. But Leonard brings defense and rebounding and so he can still command and earn solid playing time without causing the Spurs much, if any, grief.

The Spurs are also dealing with Tiago Splitter’s nerve problem, which would be traced to disk inflammation. For the most part, the Spurs were able to dodge injuries last season, especially important for a team with a veteran core, and that helped push them safely through the postseason. They can only hope that pink eye isn’t an omen of what’s to come.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 28

VIDEO: As the season opens tonight, get a wrapup of the offseason


Bosh embraces challenge of leading | Report: Cavs, Thompson hit stall in extension talks | Mirotic adjusts to NBA life | Spurs a little short-handed for opener

No. 1: Bosh taking on challenge of leading Heat — The Miami Heat have been without LeBron James for months now, and will be for many more years going forward. The superstar’s departure to Cleveland not only created a void in the lineup and on the court, stats-wise, but also one on the team in terms of leadership. As the Heat get ready for their season opener on Wednesday night, they are hoping that one key member of the old Big Three, Chris Bosh, can step into a leadership role (that likely won’t be like James’ leadership role) this season. Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald has more:

Behind the scenes and in the Heat’s locker room, filling the leadership void created by James’ departure to Cleveland is one of the bigger concerns facing the team entering the season.

In addition to doing a little bit of everything during games, James was also a powerful voice off the court for the Heat.

James is a natural-born leader, and while there are still plenty of lieutenants on the Heat’s team this season, a four-star general — someone who is going to lead the team in minutes played, defense, scoring and nightly swagger — hasn’t been commissioned.

Bosh doesn’t need to be James for the Heat to be successful this season, but he knows he needs to discover his own unique way to motivate and inspire.

“It has been a challenge,” Bosh said. “I can’t duplicate what he did. … He was a great leader, he is a great leader; guys following him easily,” Bosh said. “I’m trying to put my own spin on it and bring my own personality to it, and that has been a difficult journey for me, but I’m learning every day.

“I’m trying to make sure I personally talk to guys all the time and just take pointers from other people and see how I can bring all that to the table.”

He’s trying, and his heart seems in it. Maybe that’s enough.

“I force myself to talk every day,” Bosh said. “It’s not easy. It’s something that I always, always work on. My wife pushes me every day to work on that stuff. There is no hiding for me, so I might as well get it over with and talk and be social.”

When the Heat begins the season Wednesday at home game against the Washington Wizards, Bosh will not be the only leader on the team. If he can lead statistically, maybe Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, the team’s co-captains, can worry about the rest.

Before the first day of training camp, Wade stood in front of his teammates — new and old — and gave an impassioned speech about opportunity and attitude and, inherent in any conversation that early in the process, Life After LeBron.

Wade looked in his teammates eyes. He reassured those who struggled in the 2014 postseason and introduced the newcomers to the Heat’s culture.

“I just wanted them to hear my voice as a leader and one of the faces of this franchise on that first day just to set the tone of it being a different year, and a different opportunity for a lot of guys in this locker room,” Wade said. “We knew it was going to be tough. We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”

VIDEO: Dwyane Wade explains how the Heat will move on from LeBron James’ departure



Spurs’ Leonard to miss opener

VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses Kawhi Leonard’s importance to the Spurs

The old black-and-silver gang will be back on the AT&T Center court together Tuesday night for the unfurling of the 2014 NBA championship banner and to receive their rings.

But the defending champion Spurs will look noticeably different once the season opener against the in-state rivals from Dallas tips off.

It’s been known for a while that guard Patty Mills (right shoulder surgery) is out until at least January. But the team made it official Monday with a statement that NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (right eye infection) and center Tiago Splitter (strained right calf) would miss Tuesday’s game.

Ah well, as coach Gregg Popovich says, it’s all about being healthy for the playoffs and they’re still six months away.