who’s going to be a man, th
e man, or THE MAN IN ALL CAPS INSTEAD OF STANDARD-SIZED HELVETICA FONT — It’ll be fascinating to see who handles the ball, who sets the screen, who makes the cut, and who finishes the play on any given Miami possession.
Anthony Davis missed a chunk of the preseason after spraining his ankle in a game against the Rockets during the league’s tour of China. He was considered questionable to return for opening night.
He came back faster than that, in time for New Orleans’ final preseason game Thursday night — and he looked good doing it. Very good.
Davis had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists’ in the Pelicans’ 114-111 overtime loss to Orlando. He was red hot from the start as he scored 16 points in nine minutes of the first quarter.
This is a good sign for the Pelicans, who are going to need Davis (and rookie Buddy Hield) to carry the scoring for the team to start the season as they are without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for an extended period.
ATLANTA (AP) There was a buzz in the Hawks’ locker room after their long-awaited first look at their new starting five together.
Clearly, Atlanta’s new big man has generated big expectations for the season.
The Hawks’ final home preseason game on Tuesday night provided the first chance for forward Paul Milsap, who has made three straight All-Star teams, to play beside center Dwight Howard, an eight-time All-Star and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Milsap was brought along slowly following a non-surgical procedure before training camp to reduce swelling in his right knee before making his first start in Atlanta’s 96-89 preseason win over New Orleans.
Seeing Howard and Milsap finally playing together boosted small forward Kent Bazemore‘s enthusiasm for the season.
“The ball moves really well for us,” Bazemore said. “Paul and Dwight have really good chemistry and they’re going to be passing the ball a lot to each other … so they looked really good tonight.”
Howard signed a three-year, $70.5 million deal in July, giving Atlanta the legitimate center it lacked through much of the Al Horford era.
Horford, now with Boston, was a big reason the Hawks reeled off nine straight playoff seasons, but even he said he wasn’t a true NBA center. No one has ever said that about Howard, whose defensive rebounds and blocked shots have coach Mike Budenholzer thinking about fast-break opportunities.
Howard, entering his 13th NBA season, is still only 30. He sees his move to his hometown as a fresh start and an opportunity to repair his reputation following eight seasons with Orlando, one with the Lakers and the last three with Houston.
“I really want to show the Hawks fans how dedicated I am to winning,” Howard said. “I think a lot of people have probably got it twisted with the things that have happened in my past but I’m very dedicated to this sport, very dedicated to myself and winning and being whatever I can be for this team.”
Here are some other things to know about the Hawks:
NEW POINT: The other new piece in Atlanta’s lineup is point guard Dennis Schroder, who moves up after playing behind Jeff Teague for three years. Bazemore said Schroder, like Howard, boosts the Hawks’ defense. “Defensively he’s a stud and that’s where it starts,” Bazemore said. “We’ve got one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the league at point guard. It’s just a pleasure playing with him and the grit he brings every night. It’s huge for us.”
JACK NOT READY: Schroder’s backup to open the season will be rookie Malcolm Delaney, because veteran Jarrett Jack is still recovering from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee last season with the Nets. Delaney, from Virginia Tech, has played in Europe for five years. Budenholzer said Delaney “is not your typical rookie” and could be headed for more than a short-term role as Schroder’s backup. “I just feel very good about the way he has progressed and fit in with the group,” the coach said.
KORVER’S ROLE: Kyle Korver, 35, likely will open the season as the starting shooting guard, but for how long? The 3-point specialist saw his scoring average fall from 12.1 in 2014-15 to 9.2 last season. The Hawks could bring Korver off the bench if they opt for a bigger lineup with Bazemore at shooting guard and rookie Taurean Prince (6-8, 220) or Thabo Sefolosha (6-7, 220) at small forward.
FOR OPENERS: The Hawks open at home against Washington on Thursday. After trying a later 8 p.m. tipoff for most home games last season, most night games will start at 7:30 p.m. this season.
THE TRY FOR 10: The nine straight playoff seasons is the longest in franchise history and the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks set a franchise record with 60 wins in 2014-15, when they made their first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. They fell back to 48 wins last season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers know what it feels like to enter the season as Eastern Conference favorites.
They begin this one with an entirely unfamiliar label – defending champions.
The rest of the East has spent the last six years unsuccessfully trying to unseat LeBron James from the throne. Whether he has been in Cleveland or Miami, James has led his team to the NBA Finals every year since 2011. But his crowning achievement came last season, when his Cavaliers captured the city’s first pro sports championship in 52 years by defeating the record-breaking Golden State Warriors.
Now the Cavaliers are wearing an even bigger target on their backs.
“It’s the same mindset: Let’s win a championship,” James said. “We just want to be able to put ourselves in position to do that. We have the ability, we have the personnel, but we have to work now. We can’t expect for it to happen just like we didn’t expect for it to happen last year. We put the time into it.”
The Boston Celtics finally found a star in Al Horford to team with a lunch pail group that has overachieved under coach Brad Stevens. The Toronto Raptors are back for more after falling to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals and Chicago and New York brought in aging stars in a desperate attempt to change the balance of power in the league’s weaker conference.
James’ reply: Bring it on.
“We can’t be entitled to anything we’ve got to go out and get it and work for it,” he said. “We’re a team that’s very driven and we look forward to all the challenges the season holds.”
A look at the East:
1. Cleveland – Championship hangover? No one expects that with the Cavs. There is one certainty in the NBA: LeBron will make it to the finals.
