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NBA Season Preview: The Sacramento Kings

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Last season: 25-57, in a year that was really all about figuring out that Tyreke Evans is a star you can anchor a team around. He is. And they found a nice young core to go around him.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal, who did a pretty good job trying to build young team and getting them to focus on defense. Be clear, their defense wasn’t that good but they focused on it (it was better than the disastrous year before), and it is that end of the floor that can anchor another big step forward. However, the team is not taking any steps forward if Westphal doesn’t settle down his rotations and give the players a rhythm that can get into.

Key Departures: Andres Nocioni is gone taking some toughness, a three points shooting threat and an oversized contract for that to Philadelphia. Spencer Hawes is gone, the price in talent for getting rid of the Nocioni contract. Hawes was inconsistent but losing someone like him would hurt a lot of teams — unless you have a DeMarcus Cousins coming in. Two solid players out the door but guys the Kings can get by without.

Also gone is Jon Brockman, some more size in the middle that likely would not get minutes now.

Key Additions:
They had the No. 5 pick in the draft and DeMarcus Cousins fell to them. That could be the best thing to happen to this franchise in a decade. The beast out of Kentucky then went out at Summer League and showed he could be the rookie of the year (well, the first half of Summer League until conditioning issues seemed to catch up with him). This preseason he has averaged 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in just 25 minutes per, although his shooting percentage of 44.8 percent needs to improve. There are questions about focus, but so far he looks like a steal.

Samuel Dalembert comes in and brings the defense at the rim the Kings really need. His offense is also a better fit in Sacramento’s drive-and-dish offense than whatever it was they were running in Philadelphia last year. Dalembert is also a large expiring deal that can save money this season or be traded for more assets.

They also drafted the very athletic Hassan Whiteside, a project that could pan out. Or not. But a good risk. Antoine Wright also was signed to a deal.

Best case scenario: They gel quickly behind their powerhouse young core and sneak into the bottom of the Western Conference playoffs.

For that to happen: Tyreke Evans will have to continue on a path to mega-star — that means developing a jump shot — and others will need to provide outside shooting well. DeMarcus Cousins will need to take the first steps to NBA stardom. Also the Kings defense needs to improve and the role players need to blend in.

Evans has spent all summer working on a jump shot and he is shooting 36 percent from three this preseason, well up from the 25.5 percent of last season. But he needs to do this when the games count (and the defense is better). If he can continue to knock down the shots and show off a hesitation move now and then, he will continue to blow us all away.

Where the Kings will be beasts is on the boards — they have a lineup of guys who thrive on the glass. Or, they will in a month or so when Dalembert returns from injury, although Cousins and Carl Landry will do just fine in his absence.

Where the lack of Dalembert hurts is on defense, where the Kings will be without that intimidating eraser at the rim for the first few weeks. Cousins will step into that role; we’ll see how he does with it and if he can stay out of foul trouble.

For the Kings to really thrive, Omri Casspi needs to become a scorer off the bench, Donte Greene needs to live up to the starts role, Jason Thompson needs to keep improving, and Francisco Garcia needs to be a steady outside shooter for the team (along with Beno Udrih in that role).

More likely the Kings will: Be improved but not quite playoff ready in a deep Western Conference.

Evans and Cousins are a powerful young core. Very powerful. Build a contender around powerful. But you need them to grow and mature, and you need to start finding the right pieces to go around them. Can Landry, Casspi, Garcia and the rest do that? If not they need to go. The Kings are going to have a lot of cap space after this year (whatever that will mean under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement) and a chance to build more around this team.

Last season was about finding out Tyreke Evans was THE MAN. This season is about seeing if Cousins can fit with that and who is coming along for the ride.

Prediction: 36-46, but this time the draft spot will not be so good as to have Cousins fall to them. Well, unless David Kahn has a lot of picks in front of them, then anything is possible.

Anthony scores 35, Knicks beat depleted Heat 114-103

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MIAMI (AP) It’s been a long time since the New York Knicks were in this position.

More than three years, to be precise.

Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the Knicks took advantage of second chances all night to beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night. At 12-9, New York is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season.

“Any time you can put together some wins you feel confident, you feel comfortable, you feel like you’re heading in the right direction, and I really feel we’re doing that,” Anthony said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which has won four straight. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter, but still scored 61 points after halftime.

“We just came out in the second half knowing that we have to win the game and that we have to play better,” Porzingis said.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home. New York had a 31-13 edge in second-chance points, and outscored Miami 56-36 in the paint.

“Sometimes the ball goes that way,” Whiteside said.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds.

The Heat had nine players, and might not have any more than that until next week. Justise Winslow missed his 12th consecutive game with a sore left wrist, and James Johnson (right rotator cuff), Dion Waiters (groin), Luke Babbitt (right hip) and Josh Richardson (right ankle) were also sidelined.

None are slated to travel for Miami’s three-game, four-day stretch that starts Wednesday in Atlanta. The Heat are leaving some staff in Miami to work with the injured players.

