Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass Wednesday Roundup: Talking tanking (or not) in Phoenix

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PHOENIX — After the Suns traded their projected starting center in Marcin Gortat to the Wizards in exchange for an injured player who might not play this season and a future first round draft pick, and did so less than a week before the start of the regular season, it doesn’t exactly send the message that Phoenix is all that interested in competing this season.

The leadership of the organization, from the president of basketball operations to the GM to the team’s head coach all had to talk to the players that remained the day following the trade to ensure that the message was clear: Develop, compete, and try to win as much as possible.

“I talked with them the next morning,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said about the trade before his team opened the season on Wednesday. “[Ryan McDonough] came down and talked to ‘em, [owner Robert Sarver] came and talked to ‘em. The main part was, you’re going to read a lot of stuff out there and hear a lot of stuff that we’re tanking, or this or that. Not once has anyone ever said, ‘Go out there and lose games.’ They want us to win every game we can, so we wanted to re-emphasize that with the players.”

Tanking, of course, happens at the organizational level, and happens by making trades like the one the Suns made involving Gortat. But no matter the circumstances, it never trickles down to the players or coaches, and Hornacek made it clear that things were no different in Phoenix.

“Is it a rebuilding process? Probably,” he said. “Does it benefit teams to have high draft picks? Yes, but we’re not just going out there throwing games to get that. I think that’s bad karma anyway to do that, so we’re going to go out and play as hard as we can, and try to win as many games as we can.”

After a fairly painless 104-91 opening night win over the Blazers, there’s no question that the team Phoenix is fielding is giving its all, at least in the early stages of the season.

The backcourt tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe carved up Portland to the tune of 48 combined points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. The Blazers had their reigning Rookie of the Year point guard in Damian Lillard pour in a game-high 32 points by himself, but besides a 28-point effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, no other Portland player finished in double figures.

The Suns got a monster game from Miles Plumlee, who came over from the Pacers in the trade for Luis Scola. He finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots, while playing close to 40 minutes as the team’s starting center.

Plumlee had a few post-up plays called for him once he got rolling — a product, Hornacek said, of his increased ability from a footwork standpoint after working with assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison. And although he wasn’t expecting that, he appreciated the confidence his coach and his teammates showed in him after his strong start.

“With this team, I feel like I’m going to find easy things with Goran and Eric, so I didn’t focus on that,” Plumlee said. “But once I started getting a couple buckets and saw I had a little bit of an advantage with my speed, it was nice to see the ball come to my hands a couple of times.”

Bledsoe had a huge game offensively, even if he tended to over-dribble at times and didn’t exactly show the best court vision. He viewed his situation last season as being very similar to Plumlee’s.

“Me and Miles, we were a little bit kind of in the same situation,” Bledsoe said. “He was in Indiana playing behind some great players; Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi. Finally for Miles to get a chance to play man, he was just unbelievable.”

And as for the combination that Bledsoe and Dragic bring: “It keeps the defense on their toes,” Bledsoe said. “You saw it tonight.”

The Blazers saw it, and between the guard play, Plumlee’s breakout performance and P.J. Tucker’s contributions on both ends of the floor, the Suns looked like anything but a tanking team on opening night.

“We had a tough year here last year,” Hornacek said. “We’re trying to get back to where the Phoenix Suns belong, and that’s at the top of the NBA. It’s a good start for us, and I’m happy for our guys.”

—Brett Pollakoff

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Highlights of the first quarter of the Sixers win over the Heat, when Philly raced off to a 19-0 lead.

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Metta World Peace took the subway (the F train) into Madison Square Garden for the Knicks opener and tweeted out his Instagram of the experience. We thought a picture is worth a thousand tweets so we bring you the Instagram instead.

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Sixers 114, Heat 110: Take the defending champs playing on the second night of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade who was held out to rest as a precautionary measure, put them up against the team projected by everyone to be the league’s worst on the road, add in a huge helping of disrespect, and this is the outcome you get. The crazy thing about this game was the fact that after the heat fell behind by 22 points in the first quarter, they actually led by eight with under five minutes remaining. But the Sixers closed on a 15-3 run to end it and come away with the improbable victory.

Oh, and rookie Michael Carter-Williams? He went nuts, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists, and nine steals.

Suns 104, Blazers 91: We said plenty about this game up top, but here are a few additional notes that weren’t emphasized. P.J. Tucker was big as a hustle player, of course, but ended up with 18 points offensively, which included knocking down a couple of corner threes. The Suns’ defense wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but their guards caused havoc in the passing lanes and the bigs swarmed the post to make things difficult inside.

As for the Blazers, they’re going to have a tough go of it this season if Nicolas Batum doesn’t bring it consistently to match the effort of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to give them that third offensive threat. There’s also zero bench on this team — Mo Williams finished 1-of-9 from the field, but no other reserve played more than 12 minutes or contributed much at all. Anyone predicting playoffs out of this team is wearing Rose (Garden) colored glasses.

(I know it’s the Moda Center now, and to that I say: Yeah, but still.)

