Bill+Walton

Bill Walton feeling good… and predicts a Lakers/Heat finals

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Bill Walton is a guy with his priorities in the right place.

Three years laying on your back will do that — he told me again that he thought his life was over at points during that time — and now that he is back up after an innovative surgery his outlook on every day is one that would make the world a better place if we all could have it.

“I haven’t been this healthy since high school,” Walton said from his home in San Diego last week. “I had 36 orthopedic operations, I’ve got two fused ankles; my knee, hands and wrists don’t work; I’ve now got a fused spine, but other than that everything is fantastic. I’m excited every single day.”

Walton is up and active with his trademark energy again. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his daily schedule, which starts with a 4:30 a.m. workout. He is involved in a number of business opportunities, plus he is donating time and opening up his home to a charity event to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation, helping disabled athletes get a new outlook as he has. Walton is auctioning off a party at his home to raise money for this. (Keep on reading, we get to that more at the end.)

And of course, he is involved with and watching a lot of basketball. The sport that helped give him a lot of the opportunities he has had. He was at the Hall of Fame inductions last year to welcome Arvydas Sabonis to the Hall.

And as a guy who has fought to overcome injuries and adversity, he is drawn to Kobe Bryant, who Walton called “staggeringly magnificent.”

“Kobe Bryant, this guy is just phenomenal,” Walton said. “For him to be able to sustain this at such a remarkably high level. Right now I’m looking at a Lakers/Heat finals. And Dallas will be good, Oklahoma City will be good, the Clippers will pose some problems, Chicago is very good.”

But Walton also sees what many of us have, that there is a coming changing of the guard in the NBA.

“But this is a changing league out there,” Walton said. “It’s always been a young man’s game and time has caught up with some of the legends…. We’re glad the Knicks are putting together a roster that can compete at the highest levels. And to see Miami’s regroup from last year’s collapse at the end, when the championship was theirs to be had. To come back with such spirit and fire.

Still, it takes experience to win.

“What experience teaches you is just how hard it is (to win). And how much it takes…” something Walton relates to his own story of physical challenges. “The vision, the sacrifice, the willingness to put it all out there. That is what it takes every single day. As these young teams — Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, New York — as they fight with everything they have to get to that promised land, they have to realize what is really important…. All the great teams, it is about the foundation, the commitment of the players to the team, and the leadership. Who is going to get the job done?”

Walton, a former Clipper player and broadcaster, also has enjoyed the renaissance of that franchise.

“I am so happy for Clippers fans and I am so happy for (long-time Clippers broadcaster) Ralph Lawler, who is such an enjoyable listen. And just to be able to turn on the games and listen to Ralph, and to see how much fun they are having…

“That guy Chris Paul. That guy is really, really good. Plus he’s my wife’s favorite player. His level of creativity, his level of imagination, his level of determination…. he makes other people better at what they do, he makes other people’s dreams come true, he puts a smile on other people’s faces.”

Walton’s theme or rebirth in his life ties into his work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which works to provide equipment, opportunity and everything needed for soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, or maybe a person injured in a car accident at home, to help find their way again through sport.

To help raise money, Walton is opening up his home in San Diego for a party. Through CharityBuzz.com, there is an auction and the winner gets to come with all their friends or co-workers, or whomever they want to invite for an evening of food, music and conversation with Walton.

“We are opening our house to an event… Bring whoever you want. Bring the family, bring your team, bring the company, your organization over to the house,” he said. “We’ve been in this house 33 years near Balboa Park in my home town of San Diego, we love our home and we’re going to share it with other people willing to make a difference in the lives of people involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.”

When he talks about it you can hear the energy in his voice. The energy that made him a big-time broadcaster and that made him the player he was. It’s just good to hear that passion again.

Three things we learned Thursday: Memphis, Marc Gasol just win every close game

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots between Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu, from left, center Mason Plumlee, and forward Jake Layman (10) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Here’s what you missed Thursday around the NBA while you were drinking homemade glow-in-the-dark beer with jellyfish genes in it (no, you try it first, I insist)…

1) Don’t play Memphis in a close game, they just find a way to win.
Last week, when Mike Conley went down with a back injury and was going to miss six weeks (give or take), we questioned if Memphis could keep their heads above water. They promptly went out and lost to a very good Toronto team.

Since then they have won five in a row, capped by an impressive 88-86 win over Portland Tuesday. Impressive because:

• Memphis is now 12-0 in games that were within 3 points in the final minute. You get in a close game with Memphis, you lose. (Statistically, we know some of that is luck, that there will be some regression to the mean, but that stat has propelled a team has been outscored by nine points this season, one that should be 12-12, to the 16-8 record they have.)

• Memphis trailed Portland 79-68 with less than five minutes to go, and still won.

Marc Gasol had 36 points and has been an absolute beast since Conley went down, doing whatever it takes to win.