“They’re getting way more work in than they would get on the road,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek is now 1-5 against Miami. He’s beaten every team he’s faced, and has yet to coach against his former Phoenix club. … The Knicks missed their first 11 3-point tries, then made 7 of their last 14. … New York is over .500 this late in a season for the third time in 12 years. … Not a good sign for Wednesday, when Cleveland visits the Knicks: New York is 0-4 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Heat: It was Dragic’s highest-scoring total as a member of the Heat. … Whiteside has led the Heat in rebounds in all 21 games this season. … Miami struggled again from the line, shooting 16 for 27.

ON PHIL

Spoelstra was asked to respond to Knicks President Phil Jackson’s comments last month about the way the Heat had to handle LeBron James when he played in Miami. Spoelstra laughed it off. “I honestly just think he gets bored and likes to throw stuff out there to get everybody all fired up,” Spoelstra said. James and the Cavaliers visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

TALL ORDER

Hilarity briefly ensued in the second quarter when the 7-foot-3 Porzingis had a jump ball against Miami’s Tyler Johnson, who might be generously listed at 6-foot-4. Shocking: Porzingis won the tap.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Cleveland on Wednesday, preceding a five-game West Coast trip.

Heat: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday, followed by visits to Cleveland and Chicago.

Pistons beat Bulls 102-91 for fourth win in 5 games

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Tobias Harris scored 22 points and the Detroit Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 on Tuesday night.

Andre Drummond added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who won for the fourth time in five games.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Dwyane Wade added 19 points and seven assists for Chicago, which lost its third straight. The Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights and struggled in the fourth quarter.

Drummond dominated early, scoring 10 points on three dunks and two tips. Even when he went to the bench with foul trouble, the Pistons put together an 11-0 run to lead 36-21 early in the second quarter.

Rajon Rondo had 10 points in his return to the Chicago lineup.

Detroit maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second period, but Chicago rallied after Reggie Jackson picked up his third foul. The Pistons were ahead 51-44 at the half, thanks to a 16-6 edge on points off turnovers. Drummond had 14 in the half, while Butler had 16 for the Bulls.

Chicago was within 51-50 in the first two minutes of the third, and took a 72-71 lead into the fourth. Butler and Taj Gibson both had eight points in the period, while Drummond didn’t score for Detroit.

Darrun Hillard’s 3-pointer capped Detroit’s 12-3 run to start the fourth, giving the Pistons an 83-75 lead with 7:28 to play. The Pistons pulled away down the stretch against the weary Bulls.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Rondo missed Monday’s loss to Portland due to a team suspension.

Pistons: Due to his foul problems, Jackson only played 10 minutes in the first half. He’s still on limited minutes after missing the season’s first 21 games with knee tendinitis, and played eight minutes in the second half. Ish Smith played the entire fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Pistons: Host the San Antonio Spurs and Pau Gasol on Thursday.

Phil Jackson admits to smoking marijuana after back surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  (L-R) Assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Frank Hamblen of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted to trying medicinal marijuana after a serious back injury sidelined him for part of the 2015-16 NBA season. There has been much discussion about Kerr’s comments, including support from players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Now, New York Knicks impresario Phil Jackson is saying that he, too, used marijuana to dull his pain after surgery.

Speaking on CBS Sports’ “We Need to Talk” Jackson said that after a back injury in the late ’60s with the Knicks, he used it as a pain medication.

[When I was recovering from back surgery], I was smoking marijuana during that period of time,” Jackson said. “I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation … We have tried to stop [marijuana use] in the NBA. I don’t think we have been able to stop it. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. It is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.

As James Herbert at CBS points out, Jackson has admitted to drug use before — notably marijuana and LSD — and has wrongly been painted as a “hippie” because of it.

Still, the more people in the NBA talk about marijuana both recreationally and medicinally the closer we get to change from the league on it.

Whether that day ever comes, who knows, but having important voices like Kerr and Jackson speaking on it only extends the discussion.

Chriss on Draymond Green’s kick: “It’s just something that needs to be addressed”

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was at it again last week, kicking Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss in the hand with an unnecessary, unnatural motion that is sure to draw league eyes once again.

Chriss, who officials decided was not fouled on the play, told reporters on Monday that he felt Green’s actions were extemporaneous and that the NBA needed to do their due diligence.

From AZ Central:

“It’s kind of funny that it happens so much,” Chriss said of Green’s kicks, like Thursday’s boot to James Harden’s head. “I was frustrated at the time but just move on from it. It happens. It’s easy to avoid. In hindsight, you don’t have to kick your leg up in the air as frequently as it’s happening. It’s just something that needs to be addressed.”

The Suns rookie was feeling the results of Green’s kick a few days after it happened, and the photo on Twitter of Chriss’ pinkie was pretty gross.

Via Paul Coro:

Yikes!

Green drew a flagrant for kicking Houston Rockets star James Harden last week as well, and then two days later kicked Chriss.

Hopefully the league can find a way to put a stop to this. They already knocked Green out of Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, a move which perhaps spurred the Warriors to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At this point, it’s an unnecessary mark on Green’s stellar NBA career and story, a characterization that will follow him the rest of his career even if he becomes a champion again.

It’s disappointing if you enjoy the way Green masters the rest of the game, and as Chriss says, it’s up to the league to decide what to do next.