Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker

Five reasons these are not last year’s Spurs, they are contenders

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Last season, the Spurs won 61 games, went into the playoffs as the top seed thought of as contenders, then got unceremoniously bounced in the first round because they could not handle the big, athletic front line of the Memphis Grizzlies.

This season, the Spurs are again entering the playoffs as the top seed and are talked about as contenders. They again face a first-round opponent with a big front line — the Utah Jazz — and some think the same thing will happen again.

The Spurs may not make the NBA finals, but they are real contenders this year. Here are five reasons this year is different than last.

1) Manu Ginobili is healthy. Ginobili is what turns the Spurs offense from “good” to “best in the NBA” and he was out last season but is back healthy this season. (The entire city of San Antonio just knocked on wood.) What makes him so dangerous is that can take whatever the defense gives — he can knock down threes, drive the lane (left or right), is solid from the midrange, plays well in transition and… you get the point. He also shoots well in the clutch. This is the guy that makes the Spurs special and he is back this year.

2) Tony Parker is playing the best ball of his career. He should be in the MVP discussion this year. Not saying he should win it (that’s LeBron James) but Parker should be in the conversation. Parker leads the Spurs in scoring (18.3 points per game, a number he stepped up when Ginobili was out) and is also at a career high in assists — when he is on the floor he assists on 40 percent of his teammates baskets. Parker gets an offense based on cuts and off-ball movement going, he is at the heart of their rapid ball movement side to side. He simply is better this season than last.

3) San Antonio depth and athleticism — this is a team. This was the knock on them since 2004 — they were old and no longer athletic enough to play with the elite teams in the league. But that’s not the case anymore, they have rookie Kawhi Leonard, they bring in youth with DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Gary Neal, plus Tiago Splitter has taken a step forward and given them a solid big man to put in the middle. Combine that with a shooter like Matt Bonner (plus they have Stephen Jackson now) and they can throw a lot of different matchups at you. The amazing part is how little drop off there is in execution from the first to second unit.

The turning point for the Spurs may have come at the end of January this season when the starters were getting smoked by Dallas and when the bench made a comeback Popovich rode them all the way through into the overtime. And lost. But since then this team has rallied as a unit and the depth has been part of that.

4) Tim Duncan found the fountain of youth down by the Riverwalk. Tim Duncan never has been bad, but he had seemed to take a step back in recent years from great to solid. He was always fundamentally sound, but he seemed older and a step slow. Since the All-Star break he has seemed a threat again. Maybe that is him getting better looks thanks to the Spurs fantastic ball movement, but whatever it is it is working. And if Duncan is on the Spurs are on.

5) These Jazz are not those Grizzlies. This Utah team is playing well and we’ve all fallen in love around the NBA blogosphere with their big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors together. No doubt, that lineup is good — but it is not as good as the level the Grizzlies were playing at last year. Zach Randolph was probably the best single player in the first round last year, he was a force of nature. I like Jefferson, but his ceiling is not that high. These Jazz also don’t defend like those Grizzlies did.

It is possible the Spurs will see the Grizzlies again in the second round. And that would be a fun matchup. But the Grizzlies are going to find out these Spurs are a lot better now than those ones they knocked off last year. These Spurs are legitimate contenders.

Victor Oladipo with the two-handed throw down over Dwight Howard (VIDEO)

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That. Was. Nasty.

After some good ball movement from the Thunder (which started with pretty much their entire team collapsing on Russell Westbrook), Victor Oladipo drove out of the corner aggressively, Dwight Howard tried to rotate over, but he was a step too late and… damn.

By the way, if your question is “did Westbrook get his sixth straight triple double” the answer is of course he did.

Report: LeBron James, other Cavaliers will not stay at Trump hotel in New York this week

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02:  A view of the Trump International Hotel on May 2, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
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There are a few regular hotels where NBA teams stay in the New York area, one of them is the Trump Hotel in Soho. It fits the general bill — high-end hotel that works to cater to the specialty needs of NBA players and teams, and it’s in a great location in the city.

