Baseline to Baseline, teaching the lesson of back-to-backs

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What you missed when you overslept because you do not own a Dharma Initiative alarm clock….

Magic 97, Mavericks 82: You’d like to think a matchup of the number two seeds in both conferences just a couple weeks before the playoffs would be the kind of game where you learn something about teams. But not in this case.

Orlando looked rested, the came in after three days off. Dallas looked tired, on the second night of a back-to-back where the game went to overtime. Dallas is (at least lately) a good defensive team that closes out well on three point shooters, and in the previous 10 games opponents had shot 34 percent from beyond the arc. Orlando shot 58 percent (14 of 24). Just that kind of game.

Big game off the bench from Mickael Pietrus, that nobody saw coming. He was 6 of 6 from three and finished with a team high 24. That in his first game back after spraining his ankle. So he was the most rested of all.

Nuggets 109, Trail Blazers 102: Second verse same as the first… another game where one team was rested while the other had to play last night then, in this case, travel to a mile-high city for a game at altitude. This was a schedule maker’s loss for Portland

This one stayed close for a half — Portland was down just one and shot 45 percent (to Denver’s 49 percent) in the first half. Then the tired legs caught up with them — settling for jump shots led to just 36 percent shooting for Portland in the second half Denver also was getting out in transition for lots of easy transition buckets off Portland turnovers. Denver pulled away, up by 10 after three and Portland only posted 16 points in the fourth.

Like the first game, don’t read much into this one for games down the line – there are no back-to-backs in the payoffs. But the loss dropped the Trail Blazers to the eight seed in the West. Although it’s really a matter of pick-your-poison. Would your rather face the Lakers or Dallas or Utah? There is no good option.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

Al Bello/Getty Images for the NBPA
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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”

Three questions the Utah Jazz must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
52-30, lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

I know what you did last summer: Most notably, lost a free agent bid to keep Gordon Hayward. Drafted Tony Bradley and Donovan Mitchell. Signed Jonas Jerebko, Royce O'Neale, Thabo Sefolosha, and Ekpe Udoh. Re-signed Joe Ingles.

THREE QUESTIONS THE JAZZ MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the offense be effective? Last season’s team was based off of the third best defense in the NBA. It’s no secret that the key to success in Utah and indeed the NBA is to have a strong unit on that end of the floor.

But they were also the slowest team in terms of pace last season and were 12th in offensive efficiency. That number is potentially set to dip after Gordon Hayward made his exit to Boston to join the Celtics. A number of young players must step up for this squad, as well as some newcomers.

Ricky Rubio knows how to run an offense and get players to be their best on the offensive side of the floor. He is certainly going to make things exciting, and that is the hope in Utah. We also have a healthy Alec Burks to look forward to (hopefully) and a wide open berth for Rodney Hood. Add in a dash of power from Derrick Favors, and some wing depth from Thabo Sefolosha and there are new roles abound.

This will really be a test for head coach Quin Snyder, who has to work in major new faces like Rubio and will need to see if he can juice things up a little bit next year with less proven players.

2) Can the young guys step into their new roles? I know we have heard this before when it comes to Utah, but this season more than ever will need to be a big one for Burks with Hayward absent. I tend to be more skeptical in any case, and no doubt Utah fans are as well when it comes to the oft-injured guard.

Perhaps more important, it is Hood that will need to be less of a streaky scorer and more of a consistent offensive weapon for the Jazz. The hole left on offense by Hayward for Hood will be considerable, even as he has help from Sefolosha, Rubio, and Dante Exum on the wing.

Exum is an interesting case here as well, as he has been sidelined for a significant portion of the time with this squad due to injury. Exum had a lot of hype coming into his rookie season, and now heading into his fourth he will need to be much better lest he force his team into a tight spot.

3) Is this still a playoff team? This seems broad, but it is perhaps the most interesting question to ask about the Jazz. Yes, they have a perennial DPOY candidate as their highest paid player in Rudy Gobert. They also have a league favorite in Rubio at point guard, a young scorer in Hood, potential in Burks, bench scoring and rebounding in Favors, and a league pass jewel in Ingles.

For as difficult as it will be to replace the production of Hayward from a basketball standpoint, this isn’t a team that has been completely blown apart. They lost their star, which seems more common in today’s NBA. But they didn’t lose the structure around him, and in fact they have been growing their minor league type guys for seasons on end.

