LeBron James

Three Stars: We are all witnesses

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What a night. We saw Utah and Toronto battle it out in a triple-overtime slugfest high on theatrics. We saw the Pistons put a scare into the Thunder before collapsing, and the Bulls make things interesting against the Celtics. There were a lot of memorable moments from tonight’s games, but like anyone who has stood in front of the Men in Black flashy forget thingy (that’s real, right?), we’ll probably only remember one part of it. Onward, to the Three Stars of the Night.

Third Star: Rajon Rondo – 20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals

Rondo ended up one Ricky Davis rebound short of a triple-double — an impressive feat given the circumstances. Although Chicago has probably taken a step backwards defensively, they’re undoubtedly still a team who can really put a damper on your halfcourt stuff. That wasn’t a problem at all for Rondo, who seemed to be an extension of Doc Rivers more than ever out on the floor, following the gameplan perfectly. Rondo got Garnett involved early, pushed the pace when needed, and gashed the Bulls defense with crafty fakes and euro-steps to the tin. Rondo has shouldered a great deal of the blame for Boston’s lackluster offense over the years, but tonight he was the number one scoring option against one of the league’s best defenses, and he came up roses (sorry, Bulls fans).

Second Star: Brandon Jennings – 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnover

This was just pure speed. When Jennings can establish his 3-point shot as a threat like he did in the first half against the Sixers, there aren’t many guys quick enough to hang with him on a pump-and-go. With that quick first step and left-handed wizardry, Jennings blew by Philly’s guards and finished at the rim against a toothless frontcourt with relative ease. There were questions about how Jennings and Monta Ellis would co-exist going into this year, but Scott Skiles deserves a ton of credit for getting his team to buy in to sharing the ball. Although Jennings and Ellis both jacked up a few quick shots on occasion, they didn’t spend the entire game dribbling the air out of the ball like both were prone to doing in the past. Is Jennings worth the contract coming his way eventually? Probably not, but it’s nights like these that spark the imagination to what he could become. If he ever starts consistently taking good shots (Jennings’ career True Shooting Percentage is 49.3, one of the worst of all starting point guards) he’ll start being a serious problem for opposing teams more consistently than just this.

First Star: LeBron James – 38 Points, 10 Rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers

I distinctly remember playing basketball with my dad when I was younger, and how he’d let me make a few buckets and hang around so I’d gain some confidence before destroying me and restoring order to the universe. And honestly? That’s the same feeling I got watching LeBron James in the second half of this game against the Rockets. LeBron had just 6 points at the break, but erupted for 32 in the second half, never even bothering to turn it over once. LeBron was in total “no-fair” mode tonight, making 3-pointers (5-for-8) and controlling the second half completely. Although Houston had their chance with a wide open 3-point attempt for Jeremy Lin that hit nothing but net (in the bad, little kid in the driveway sense), it just felt like LeBron James was winning this game without a doubt. It’s funny how quickly perception changes when you actually see someone do it on the highest level, and you have to consider that LeBron’s disposition towards the end of games may be a little different now that he’s seen himself do it. I suppose seeing truly is believing, and after watching how easy LeBron made the go-ahead layup, it’s pretty safe to say that we were all witnesses tonight. Again.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 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 condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.