2. Boston – Horford and Stevens appear to be the perfect match.
3. Toronto – Keep doubting the Raptors. Kyle Lowry wants you to. Should be nip and tuck with the Celtics all season.
4. Washington – Here’s where it starts to get dicey. Wiz are betting Scott Brooks will be able to push the buttons Randy Wittman couldn’t.
5. Atlanta – The Hawks took a step back last season, then swapped Horford for Dwight Howard. Things could go either way in Hotlanta this season.
6. Charlotte – Mostly stood pat this summer after a surprising sixth-place finish last year. A healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sure could make a difference.
7. Detroit – Would have picked them higher, but Reggie Jackson‘s injury is a concern.
IN THE MIX
9. Chicago – Dwyane Wade‘s homecoming is a great story. But the severe lack of shooting figures to hold the Bulls back.
10. Miami – With Wade and Chris Bosh gone, it’s rebuilding time. Don’t expect Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra to be down long, though.
12. Milwaukee – Khris Middleton‘s injury is a killer that prompted scrambling for wing help. The Greek Freak at point guard, thought? That will be appointment viewing.
FACING LONG ODDS
13. Orlando – Vogel landed with the Magic and he has all kinds of defensive weapons at his disposal. That will be essential because scoring may be difficult to come by.
15. Brooklyn – Move over Philly, there’s a new basement dweller in the East! Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are well thought of, but it’s going to take time to get this thing turned around.
WHAT TO KNOW
LEBRON’S LEGACY: The last time James did not appear in the NBA Finals was 2010 when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Celtics. James’ Cavaliers were eliminated in the East semifinals by the Celtics, and he signed with the Heat that summer.
WALL AND BEAL: Much has been made of the chemistry, or lack thereof, in Washington’s backcourt. If John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the same page, the Wizards are dangerous. If they can’t find a way to harmonize, Washington could plummet down the standings.
NEW FACES: Brooks in Washington, McMillan in Indiana, Vogel in Orlando, Atkinson in Brooklyn and Jeff Hornacek in New York start their first seasons as coaches after a summer of upheaval in the conference.
SCHRODER TIME: The Hawks traded Teague to Indiana to open the door for Schroder’s slashing game. He’s been waiting for this chance, and his ability to run the team, play defense and knock down the occasional jumper will be critical to Atlanta’s chances.
ROOKIE WATCH: Only three of the top nine picks in the draft went to teams in the East. Youngsters to keep an eye on include Jaylen Brown in Boston, Jakob Poeltl for Toronto, Thon Maker in Milwaukee and Denzel Valentine in Chicago.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/APKrawczynski
CHICAGO (AP) No matter how this season plays out, this much is clear about the Chicago Bulls: They’re worth watching.
Coming off a flat season that ended with them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Bulls at least spiced things up in the offseason. Now, it’s time to see if interesting also means better.
“I love the vibe of this group,” Hoiberg said. “I love the competitiveness of this group.”
The Bulls clearly had to do something after a year that began with high expectations ended with a 42-40 record, a fractured locker room and all sorts of questions about team leadership.
Gone is Chicago native Rose – derailed by injuries after leading the Bulls to heights they hadn’t reached since the Michael Jordan Era – after being dealt to New York for center Robin Lopez and guard Jerian Grant. So is Joakim Noah, who signed with Knicks not long after the big trade. Pau Gasol went to San Antonio as a free agent.
Wade shocked Miami when he chose to come home to Chicago and accept a two-year deal worth about $47 million.
Here are some things to look for this season from the Bulls, who open at home against Boston on Oct. 27:
EYE ON THE BENCH
The Bulls thought Hoiberg’s fast-paced tempo and soft-spoken style were just what the team needed when he was hired. They just didn’t think the learning curve would be as steep as it was. Hoiberg got called out by Butler last season for not coaching the team hard enough. The system and the roster did not mesh.
So does Year 2 bring a better Hoiberg?
Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said he expects it. So does Hoiberg, who came to the Bulls after a successful five-year run at Iowa State.
But is this the right roster for him? After all, Wade and Rondo are both in their 30s. And if the Bulls struggle, who takes the fall?
THE WADE EFFECT
Who knows what might have happened had Wade signed with the Bulls six years ago rather than form a superstar triumvirate with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami? But he’s here now, coming off a strong season and being counted on at age 34 to set the tone for the Bulls’ younger players. The 12-time All-Star has been doing just that, speaking up in practice and meetings.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
It’s been a steep climb for Butler from low first-round draft pick to bench warmer to two-time All-Star with an Olympic gold medal. But his success hasn’t translated to team success. Butler’s first All-Star season ended with Tom Thibodeau’s firing. Last year, the Bulls dropped into the lottery. And while Wade and Rondo have said the Bulls are Butler’s team, it’s not clear exactly how far he can lead them.
“I can learn from (Wade and Rondo), the winning culture they’ve built,” Butler said. “I’m excited because there’s so much growth I can handle in that aspect of the game. You look at what Wade has done for his career, a future Hall of Famer. I think that I can model the way I do things around him.’
While the Bulls added scoring punch and the reigning assists-per-game leader in Wade and Rondo, they still lack a starting guard who can consistently hit from long range. That was a problem last season with Rose and Butler, who moves to small forward.
Spacing could be a problem when Rondo, Wade and Butler are on the court together, though the Bulls do have solid shooters in Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. Gasol’s departure also creates a scoring hole in the paint.
Rondo is coming off a resurgent season with Sacramento that saw him average 11.9 points and a league-leading 11.7 assists. It was the fourth time he averaged a double-double in a season and the first for him since the 2012-13 season. The four-time All-Star has clashed with coaches, most notably Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, and his relationship with Hoiberg could be one to watch.