Posts Tagged ‘Tony Parker’

Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

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No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

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No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

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No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story

Blogtable: Is Spurs’ 50-win run or Curry’s shooting more remarkable?

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: Time to move back 3-point line? | More remarkable: Spurs’ run or Curry’s shooting? | Who needs win more in Warriors vs. Thunder?



VIDEOSpurs adapting, thriving with LaMarcus Aldridge

> More remarkable: The Spurs’ streak of 17 consecutive seasons with 50 or more wins? Or Stephen Curry on pace to make about 400 3-pointers this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Steph Curry is a product of his environment as much as he’s a revolutionary player – if he had come along 30 years ago, the 3-point shot still would have been more of a gimmick and a catch-up tactic. The Spurs, meanwhile, defy both the odds and contemporary NBA thinking. This is the age of tanking, after all (which the Spurs essentially did to snag Tim Duncan in 1997, when it was more of a gentlemen’s wink-wink). The accepted way to get better is to embrace the roller-coaster of good seasons and bad seasons, with no one wanting to get stuck in the middle. To borrow from another sport, most franchises are like NASCAR teams willing to lose the race in the pits but unwilling to finish in the middle of the pack. The Spurs have eschewed pit stops altogether, refueling and changing tires while they’re out there running hot. That’s remarkable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLook, I’m as big a fan of Steph Curry’s talent as anybody. But this isn’t even a question worthy of debate. The Spurs winning 50 games for 17 consecutive seasons is off-the-charts mind-boggling. Don’t forget: one of those 50-win seasons was the “lockout season” with a 66-game schedule. The maintain this level of excellence without a single slip-up for nearly two decades is unprecedented not just in the NBA, but all of pro sports. Check back in the Year 2116 and there might never have been another such run. Then again, check back in 2116 and Tim Duncan might still be playing and the streak will be at 117.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comSpurs. That’s hard to say because Curry has been in another stratosphere and deserves every positive place in history he has claimed, but c’mon. Fifty wins for 17 seasons. Seventeen! That good for that long is an astounding stat even for those of us who have been watching and appreciating as it happens. It must be impossible to imagine for all the people who started to count out San Antonio a decade or so ago.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This one’s a coin flip, but I’ll go with the Spurs. Their ability to avoid major injury and have a top-10 all-time player on his game for more than a decade might not get repeated for a long time if ever. Steph Curry might break his own record next year.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comOn average, less than nine teams (29 percent of the league) per season win 50 games. Just on randomness, there are 1 in 1.4 billion odds of doing something with a 29 percent probability 17 times in a row. NBA success certainly isn’t random, but 17 straight seasons of 50 wins is five more than any other streak in NBA history. Stephen Curry is doing things we’ve never seen before, but when you take offense, defense, leadership and longevity into account, Tim Duncan has been the best player since Michael Jordan left Chicago, and the Spurs have built a world class organization around him. The Spurs’ sustained success should be lauded as much as what Curry is doing.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As wicked a season as Steph is having, it’s hard to go against a team, in any sport, putting together the kind of run the Spurs have the past two decades. Think about that for a second — they’ve been elite for the better part of the past two decades … it’s unheard of. As an organization, the Spurs have no peer in the NBA or in professional sports in this hemisphere. Their ability to continuously produce 50-win results is a standard that will be tough for anyone to match anytime soon. If Steph knocks down 400 3-pointers this season and maybe again the next two or three seasons, then we can revisit this conversation.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comCurry is amazing. But the achievement of the Spurs transcends the achievement of any single season, no matter how brilliant Curry has been.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The most remarkable thing about Steph Curry’s season, to me, is that it isn’t really all that remarkable. Every night he does the unthinkable, to the point where we expect him to make 10 threes in a game or drill 35-footers with the game on the line. It’s a step up from his MVP performance last season, but it isn’t really surprising. The Spurs continued excellence is, to me, just remarkable. Particularly in this era where almost every team has terrific scouting and uses advanced metrics, the Spurs continue to do things differently and better than the rest of the NBA.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 225) Featuring Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is there anyone else?

