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What does it mean for players to organize team workouts?

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From Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix:

Durant told SI he planned on getting Thunder players together, likely in either Florida or Texas, for informal workouts in September.

via Twitter / @ChrisMannixSI: Durant told SI he planned ….

That makes Durant the latest in a series of players including Zach Randolph, Andray Blatche organizing team workouts for their guys during the lockout. (Note: How often do you read those three guys in a sentence together on the same subject? “One of these things is not like the other” comes to mind.) But what, if anything, does this mean? Is there any relevance to organizing a team workout during the labor stoppage?

The answer: yes and no. Hold on, I’ll let you recover from that incredibly firm opinion I just laid on you.

Players getting together to hold practices can do a lot of good. First and foremost, it means less time for the players to remember how to play with one another and how to execute the plays once training camp actually starts. Anything to keep those things familiar will help, especially with the younger teams. The coaching won’t be adequate, of course, and specifically, the training could get complicated. For example, if you’re trying to figure out whether your team wants you to gain or lose weight, not being able to talk to your trainer creates a problem. A guy goes in for workouts, and adds five, ten pounds of muscle, only to find out, whoops, they wanted you to focus on losing weight. Furthermore, say Durant’s running point on a practice, and instructs the wrong things for some of the younger Thunder. That’s work that will have to get undone by Scott Brooks in the fall/winter/spring/oh my God it could be next fall. Now, it’s not likely that the Thunder will get into anything that serious. But little things are what coaches focus on a lot, and that has to be a slight concern.

The other biggest reason for these players to host these? It keeps them out of trouble. Look no further than Kendrick Perkins’ activities this weekend  for reasons to keep your guys busy running sprints instead of ordering bottle service. That closeness creates a sense of responsibility. One of the worst attitudes that’s prevalent in the NBA is that of a lack of responsibility to each other as teammates. This isn’t college, and these guys are professionals, on the lookout for their own careers. But look to the Dallas Mavericks for a great example of a team that held each other and themselves accountable to one another. That kind of attitude helped them to be honest with each other, to rely on each other, to play more closely together. The Mavericks weren’t a group of idealistic young guns, they were a slightly mercenary-like combination of veterans. But talking to any of them during their Finals run, they were extremely committed to one another. Keeping that chemistry with an offseason workout can help things.

And finally, maybe the best reason, it’ll keep players in a groove physically. Conditioning is a huge part of the NBA and keeping in shape can be a challenge without trainers to complain. Having an opportunity and a reason to really work hard, versus individual workouts which, as everyone can attest to, can often get derailed for anything from slight pains to just not feeling like it, helps players keep their edge.

Teams like the Celtics won’t organize these kinds of events until at least the fall. They’ve been around too long and want the rest. The Lakers are unlikely to, given how busy each of them are with being Lakers, plus Artest will apparently be in England. But if there’s one team that really needs to use its fairly considerable resources to work together?

It’s the Heat.

The Heat should be pulling every member on a long-term contract back to South Beach and should be holed up in a gym, working, improving. They should be bringing in semi-pros to work with, inviting Durant’s team down for a workout, trying to keep in shape and get better chemistry. It’s not going to happen, but the best thing LeBron James could do to keep out of the spotlight and try and get his career where it needs to go is to start working all the way through this lockout.

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.