Michael Beasley adjusting to the green light in Phoenix


Michael Beasley showed a flash of brilliance during the Suns preseason finale on Friday, giving the team a glimpse of the potential that lies within the talented but historically troubled individual. Beasley put up 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, and seemed to do so relatively effortlessly in his 34 minutes of action.

If Beasley could put up similar performances on a consistent basis throughout the season, this Suns team could exceed most expectations, which are somewhat realistic in currently projecting them to finish out of the playoff picture, and mired somewhere near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

For that to have a chance of happening, however, Beasley will need to embrace an unfamiliar position in Phoenix — one where he’s the primary option offensively most nights, and where he’s actually encouraged, if not berated into taking as many good shots that come his way.

This is how the Suns have been doing it since Mike D’Antoni was the head coach, and Alvin Gentry isn’t about to make any changes to a system he’s been running a variation of since he took over, and one that he believes in. He understands, though, that it can be a bit of a change for the players coming in to adopt the shoot first, ask questions later mentality.

“We’re going through that phase right now with Michael Beasley,” Gentry said. “He’s been on a team with Dwyane Wade, or he’s been on a team where he hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot the basketball.

“The only thing I tell guys is that I don’t want them thinking about a shot, if it’s a good shot or if it’s not. The only thing I want them to concentrate on if they’re going to shoot it is, can I make this shot. And as long as they do that, I’m fine with it. I told him that afterwards we may talk about how this may have been a questionable shot, or something like that. But I don’t want him thinking about that during the game.”

The way it’s been explained is that Gentry wants his players taking the first good shot on a given possession. The Suns like to push the tempo, so running plays exhaustively through all of their options as the shot clock winds down to get the best possible look isn’t the plan. The team is happy with simply a good, open shot — good and open being the operative words, as simply chucking early and often obviously isn’t going to produce the desired results.

“Now, I also don’t want him taking bad shots,” Gentry emphasized. “There’s a difference between shooting a shot when you’re open and forcing a shot. Sometimes it takes a few games for guys to understand that.”

A few preseason games have gone by for Beasley, and he seemed to get it during Friday’s performance.

“Coach has been telling me all preseason to be aggressive,” Beasley said afterward. “And to be selfish, kind of selfish in taking my shots. I was really going out there with the mindset of a playmaker, but I was just taking what the defense was giving me.”

The shooting freedom is the main thing that Beasley sees as the difference between his time with his previous teams in Minnesota and Miami, and his first month with the Suns.

“The fact that they’re telling me to shoot,” he said, when asked what was different in Phoenix. “And getting mad when I don’t shoot. There’s still a little adjusting to do.”

Consistency is what the Suns will be looking for out of Beasley, especially from a shot-taking standpoint. The talent is there, so at this early stage, the team is going above and beyond to make it clear to its newest offensive threat that he has the full green light at all times.

“He always looks at me like I’m crazy when I say if we play you 30 minutes, you should take 20 shots, and they all should be pretty good shots,” Gentry said. “It’s just an adjustment that guys have to make, and it’s probably a little different than anybody’s really anticipated as an individual player, that coaches are getting on you for passing up shots.”

Beasley is starting to get the message. And if he continues to translate what he’s hearing into what he’s doing on the court, we may see plenty of performances similar to the one we saw to finish the preseason.

“I thought I was shooting, but every game they tell me I’ve got to shoot more, got to shoot more, got to shoot more,” he said. “They’re not telling me to shoot every time I touch the ball, but if I’ve got a shot every time I touch the ball, they definitely don’t want me to pass it up.”

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.