Anyone else?

Because the Golden State Warriors are ready and willing to do horrible things to you on the basketball court. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, yes the Spurs, who have all felt the wrath of Stephen Curry and the Warriors recently.

If you think you are coming for the Warriors’ crown, you better brace yourself for some wicked resistance from the champs, who shouldn’t have to do anything else to convince the remaining non-believers that luck had nothing to do with their championship run last season.

This is a juggernaut, and potentially one of the NBA’s all-time great teams, provided they finish what they have started this season.

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports helps us put it all in context on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast, where we examine the Warriors and their monstrous run as well as the fallout in Cleveland from David Blatt‘s firing and Tyronn Lue‘s hiring — the latest drama in the seemingly never-ending saga that is LeBron James and his return to “The Land.”

We give you all that and much more on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

***


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors dominated the San Antonio Spurs

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue was right pick to replace Blatt | Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty | Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo and defense | Raptors on a roll

No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.

“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”

Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.

Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).

Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.

“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”

While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.

He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.

LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.

And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.

“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”

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No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:

At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.

Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.

“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”

Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.

The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.

“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”

The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.

However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.

“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”

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No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:

The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.

Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.

DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.

The defense has been bad for much of the season.

The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).

During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.

No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.

“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”

What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.

That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.

“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”

The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.

Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.

In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.

“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”

***

No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:

Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.

But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.

Smiles all around.

Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.

The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.

And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.

“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.

Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.

“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.

“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this seasonSnow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters of the week in the NBA


VIDEO: Parker delivers against the Cavaliers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Want to know whose shooting touch has been especially hot lately? Interactive data visualization site PointAfter has got you covered, whether you’re seeking out the hot hand for fantasy basketball knowledge or to simply satisfy your hunger for timely NBA content.

NBA.com’s newest editorial partner produces shot charts on a weekly and seasonal basis, among other visualizations. We’ll be bringing you weekly updates on the best and worst shooters of the week at guard, wing and forward/center for the rest of the season.

This week, we start with one of the many ageless wonders currently populating the impenetrable fortress known as the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 8-14.

Best Guard: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

In a possible NBA Finals preview Thursday night, the Spurs topped LeBron James and the Cavaliers 99-95 to extend their incredible home winning streak to 32 games.

Things didn’t always look so rosy for San Antonio, though — the Spurs trailed 50-38 with 1:08 left in the second quarter before Tony Parker scored the final six points of the half, as well as San Antonio’s first bucket of the third quarter, to keep them within striking distance. He ended up pouring in 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

That followed a season-high 31 points on Wednesday against Detroit, when Parker showcased his touch in the restricted zone and worked the mid-range game to convert 13-of-19 attempts on the night.

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Parker’s percentages compared to the league average. Shot charts update every five minutes.

Parker has taken 31 percent of his shots from between 16-23 feet this season, which doesn’t exactly jive with coach Gregg Popovich’s preferred system of uncontested lay-ups and three-pointers. However, even though Parker has logged the worst scoring average (12.8 points per game) since his rookie campaign — which can partially be attributed to a career-low 27.1 minutes per game — the wily veteran is still more efficient than ever.

His three-point percentage has risen for a fourth consecutive season, all the way up to 45.2 percent. And his overall field goal percentage (53.0) is his best mark in a full decade, since the 2005-06 season.

It seems unlikely Parker will make his seventh All-Star Game this year, but the Frenchman can still take over a game when he’s at his best.

Best Wing: Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

Make no bones about it — Joe Johnson and the Nets are having a nightmarish season. Brooklyn is feeling the fallout of its failed attempt to quick-fix its roster by trading draft picks for pricy veterans, as a clearly declining Johnson has posted the worst field goal percentage (38.1) and PER (9.4) of his career in 2015-16.

