Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic’s last-second shot finishes the Grizzlies (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX — The Suns would have taken a win any way it might have come, after losing seven straight and being faced with the task of taking down a Grizzlies team that has gotten off to a strong start this season, and had just beaten this Phoenix team in Memphis a mere seven days ago.

But winning with defense, by holding the Grizzlies to a season-low 34 second-half points while shooting just 38.2 percent from the field, making only 5-of-22 from three-point distance, and still needing a virtual buzzer-beater to get the job done? No one could have predicted that.

That’s how it played out in Phoenix on Wednesday, with the Suns pulling out an 82-80 win over the Grizzlies to get back on the winning track for the first time in more than two weeks.

“We really needed that win, and it feels great,” Goran Dragic said afterward.

Things began in this one the same way they ended up for the Suns in Memphis. Zach Randolph dominated in the first quarter offensively, largely due to the defensive strategy employed by the Suns, which was to play him straight up and make him beat them as opposed to doubling and allowing wide open looks from beyond the three-point arc.

Randolph had 10 first-quarter points, but finished with just 18. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said afterward that they changed the defensive strategy on him mid-game by using a zone defense, and that made all the difference.

“We played a zone some,” Gentry said. “But we just weren’t going to run around and spread our defense out to where they could start making three point shots. So if you go back [and look], they only took 10 of them. We were able to guard the three-point line.

“We tried to limit the three-point shooting by just playing Zach straight up. We did that tonight, but we tried to be a lot more active on him, trying not to let him catch the ball and trying to make him work to get the basketball, where he wasn’t just posting up.”

Stopping Randolph was key on a night where only three Memphis players finished in double figures, with Rudy Gay leading the team in shot attempts but connecting on just 7-of-17 from the field.

Still, the game came down to the last couple of possessions. And the Suns were able to finally get a bucket to fall with the game on the line, after suffering through so many failed attempts in similar situations in games past.

The game was tied at 80 with 7.7 seconds remaining, and the Suns had possession. Dragic had the ball at the top of the arc, and made his move almost immediately. After getting the switch that Phoenix wanted on the pick-and-roll, Dragic was able to maneuver around Marc Gasol and flip in the game-winning hook shot at the rim in the game’s final second.

“The play was zipper up for me, and then play pick and roll and take that last shot,” Dragic said. “I saw the open gap on the right side and tried to get past Gasol. He denied that, and I pump-faked him — I don’t know if he jumped, I didn’t see that — but then I just turned around to see that I had an open, easy layup hook, and I made it.”

Gentry admitted the play might not have been executed perfectly, but the one called was what he wanted all along — a high pick and roll, with plenty of options available for his point guard to choose from.

“We wanted to go a high screen-and-roll, we wanted to try to keep the floor open,” Gentry said. “We had a couple of plays that we initially called — we were going to run a play, but then it was going to be a shot right away, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to try to use as much of the clock as we possibly could. So we went high screen-and-roll, and Goran just made a great play.”

It was a big win for a Suns team that was desperate for it, but it certainly wasn’t a blueprint for success moving forward. There was a late scoring drought and more lineup fluctuation for a team that has already endured more than its fair share of that in the early part of the season.

But wins have been in short supply in Phoenix recently, so the Suns will take one any way it comes.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau thanks Kevin Garnett after retirement announcement

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits not he bench prior to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”

It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.