Vegas Summer League: Zabian Dowdell trying to prove he belongs

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One thing you can say about Phoenix Summer League invite Zabian Dowdell: he has waited his turn. Dowdell played four years at Virginia Tech, and averaged 17.4 points during his senior year. Dowdell hoped to get picked in the 2007 NBA Draft, but he ended up going undrafted.

Instead of pouting and letting himself fade away, Dowdell went to Europe and devoted himself to improving his game: Dowdell said that the night he didn’t get drafted, he knew right away that he would make it to the NBA another way, and didn’t waste any time in trying to get there. Over the course of his first three seasons in Europe, Dowdell raised his scoring average from 9.4 to 11.2 to 19.5 points per game. After one more year spent with the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers and Spain’s Unicaja Malago, Dowdell was invited back to the Vegas by the Phoenix Suns, ready to prove that he’s finally ready to test his skills at the NBA level. 
On Friday afternoon, Dowdell took a big step towards making an NBA roster next season. Even though the Suns lost to the Rockets’ squad, it was apparent that Dowdell was in complete control whenever he had the ball in his hands. He was patient in the half-court, and got the Suns into their offense smoothly. 
When the Rockets backed off of Dowdell, he calmly pulled up and drained a smooth lefty jumper — after the game, Dowdell explained that he feels “insulted” whenever teams back off of him on the perimeter, and on Saturday he made the Rockets pay for their disrespect. When Dowdell had room to work in the open court, he used a smooth change-of-pace dribble to get by his man and get into the lane for a basket to dish off to a teammate. 
What’s impressive about Dowdell isn’t his ability to make spectacular plays, but the fact he almost never takes a better play off the table. If the right play is to take a pull-up, he takes a pull-up. If the right play is to drive, he drives. If the shot isn’t there, he knows to get the ball to a teammate or re-set the offense. When contrasting Dowdell’s play with the out-of-control drives and quick-trigger jumpers that most Summer League guards seem to favor, Dowdell looks like a man among boys. 
With Steve Nash another year older and Leandro Barbosa possibly on the trading block in Phoenix, the Suns could use another guard on their bench who can be counted on to give the Suns good minutes and keep the second unit under control. On Saturday, Dowdell showed that he can be that player. If Dowdell keeps this up for the rest of his Summer League stay, his long wait to make an NBA roster may finally come to an end. 

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.