They are perhaps one of the only teams in the NBA who are semi-prepared to lose a star like Hayward. But again, this is mostly from a roster perspective. We still have to wonder whether the offense can be efficient and consistent on a nightly basis, and whether the new parts will fit together with the old ones.

I like a lot of the things the Jazz did this summer and it still goes to say they could be a playoff team this season. If anything, at least they should be fun to watch on defense.

Trump’s comments about anthem, Curry inflame sports stars

Associated Press
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SOMERSET, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump denounced protests by NFL players and rescinded a White House invitation for NBA champion Stephen Curry in a two-day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike on Saturday.

Wading into thorny issues of race and politics, Trump’s comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation’s top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a “bum.”

Trump started by announcing that Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams after Curry indicated he didn’t want to come. Later, Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night – that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired.

The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.

Curry had said he did not want to go anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday – and had planned to discuss it in the morning before the president’s tweet, to which coach Steve Kerr said : “Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”

Others had far stronger reactions.

“U bum (at)StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James tweeted in a clear message to the president – a post that Twitter officials said was quickly shared many more times than any other he’s sent. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Curry appreciated James’ strong stance.

“That’s a pretty strong statement,” Curry said. “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league. We all have to kind of stand as one the best we can. For me, the questions how things have gone all summer if I wanted to go to the White House or not, I told you yesterday being very transparent what my vote would have been in a meeting had we had one, based on just trying to let people know I didn’t want to be applauded for an accomplishment on the court when the guy that would be doing the patting on the back is somebody I don’t think respects the majority of Americans in this country.”

James also released a video Saturday, saying Trump has tried to divide the country. “He’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us,” James said. “We all know how much sports brings us together. … It’s not something I can be quiet about.”

The Warriors said that when they go to Washington this season they will instead “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organization.” General manager Bob Myers said he was surprised by the invitation being pulled.

“The White House visit should be something that is celebrated,” Myers said. “So we want to go to Washington, D.C., and do something to commemorate kind of who we are as an organization, what we feel, what we represent and at the same time spend our energy on that. Instead of looking backward, we want to look forward.”

Added Kerr after his team’s first practice of the season, “These are not normal times.”

As a candidate and as president, Trump’s approach has at times seemed to inflame racial tensions in a deeply divided country while emboldening groups long in the shadows. Little more than a month ago, Trump came under fire for his response to a white supremacists’ protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump also pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who had been found guilty of defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Trump’s latest entry into the intersection of sports and politics started in Alabama on Friday night, when he said NFL players who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” are exhibiting a “total disrespect of our heritage.”

Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of blacks and social injustice. Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem, and two raised fists while others stood by the protesters in support.

“That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said, encouraging owners to act. He added, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, `Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”

On Saturday, Trump echoed his stance.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump tweeted. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

Trump has enjoyed strong support from NFL owners, with at least seven of them donating $1 million each to Trump’s inaugural committee. They include New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who Trump considers a friend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly backed the players and criticized Trump for “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL” while several team owners issued similar statements. New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said the comments were inappropriate and offensive. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has supported the players who have knelt, said the country “needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York ripped Trump’s comments as “callous.”

Plenty of other current and former stars from across sports weighed in Saturday. Richard Sherman of Seattle Seahawks said the president’s behavior is “unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”

In his Friday remarks, Trump also bemoaned what he called a decline in violence in football, noting that it’s “not the same game” because players are now either penalized or thrown out of games for aggressive tackles.

Trump has met with some championship teams already in his first year in office.

Clemson visited the White House this year after winning the College Football Playoff, some members of the New England Patriots went after the Super Bowl victory and the Chicago Cubs went to the Oval Office in June to commemorate their World Series title. The Cubs also had the larger and more traditional visit with President Barack Obama in January, four days before the Trump inauguration.

North Carolina, the reigning NCAA men’s basketball champion, said Saturday it will not visit the White House this season. The Tar Heels cited scheduling conflicts.

 

Warriors forward Draymond Green said the good news was that Golden State won’t have to talk about going to the White House again – unless they win another title during the Trump presidency.

“Michelle Obama said it best,” Green said. “She said it best. They go low. We go high. He beat us to the punch. Happy the game is over.”

Reynolds reported from Miami. AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, and AP writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this story.