It’s where the Cleveland Cavaliers were booked to stay when the team visited New York this week, but LeBron James and other Cavaliers have been excused by the team and will stay at another location, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

A group of Cleveland Cavaliers players have been excused from staying at the team’s planned accommodations, the Trump SoHo hotel in lower Manhattan, when the defending champions visit New York City this week to play the New York Knicks, multiple team sources told ESPN.com.

Other members of the team’s traveling party will stay at the 46-story luxury building opened in 2010 and branded through a licensing agreement with President-elect Donald Trump, as the Cavs have a contract with the establishment…

LeBron James is included in the faction of players who will not be staying at the Trump SoHo, according to multiple sources. James publicly endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton about a month before Clinton lost the election.

Richard Jefferson, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert have all expressed unhappiness with the election results publicly. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was a Trump supporter who conducted a fundraiser for the now president-elect.

These players are not the only ones making this move, and several teams have worked to shift away from Trump properties nationwide.

Of course, this is going to lead some people to freak out in the comment section — people who barely watched the NBA for the last decade will proclaim their boycott of the Cavaliers and league — but honestly, what LeBron is doing is what we should all do, support businesses and causes that align with our beliefs. Avoid those that don’t. If you don’t like the way they run their business and donate money, don’t eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. If you have issue’s with Donald Trump, don’t stay at his hotels and don’t golf at his courses. Speak with your dollars, it’s often the most efficient way to get a message across (hence the unending parade of “boycotts” of businesses across the nation).

So long as LeBron cleared this with the team and makes it to shootaround on time, this is no big deal. But, go ahead in the comments and tell us about how you’re disrespected.

Lakers’ Jose Calderon out 2-4 weeks with hamstring strain

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Jose Calderon #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a called foul during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Lakers guard Jose Calderon will be sidelined for at least two weeks with a strained right hamstring.

The Lakers announced their latest injury problem Monday before hosting Utah in their 11th game in 18 days.

The Lakers also recalled rookie center Ivica Zubac from their D-League affiliate.

Calderon is averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in his first season with the Lakers. The veteran Spanish point guard became a starter last month when D'Angelo Russell was sidelined with a sore left knee.

Calderon, Russell and Nick Young are all out for the Lakers (10-12). They have been among the NBA’s pleasant surprises, but injuries and a brutal schedule are conspiring against them.

Larry Nance Jr. sat out Saturday in Memphis, while Julius Randle missed games last month.

Reports: Boston interested in trade for Andrew Bogut, Mavericks not there. Yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts to scoring during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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There has been speculation around the league that now that the Dallas Mavericks are struggling, there will be a sell-off. Harrison Barnes is a future lynchpin, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t going anywhere, but there are a lot of players that are more win-now than the place the Mavericks seem to be, so those guys could get moved for future assets.

At the top of the list: Andrew Bogut.

In a shock to nobody, there is a report that Boston would be interested, via A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.

As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.

The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract.

Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.

While you can see the logic from the outside, inside the Dallas’ offices they are not in that place, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources tell ESPN that Mavs have no immediate intention to shop C Andrew Bogut, as their focus, for now, is trying to salvage their season. However, Mavs management recognizes that Bogut has significant value in the trade market as a proven championship-caliber complementary piece in a contract year and could become motivated to move him if and when it becomes clear that the Mavs have no hope of making the playoffs this season. Several league sources said the Mavs should be able to get a first-round pick from a contender for Bogut.

Let’s be honest: Dallas isn’t making the playoffs. They can make their worst-in-the-West record look a little better — six of their next eight games are at home, at some point they will get Dirk Nowitzki back — but they are not climbing over six teams and making up the 11 games they are below .500 just to get in the mix for the potential eight seed.

Which means expect them to be looking for deals as the deadline nears, and Andrew Bogut may well get moved. But we’re going to get past Christmas before that talk starts to gain real traction.