Michael Beasley adjusting to the green light in Phoenix

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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.”

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.