Thunder 101, Jazz 98: This feels like how a lot of Thunder games are going to go until Russell Westbrook makes it back. Kevin Durant poured in 42 points, but was horribly inefficient in doing so shooting 9-of-24 from the field. He made 22-of-24 free throws which certainly helped, but the defense was locked in on him all night and it will be that way until he gets some help.

Odd night for Gordon Hayward, considering he’s looking for a monster contract extension before the end of the week. Just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting in only 28 minutes of action.

Rockets 96, Bobcats 83: Say “it’s just the Bobcats” all you want, but Dwight Howard looked dominant, and all the way back from any health concerns that may have limited in him in the first part of last season. He finished with 26 rebounds (!) to go along with 17 points, and Omer Asik had 14 boards of his own alongside Howard in the starting lineup. The only thing that kept this game close was Houston’s 18 turnovers to just seven for Charlotte.

Kings 90, Nuggets 88: Denver almost spoiled the party in Sacramento, which featured a raucous crowd celebrating the fact that their historically terrible team wasn’t sold and relocated to Seattle. Ty Lawson’s missed layup with a second remaining prevented overtime, and the Kings came away with the opening night victory.

DeMarcus Cousins impressed with a 30-point, 14-rebound performance that was a game-best in both categories.

Warriors 125, Lakers 94: With this Lakers roster you are going to get up and down performances — Tuesday night was up, Wednesday was way down. Then they ran into the buzz saw of Klay Thompson, who had 27 points in the first half on his way to 38 points on 15-of-19 shooting. The Warriors exposed the Lakers defense to the tune of 120.1 points per 100 possessions. Or we can note they were 15-of-27 from three. It was a clinic.

Cavaliers 98, Nets 94: Andrew Bynum was back and although he was 1-of-5 from the floor his size had an impact in the 7:43 he was on the court — he was a +8, the second best on the Cavaliers. Cleveland had balance with six players in double figures. However, the key was defense for the Cavs, holding the Nets to 40.2 percent overall (the Nets helped that with poor ball movement and a lot of overdribbling). After the game Kevin Garnett reminded everyone what they have a ways to go and this will be a process in Brooklyn. With that payroll, an expensive process.

Raptors 93, Celtics 87: It’s not like anybody in Boston noticed the Celtics lost, they were a little busy celebrating something else. Boston was careless with the ball and it cost them — 22 turnovers. The Raptors were in control of this up 16 in the third quarter, but Jeff Green helped inspire a comeback (he had 25 points) but it wasn’t enough. Rudy Gay had 19 for Toronto and was the man in the fourth quarter to hold off the Celtics rally.

Pistons 113, Wizards 102: Detroit’s front line lived up to the billing on Wednesday — Greg Monroe had 24 points and 16 rebounds, Josh Smith had 19 points and was very active at both ends. Andre Drummond was 6-of-7 for 12 points plus 8 boards. The Wizards had no answer up front (Marcin Gortat played 16 minutes off the bench). Trevor Ariza was the only reason it was that close, he had 28 points. John Wall was 8-of-21 shooting overall and 3-of-13 outside 8 feet, that’s not going to get it done.

Knicks 90, Bucks 83: It was a tale of two halves. The Knicks owned the first half, 56-31, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 12 points on just 6 shots, and the Knicks played defense. Then the second half and he Bucks shot 52.4 percent and outscored the Knicks 52-34. The Knicks held on for the win and that’s what matters, but this wasn’t pretty or one they’ll want to remember.

Timberwolves 120, Magic 115 (OT): Kevin Love ladies and gentlemen. He finishes with 31 points — including the three that ties the game and sends it to overtime — plus 17 rebounds. Kevin Martin has 23 for Minnesota and seven players are in double figures scoring. Aaron Afflalo has 28 points for a feisty Orlando team that has some of the same traits as last season’s versions — they fight hard for coach Jacque Vaughn but don’t have the talent to win many games.

Pacers 95, Pelicans 90: You can credit Paul George with getting the Pacers to 2-0 to start the season. New Orleans led most of the game thanks to Eric Gordon (25 points) and Jrue Holiday (24), even though the Pelicans only shot 40 percent as a team on that strong Pacers defense. However it was the Pacers that made plays down the stretch, led by George who had 32 points on 19 shots. This was a one-point game with 31 seconds to go, but it was a George Hill three that was the dagger.

Mavericks 118, Hawks 109: We have an efficient Monta Ellis sighting — 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Combine that with Dirk Nowitzki’s 24 points on 14 shots and you have a Dallas team that shot 57.1 percent and scored 117.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas pretty much was in charge of every aspect of this game. They’ll win a lot of games if we see more of efficient Monta.

Spurs 101, Grizzlies 94: San Antonio took control of this game with a 30-7 second quarter and while the Grizzlies made it close late this was an easier Spurs win than it looked. It was vintage Spurs with a balanced attack — six guys in double figures and the team shot 52.6 percent. Zach Randolph did not help himself earn a big new contract next summer as the Spurs front line dominated him (without Tim Duncan much of the second half). Z-Bo was 1-of-6 shooting for 2 points and Memphis shot 41.9 percent.