• Toney Douglas — a guy the Grizzlies just picked up off the street this week, basically — comes in and is clutch down the stretch for them, including hitting the game-winning free throws with 0.5 seconds left (Damian Lillard tried to argue the call, to no avail).

The schedule gets tough for Memphis the next couple of weeks — Golden State, home-and-home with Cleveland, then Boston and Utah looming not long after — but do not doubt the Grizzlies. No team is as resilient as this bunch.

2) Bulls prove Spurs aren’t perfect on the road. It was bound to happen, the San Antonio Spurs were 13-0 on the road, they were going to stumble at some point. That point turned out to be Thursday night in Chicago, where the Spurs came out of the gate like they went out and had a big pregame meal of Lou Malnati’s pizza — 32 points on 30.6 percent shooting in the first half for San Antonio. The Spurs didn’t defend poorly, for example Kawhi Leonard held Jimmy Butler to no first-half points — in fact, midway through the first quarter Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez had scored almost all the Bulls’ buckets — but the San Antonio offense was dreadful. Throw a little credit to the Chicago defense if you want, but this was more San Antonio stumbling than a Chicago return to the Thibodeau era.

The Bulls were up 12 at the half and were able to hang on despite a strong second 24 minutes from Leonard (17 of his 24 came in the second half) and get the win. Dwyane Wade had 20 points and hit a couple of key buckets late to stabilize Chicago. For a Bulls team that is going to be in a playoff battle all season — they are the seven seed right now, one game ahead of the Pacers in ninth — these kinds of wins at home can prove huge.

3) What is it with Minnesota and second half? On the road, the Minnesota Timberwolves had played the Toronto Raptors even for the first 24 minutes — it was 59-59 at the half. And yet, there was a sense of dread for Timberwolves fans because all season their young team has just come apart in the third quarter — and then Toronto opened the second half on an 11-2 run. Minnesota, to their credit, crawls back into it, but midway through the fourth the Raptors go on a 17-4 run sparked by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors pull away for the 124-110 win. The Timberwolves lost another game because they can’t defend well.

Minnesota shows flashes of the kind of brilliance that has everyone thinking they might be a contender in a few years. But we all expected too much too soon from this group. Those impressive stretches are followed by ones where they play like a young team, they don’t defend well, and they throw those good efforts away. Not that they were going to beat a good Toronto team on the road, but the Timberwolves can be frustrating to watch. Patience is hard, and Minnesota fans are being asked to show a lot of it. We can debate if it’s time to bring Ricky Rubio off the bench and let Kris Dunn sink or swim, but that’s not the core problem. Ultimately, the Timberwolves are young and playing like it. They don’t know how and aren’t putting in the effort to defend well yet. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, they can be the core of a contender eventually, but there is a lot of learning to do along the way. Tom Thibodeau can teach them. But it’s going to require patience.

Watch Joel Embiid completely erase Anthony Davis’ layup

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Anthony Davis is languishing in New Orleans, but at least Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers pitted The Brow against The Process. That is, Joel Embiid.

When the two multi-talented big men met on the floor in New Orleans, Embiid got the better of Davis on at least one play.

With the ball on the left wing, Davis was able to get a step on Ersan Ilyasova out of the triple-threat position. As Davis dribbled toward an open lane, Embiid slid over to add some extra protection:

Great timing and court feel from Embiid, who has looked like a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Spurs fall to Bulls 95-91 after winning first 13 road games

Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/David Banks)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA’s best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn’t dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8. But after a big push down the stretch, they came up short in this one.

The Bulls led 65-47 midway through the third following a surge by Butler, who scored seven in a 54-second span after missing his first six shots. But the Spurs jumped back into it in the closing minutes of the quarter.

They went on an 11-2 run that Mills finished with a 3 to cut it to 72-66 just under a minute into the fourth.

Things got real tight when Gasol nailed a 3 to pull San Antonio to within 88-84 with 3:24 left. Doug McDermott then hit three free throws after being fouled by Tony Parker, and the teams basically exchanged baskets the rest of the way.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Parker had eight points and five assists after missing a game because of a bruised left knee. … For the second straight game, the Spurs set a season low for first-quarter scoring. They had 17 points after managing 19 at Minnesota on Tuesday night.

Bulls: F Doug McDermott scored eight points after being sidelined because of a concussion since Nov. 11. … Butler had scored 20 or more in 15 consecutive games, the longest streak by a Bulls player since Michael Jordan did it in 24 straight during the 1995-96 season.

 

Parker returns to Spurs’ lineup against Bulls

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CHICAGO (AP) San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker returned to the lineup Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls after missing a game because of a bruised left knee.

The seven-time All-Star did not play at Minnesota on Tuesday night after knocking knees with a Milwaukee Bucks defender the previous night. He started against the Bucks after missing two games with a thigh contusion.

Parker came into Thursday averaging 9.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Chicago’s Doug McDermott returned to the rotation after missing nearly a month because of a concussion.