San Antonio is back — and interesting this time

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The San Antonio Spurs, even at their peak, felt like your father’s favorite team — quiet and efficient. Good defense, methodical pace, the backboard is your friend. Fundamental. Controlled. That’s not bad, I love my father — I wish I were more like him in a lot of ways — but that doesn’t mean I want his style.

And that style (or lack thereof) seemed to have finally caught up with them in recent seasons. They were destroyed in five games by the younger, quicker Suns last playoffs and it felt like time to consign this roster to the History Channel.

This season’s Spurs, these 12-1 Spurs? They are not your father’s team. They are winning and dynamic and a little reckless. Heck, they even have an off-the-court scandal.

They are taking risks, playing at the seventh fastest pace in the league — four more possessions per game than last season, five more than the last time they won a title. For years now Gregg Popovich was giving lip service to the idea of playing faster, but this year everyone really bought in.

They can do it because they have the best backcourt in the league right now — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. First and foremost, both are finally healthy. They also are being versatile — and versatility in the attack was something the Spurs lacked. Now this pair is slashing and creating finding holes in the opposing defense early in the clock before the defense sets. Parker is scoring nearly 20 points a game and still assisting on 40 percent of his team’s buckets when he is on the floor.

And they are doing it all with less Tim Duncan. Oh, he is still crucial — he is the defensive anchor and the primary rebounder. He remains one of the best centers in basketball (spare me that forward crap).

But he has gotten a step slower in recent years and now he is a supporting player in the Spurs offense, not the hub of all action. His offensive usage rate is the lowest of his career. This is not the “dump it in to Timmy” Spurs offense, they seem to be using much more guard action out of the sets they have always run. Richard Jefferson has found his comfort zone in the system, and that zone includes a corner three where he has been deadly this season.

All of this comes with the other signs of a more dynamic team — the attacking means they get to the line more. On defense they are pushing to get steals, with turnovers fueling the running game.

It is illegal to write a Spurs story without the phrase “if they stay healthy” because we are 13 games into the grind, and the grind has worn this team down the last few years. We get that.

But this start has to have you asking, “what if?” Because if one team could really challenge the Lakers in the West, it would be a team with championship pedigree. A team that knows how to get it done, even if they got it done differently in the past.

Frankly, if the Lakers are healthy it may well not matter. For anyone, East of West. But the Lakers have not been healthy at the end the last couple years either, and this year they may not get by that way. And if the Lakers are not right… why not the Spurs? This team is primed for one more run at a ring.

But when your Dad sees them play, he’s going to be shocked.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.