NBA Playoffs, Suns Spurs Game 1: By the way, Steve Nash can score, too. A lot.

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Nash_layup.jpgHere’s the counterintuitive trick to beating the Phoenix Suns — you want Steve Nash to score. Seriously. The theory is that when Steve Nash is forced to shoot he is less dangerous than when he is feeding Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill dunks. Phil Jackson has used this defense with a lot of success.

The problem — Steve Nash can score. The man is a very good shooter; you still have to make it hard on him.

George Hill and the Spurs did not — Nash had 17 first quarter points, seemingly all on layups, and that fueled a confident Suns squad that held on for a 111-102 win in game one.

Hill, a very nice up and coming player who looked so good against Dallas, got benched to start the second half after Nash just abused him. That really says more about Nash than Hill — three days off to rest his sore hip (and back and countless other nagging injuries) made Nash look like a new man. He finished with 33 points on 13 of 19 shooting.

Nash still got his assists (10) and late got the help he needed — the Suns ended the game on a mini-run capped by a Jason Richardson three that was the dagger.

Defensively — and the Suns do play some defense now — the Suns plan in the crunch was pretty clear: Don’t let Manu Ginobili beat us. They doubled him on the perimeter, took the ball out of his hands, and dared some other Spur to beat them with the three ball. It worked because the Spurs shot 21 percent from three (4 of 19) on the night.

Still, Ginobili had 27, Tony Parker had 26 off the bench, and Tim Duncan had 20 and 11. The big three for the Spurs shot a respectable 50 percent from the floor. All the other Spurs shot just 37 percent.

Still the Spurs had some answers, they actually led early in the fourth quarter. Well, I don’t know that giving Keith Bogans minutes is an answer as much as a band aid on the problem, but it worked — he was out there for the Spurs 13-0 run that made it a game at the end.

The game was close because the Spurs made a couple of nice runs, but the Suns dominated he majority of it. Those Spurs runs were enough to put fear in the hearts of Suns fans, people with plenty of San Antonio inflicted scars. But for most of the game, it was the Suns that dictated the tempo, the style of play. That’s why they got the win. If they can do that three more times, they can exorcise some demons.

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.

 

Watch Drake hit a half court shot while doing a situp

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Singer Drake celebrates after Terrance Ross #31 of the Toronto Raptors sinks a 3-pointer in the second half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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I can see the questions on Twitter/in the comments already so let me save you some time.

Because it’s summer.

Because it’s Drake (he’s a celebrity and an NBA hanger-on with some quasi-official position with the Raptors).

Because Stephen Curry did it, too.

Because what other hoops are you watching on a late August afternoon?

And besides, you clicked on it. You know you want to see it.

So here it is, Drake, hitting a halfcourt shot while doing a sit up. Enjoy.

FOR THE KIA!!!!! @highlighthub @bleacherreport

A video posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.