But for one week, the 34-year-old gave us a glimpse of his former greatness. In four games, he made 23-of-41 shots for a sparkling 56.1 percent conversion rate, including 60 percent of his 15 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Nets even claimed a 110-104 win over their biggest rivals on Wednesday night when they lucked into facing a Knicks team missing Carmelo Anthony (ankle). Johnson turned back the clock, keeping New York at arm’s length with a pair of midrange jumpers in the game’s final two minutes.

For Johnson and the Nets alike, it was a rare bright spot in a season that’s already long lost.

Best Forward/Center: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ frontcourt is a crowded affair, but Amir Johnson has deservedly held onto his starting spot into the new year. Even though his scoring average (8.4 points per game) is the lowest it’s been since 2011-12, he’s come on as of late, reaching double-digits in each of the last six games.

And he’s been getting those buckets with efficiency that surely makes coach Brad Stevens proud. Johnson totaled 39 points in Boston’s three games this week by knocking down 69.6 percent of his 23 shots. And that mark increases to an astronomical 71 percent if you include his 6-of-8 showing against Chicago last Thursday.

Johnson has been remarkably productive in the paint all year long, cashing 66.9 percent of his attempts in the restricted zone (league average is 55.6 percent).

Johnson’s shooting stroke might not be the best part of his game right now, either. He grabbed 18 boards in Wednesday’s win over Indiana, and is averaging 10 rebounds per contest to go along with 13.4 points and 2.8 assists over his last five games.

That two-year, $24 million deal Johnson signed with Boston over the summer is looking like more of a bargain with each passing day.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Why Spurs might be NBA’s best team


VIDEO: How LaMarcus Aldridge is slowly fitting in more with the Spurs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Despite their historic 24-1 record, the Golden State Warriors are not the most dominant team in the NBA today. That title currently belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, who have quietly accumulated the league’s best scoring margin (+342) and average point differential (+13.2) while winning 21 of their first 26 games.

How have Tim Duncan and Co. managed to stave off Father Time and team up with the Warriors to create a clear two-team hierarchy at the top of the once crowded Western Conference? In NBA.com’s first editorial collaboration with data visualization site PointAfter, we’ll explain why we should seriously consider the Spurs as Team 1-B (or 1-A) in the West.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen | Ainge pleased with Celtics’ direction | Spurs keep chugging along

No. 1: LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen — The topic of good fortune often comes up when discussing the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, a point some use to illustrate the squad was lucky to win the title for a variety of reasons. Wherever you stand on that point, one thing that is true in terms of Golden State’s good fortune is the team’s health during its championship era. Few player games have been lost due to injury and really, only coach Steve Kerr (back) has been out for a prolonged time. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who was defeated by the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, knows all too well how the Warriors’ health has helped them. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says there is a not-so-secret ingredient — beyond a talented roster that features reigning MVP Stephen Curry — to the Golden State Warriors’ success: avoiding injuries.

“I think it comes with a lot of health,” James said when asked about the Warriors tying the all-time mark for best start to a season at 15-0. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history, and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”

James said that continuity in the lineup has led to consistency in their play.

“They’ve just been consistent,” James said. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they just they’ve been playing at a high level, man, for so long.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are down four of their top eight rotation players at the moment with Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Mo Williams (right ankle) all sidelined.

“I’d much rather be on the other side and having guys in the lineup, having guys healthy,” James said. “I’ve always heard that saying of, ‘Is it a blessing that guys are out and guys can step in?’ I think it’s good for some of the guys that don’t get to play as much — they get an opportunity. But at the same time, I’d much rather be full and know what we’re going to have and play at a high level for most of the year so we know what we can fall back on at the end of the season.

“But that’s one thing you can’t control. You can’t control injuries. The one thing you can control is what you’re doing out on the floor, how well you’re playing, how hard you’re playing and how much you’re sacrificing and giving to your teammates.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how health has aided the Warriors’ success

*** (more…)

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.

***

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.’”

***

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 — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”

***

No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told ESPN.com recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.

***

No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”

***

No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.

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.”

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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.

 

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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 …