Alex Len says he can show immediate improvement in the NBA with the Suns, because ‘in college, the spacing sucks’

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PHOENIX — The Suns selected Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in Thursday’s draft, and the 7’1″ center from Maryland expects to be able to show immediate improvement in the NBA based on one simple fact that applies to basketball played at the college level.

“In college, the spacing sucks,” Len said at his introductory press conference at the US Airways Center in Phoenix on Friday. “Every time I got the ball, there was a double team, and coach wanted me to just kick it out to my teammates, so that’s what I did.”

That seems to be the key point in Len’s mind when discussing the differences between the professional game and the one he played in Maryland. He mentioned it Thursday night via conference call, and elaborated on it a bit on Friday in person.

“In the NBA, there’s better spacing,” Len said.  “It makes it easier on the big guys because we have more space to work on the block. But I know I can contribute right away on the defensive end of the floor — I have size, I can alter shots, I can run the floor. And on offense, we’ll see what coach wants me to do.”

Jeff Hornacek, the new head coach of the Suns, was in attendance for Len’s presser on Friday, and seemed excited by the offensive possibilities that will ultimately be presented with the rookie center in his team’s lineup.

“We’re going to be pushing the ball, but if we get into some quick swing actions, he’s either going to be the first one down to get into that post-up area, or he’s going to trail the play, swing it, and go into some quick pick and rolls,” Hornacek said. “He’s got a great pick and roll or pop action where he can make that 15-17 foot shot. There’s a variety of ways that we can use him.”

It was pointed out to Len that the spacing may similarly “suck” in the NBA at times, but he seemed to have a calm approach in terms of how he’d handle things at the professional level.

“If you get double teamed, you’ve just got to kick it out to your players,” he said. “But it’s the same thing as what I did in college. You get position, get the ball, and do whatever you can do.”

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.