Preview: Did Grizzlies figure out Spurs or will Game 3 be more of the same?

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There have been seven quarters — 84 minutes — of the Western Conference Finals where the Spurs have looked much the better team.

But the last 17 minutes — the fourth quarter and overtime, Memphis erased a 16-point deficit, pushed the game into overtime and made this start to look like the close series we expected going in. San Antonio still won and leads the series 2-0, but things felt different.

So which is it Saturday night in Memphis?

Have the Grizzlies figured it out or are the rested Spurs going to benefit from the Johnny Carson vacation schedule of this series and dominate again?

There are two key things to watch for with this.

1) Can the Grizzlies score when Tim Duncan is on the court? Here’s the reason the Memphis comeback in Game 2 may have been a mirage: It pretty much all happened when Duncan was on the bench. To be fair, he was on the bench because of foul trouble that was the result of having to battle Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside, but still he is generally not going to get into this kind of trouble again.

Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw give a good effort, but the fact is Bonner just can’t keep Gasol off the glass. Without Duncan, Memphis was able to get better position for their bigs and play more of their game. But when Duncan has been on the court Memphis has struggled through two games — an offensive rating in the 60s in points per 100 possessions — and they have to solve that puzzle fast or they will be down 3-0.

Memphis has found some success Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter — San Antonio has made it tougher on Memphis inside by essentially ignoring the “threat” of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince as shooters and zoning off, adding a lot of support inside. Pondexter is 6-of-13 from deep this series and the Spurs have to respect him in the corner, so expect a lot more of him. He’s as good a floor-spacing shooter as the Grizzlies have and they need to create more room for Gasol and Randolph to operate.

2) Can the Grizzlies slow Tony Parker at the point of attack? This is bigger than item No. 1 — Memphis is not going to get back in this series if they don’t find a way to slow down Parker getting into the paint. When that happens and the Spurs are spacing the floor with shooters there is nothing any good defense can do.

During Memphis’ fourth-quarter comeback they didn’t solve the Spurs pick-and-roll at all, San Antonio just missed shots it normally makes. That includes Parker who was 2-of-8 shooting.

They had better solve it now. Parker cannot be allowed to turn the corner and do as he pleases. San Antonio is pretty much running the pick-and-roll with whichever guy Randolph is guarding setting the pick (they don’t want Gasol around the play) and that is allowing Parker to get inside and then kick the ball out — San Antonio is 23-of-54 from beyond the arc this series (42.6 percent).

If San Antonio is allowed to get in the paint, work inside out, and not get run off the three-point line the Spurs are going to get a lot more rest waiting for the NBA Finals to start June 6.

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.

Nuggets hire assistant coach, assistant general manager

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DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have hired veteran NBA coach Bob Weiss as an assistant on Michael Malone’s staff and announced the hiring of Calvin Booth as an assistant general manager.

Weiss has coached 31 seasons in the NBA, including the last four as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s been a head coach with four teams, compiling a 223-299 career record with the Spurs, Hawks, Clippers and SuperSonics.

Prior to coaching, Weiss played a dozen seasons in the NBA.

Also Wednesday, the Nuggets made official their hiring of Booth, 41, who spent the previous four seasons in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office, serving as director of pro personnel last season.

Booth has quietly emerged as a respected evaluator of talent. He was one of the holdovers in the front office when Tom Thibodeau was hired to take over last summer as president of basketball operations and coach.

After one season working under Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, Booth left for a promotion with the Nuggets, taking a position that will give him more responsibility and a greater say in the direction of another young team on the rise in the Western Conference.

Booth joins a Nuggets front office that includes Tim Connelly, who was promoted earlier this summer to president of basketball operations, a move that allowed Denver to hold on to promising executive Arturas Karnisovas as the team’s general manager.

Booth spent 10 years as a player in the league. Four of those seasons were with the Washington Wizards while Connelly was working there. The two also worked together in New Orleans in 2012-13, when Connelly was the assistant GM and Booth was a scout.

 

Rasheed Wallace says Zach Randolph isn’t a drug dealer: ‘The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party’

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Kings big man Zach Randolph is charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell, a felony – not because law enforcement has evidence Randolph planned to sell the drug, but because of the amount of the drug found.

Randolph’s agent/attorney denied the allegations.

Also sticking up for Randolph? Rasheed Wallace, who played with Randolph on the Trail Blazers.

Wallace, via TMZ:

“It seems to be — no matter who you are — the bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party,” Sheed says.

“I know for a fact he ain’t no dope dealer.”

Charging someone for intending to distributing drugs without any proof he intends to distribute drugs is hazardously lazy. Randolph – who has earned about $175 million in his career and is on a two-year, $24 million contract with Sacramento – can afford more marijuana than most. That doesn’t mean he plans to sell it.

The stakes are high for Randolph. If he’s convicted of “a felony involving the distribution of marijuana,” per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he’d be banned from the NBA for at least two years.

Report: Enes Kanter not yet permitted to travel to Mexico, where Thunder scheduled to play

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Remember when Turkey revoked Enes Kanter‘s passport?

That looms over the Thunder’s Dec. 7 game against the Nets in Mexico City.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Without a valid passport, he is unable to travel to another country other than Canada, which allows entry from U.S. residents who have a Green Card. There is no such agreement with Mexico.

Kanter could receive a re-entry permit, a special document issued to citizens of other countries whose passports have been canceled for reasons the U.S. government deems unsuitable. The permit would allow Kanter to leave the U.S. for another country, such as Mexico, and still return. And the plan is for Kanter to acquire one before OKC’s game in Mexico City. Still, he is yet to receive a re-entry permit, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. There is, however, still ample time for that process to complete.

Kanter is a high-profile millionaire working for a billion-dollar company that has a vested interest in getting him to Mexico. He likely works this out.