San Antonio Spurs defense suddenly their weakness

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When they were winning rings, San Antonio did it with defense. Sure there was Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but it was the defense that set them apart.

Right now, the Spurs defense is ranked 25th in the NBA.

They re giving up 103.7 points per 100 possessions, the league average is 99.8 (via Hoopdata.com). It comes down to this simple fact — opponents are shooting the ball very well against the Spurs — 46.6 percent on the season. Only four teams are worse. If you prefer something more sophisticated like True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for free throws and three pointers) the picture isn’t any better, they are still 25th in the league.

So far they have scored enough to keep their record at 7-4, but Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan pulled no punches about the defensive numbers to the Spurs blog of the Express-News.

“That just won’t get anything done,” Popovich said. “That will portend a very mediocre basketball season for the San Antonio Spurs.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we believe the Spurs’ defense should be.”

When the Spurs were great they defended the paint and the three point line very well, intentionally giving you a little more room to take a long two-point shot.

This season they are allowing an average number of shots per game at the rim (22.9) but teams are shooting 68.7 percent on those — only two teams allow opponents a higher percentage at the rim. As for opponents at the three-point line, they are a little more middle of the league pack. Not elite, but not the biggest problem. With the long two pointer — the shot they want you to take — again the numbers are pretty much near the league averages (middle 10 teams).

Where teams are hurting the Spurs? Rotations, which used to be their strength.

For example, opponents are taking 14.3 percent of their attempts against the Spurs in isolation sets and shooting 45.8 percent — only one team in the NBA is giving up a higher percentage against isolations (stats via My Synergy Sports). Watch the plays and you seen the initial defender get beat and he gets a long way into the paint before the help arrives, leading to quality looks.

Another area is handling the roll man on the pick-and-roll — those guys are shooting 57.9 percent against the Spurs. On the video you see the big men show out hard to slow the ball handler but Matt Boner and Duncan and the rest of the Spurs bigs cannot recover fast enough to their man and the results are open layups or good midrange looks on the pick-and-pop.

The Spurs are still a good team. But with this defense it feels like last season, where they can get to the playoffs but then their flaws will be exposed and things will end quickly. This is a veteran team, there is certainly time to make adjustments and changes. The minds are willing. The question is do they have the bodies to do it?

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.