Spurs would like to remind you they are very good, crush Grizzlies in Game 1

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The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were the new hot team among the basketball cognoscenti.

The Spurs don’t care.

San Antonio remains what they always were — very good, very efficient, very smart and a beautiful thing to watch if you truly love the sport of basketball.

Sunday afternoon San Antonio raced out to a 28-3 lead at home, pushed back on Memphis’ big third quarter run, shut down Zach Randolph (2 points and a -28) and cruised to a 105-83 win. San Antonio now leads the series 1-0.

Memphis will not be rattled; they will be a much better team Tuesday night in Game 2. They have been adjustment kings this postseason — they have lost Game 1 of every series and eventually won four straight to end it.

But their adjustments are going to be a lot more difficult this time around. Plus, that Gregg Popovich guy who coaches the Spurs is pretty good at adjustments, too.

Tony Parker carved up Mike Conley, getting into the teeth of the Grizzlies defense all game on his way to 20 points on 14 shots, plus 9 assists. Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and was 4-of-5 from three. As a team, the Spurs were 14-of-29 from three and that was key to this win.

After playing the Clippers and Thunder, this was a radically different offense the Grizzlies faced — both those first two teams key off just one guy (Chris Paul and Kevin Durant). The Spurs are not like that, they are diverse and will beat you with what you give them. The Spurs often attacked at the top of the key then got into the paint, the middle of the floor, with three point shooters in the corners. The Grizzlies defenders that were supposed to rotate had an impossible choice — leave the hot shooter from three or stop the layup. They couldn’t do enough of either.

“The main thing is we just overhelped,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said after the game (in a press conference broadcast on NBA TV). “I mean we were just so hyper, running all over the place on defense. We’d have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody, and that’s not how we play defense.”

(The Spurs, on the other hand, played the two big men combo of the Lakers in the first round, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, which helped prep them some for this series.)

Memphis did a solid job all night defensively of taking away the Spurs first options on offense, the preferred shot out of their sets, but San Antonio is better and more efficient at their second and their options than any team (Miami might want to argue that). Danny Green had 16 points, Matt Bonner hit 4-of-6 threes, and when the Spurs are doing that you’re in trouble.

“We’ve played our bench all year long and they’ve probably gained a little bit of confidence through that,” Popovich said in his post-game press conference (broadcast on NBA TV).

Memphis got better as the game wore on, but the Spurs found a rhythm and once the shots started falling even when Memphis started to contest it didn’t matter the Spurs hit everything.

Meanwhile, Memphis could not get in a rhythm at all.

San Antonio fronted Zach Randolph in the post and Memphis reacted like they had never seen this before. Mike Conley was never comfortable and shot 5-of-12. As a team Memphis never looked comfortable.

Except for Quincy Pondexter — he came in hot off the bench in the second half with 11 third quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting that quarter (he had 17 points on the night to lead Memphis.

He helped spark a 10-0 Grizzlies third quarter run that had the San Antonio lead down to six. But then the Spurs answered with a Manu Ginobili three, a Bonner three, then a Ginobili driving layup. By the end of the third quarter the lead was 16 and most of the fourth quarter was garbage time.

Hollins and the Memphis coaching staff have a lot of work ahead of them. They have to cut off the San Antonio penetration in the paint (that collapsed the defense and left Spurs shooters alone at the arc), they have to get Zach Randolph the ball in spite of the front, they have to get some floor balance.

They have done it before in the playoffs. It’s just going to be harder this time because the Spurs are very good. In case you forgot.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.