Hakim Warrick eyes a bounce-back year for himself and the Suns

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Every NBA team has lofty aspirations by the time training camp rolls around, and it seems that even the league’s holding pattern couldn’t quell the preseason optimism of a particular spokesman for a landlocked team.

The Phoenix Suns aren’t in the best of shape. They haven’t had a chance to make any significant additions to their roster, and are left with the same crew that ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season. There’s a reason, after all, why trading Steve Nash and blowing up the roster is a topic worthy of discussion; without considerable young talent, free agent additions, or even some token change within the roster, there’s no need to even ponder the Suns as a potential contender. They’re firmly entrenched in the middle glut of the Western Conference if they hold on to Nash, and potentially a cellar-dweller if they deal him.

Things aren’t exactly looking up in Phoenix. Yet Hakim Warrick still has his eye on a playoff spot for the Suns, which would be a reasonable, incremental gain for a team that’s lacking in more considerable upward mobility. From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

“We definitely think we can be better. The game of basketball comes down to two or three possessions here or there and we could be a playoff team. As the season went on, we got more comfortable.”

In the first season of a four-year, $17 million contract (the fourth year is a team option), Warrick had his lowest scoring average since his 2005-06 rookie season with Memphis. Warrick, 29, averaged 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds despite averaging 12.1 points over the season’s first 25 games. His playing time of 17.7 minutes per game was also his lowest since he was a rookie.

“I really want to get out there,” Warrick said. “I’m excited to play better because I know I can play better. I didn’t have the season I expected and that I know I can have. I want to go out and prove that I can do better.”

Can Warrick be better this coming season? Perhaps, but not because his production had somehow regressed. Warrick’s per game stats did, as Coro notes, drop a bit, but only because his minutes played per game were the lowest since his rookie year. Warrick was who he always has been: an athlete good for about 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, a flighty defender, and a decent finisher. We saw precisely what we’ve seen from him throughout his career, which is exactly why it would be within reason to expect more. They typical athletic forward may not be expected to make a jump at 28, but for a dunker playing a prominent role alongside Nash? The uptick in field goal percentage was nice (Warrick posted a career-high .511), but Warrick was poised for a more comprehensive improvement by playing with the game’s premier playmaker.

Maybe he’s still due for that bump, or maybe Warrick will return to the NBA court as-is. Regardless, any projected improvement can only take the Suns so far. The team’s problems are more complex than Warrick playing poorly or playing well; until the Suns seriously rethink their roster construction, they’ll have little chance of doing more than sneaking into the playoffs, if the hyper-competitive Western Conference even allows that possibility.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”