Kristaps Porzingis cocks back, hammers dunk (video)

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It wasn’t all bad for the Knicks last night.

You can practically see the moment Kristaps Porzingis realizes his spin got him so open, he can put a little juice into this dunk.

Wizards defend final possession horribly, beat Knicks anyway (video)

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The Wizards – one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season – showed why it’s so difficult to believe in them.

They built a 10-point lead over the Knicks with 1:51 left and steadily blew it. New York got within one and trailed by three with 4.3 seconds left.

And Washington went to sleep.

The Wizards – four of whom hung out near the halfcourt line – allowed the Knicks to push the ball and find a wide-open Langston Galloway behind the 3-point arc. Galloway is one of New York’s best 3-point shooters, and he makes 47% of his wide open 3s, per NBA.com

This is horrific focus by Washington.

But if there’s a team less inspiring than the Wizards, it’s the Kurt Rambis-coached Knicks, and Galloway missed to give his new coach a loss in his first game as New York’s head coach.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Watch out for the Utah Jazz

<> at American Airlines Center on February 9, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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.
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PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby.PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. Just wanted to freak you out. Here is what you need to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Gordon Hayward game winner makes it seven in a row for Utah. This team is hitting it’s stride again. The reason Utah was everyone’s favorite pick to leap up into the Western Conference playoffs this season was they were one of the best teams in the NBA after the All-Star break last season — they went 19-10, played lock-down defense allowing just 89 points a game, and got just enough offense to win.

The Jazz are hitting that stride earlier this season. After a dramatic win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Jazz have won seven in a row and moved past Houston into the seven seed in the West. Utah is hitting its stride and is not only going to make the playoffs but also be a tough out in them. They are playing great defense again, allowing 87.3 points per game during the win streak (95.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), plus are getting offense when they need it. Like during the dramatic end of the win over Dallas on the road Tuesday. First Rodney Hood hit a three to force overtime:

Then Gordon Hayward hit the step-back game winner.

2) Kurt Rambis drops first game as Knicks coach. Meet the new Knicks: They got off to a terrible start, had no offensive flow, were constantly putting up contested shots late in the shot clock, and didn’t slow the other team down in transition. And they lost (111-108 to Washington). If that sounds a lot like the old Derek Fisher Knicks, well, what did you expect? Kurt Rambis — whatever you think of him as a coach — was not going to be able to make many changes on the fly, and while Carmelo Anthony dropped 33, the reasons this team has struggled of late have not gone away. This roster is not as good as Phil Jackson apparently thinks it is, and people running the show at Madison Square Garden may have been blinded by a better than expected start. This is not a good team, if anything the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis has them playing above expectations. There are some pieces to build on for the future, but there is still a lot of building to do. This coaching change doesn’t change much of anything in the short term.

3) Setback Tuesday: Bulls’ Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with knee strain; Grizzlies Marc Gasol out indefinitely with a broken foot; Pelicans Tyreke Evans to miss rest of season after knee surgery. The basketball gods were handing out injuries Tuesday like Oprah handed out cars.

The Bulls will be without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for a month due to the knee strain he suffered a couple of games back. The Bulls are already 5-12 in their last 17 and struggling on defense; this is another big step back along those lines. Chicago is just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs, and that is suddenly a concern. The Bulls’ Pau Gasol will replace Butler in the All-Star Game (which means the Bulls keep a representative, and Gasol is there for the Kobe sendoff game, which is nice).

Marc Gasol is the hub of what Memphis likes to do on both ends, but he has a broken foot and will be out indefinitely. Gasol’s game has taken a step back this season, but the team is still 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and the Grizzlies don’t have anyone who can replace what he does at both ends. The Grizzlies have a 4.5 game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, but wins are going to be much tougher to come by now.

This has been a lost season in New Orleans, Tyreke Evans going under the knife because of his knee is just piling on. It does kill the Pelicans’ efforts to trade him at the deadline in nine days.

4) Khris Middleton’s free throw gives Bucks win over Celtics. Wild ending in Boston. First, a Jerryd Bayless foul gives Kelly Olynyk the chance to tie the game with one second left.

Just one second left, so it’s going to overtime, right? Wrong. Avery Bradley with the stupid foul and the Bucks get the win.

5) Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was ejected for elbowing Spurs Boban Marjanovic in the face. It was a made free throw in the fourth quarter of a double-digit game — there wasn’t anything to be battling over. But Marjanovic was working to get his big body in a rebounding position, Whiteside was trying to fight him off and got his elbows up. It was the move of an immature player, which Whiteside can still be at times. Elbow a guy in the face and you’re gone.

Stephen Curry starts ridiculous Warriors fast break (VIDEO)

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Golden State is such a thing of beauty to watch in transition.

This play starts when Stephen Curry slides down to help on post defense on Clint Capela, steals the ball, saves it to a teammate and then gets it back when they start the break. James Harden tries to slow Curry down, cutting him off in the backcourt, Curry just whips a 20-foot behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala, who lobs it to Leandro Barbosa for the finish.

Houston fought back from 16 down early to make it interesting for a while, but Golden State pulled away late for the 123-110 win. Curry finished with 35 on the night.