Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

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






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





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





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.





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.

Kevin Durant moshes at Kanye West concert, Steve Kerr calls it ‘great workout’ (video)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) == Steve Kerr joked around on what became a post-mosh Monday, feeling some of the natural pressure before his Golden State Warriors get going at last with all the weight of trying to win another NBA championship on their star-studded shoulders.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year said he cut short practice given Kevin Durant‘s jostling in the mosh pit at a Kanye West concert the previous evening.

“He got a great workout last night,” Kerr said with a smile.

Kanye performed at Oracle Arena, where KD will become THE show Tuesday night for the defending Western Conference champions. And MVP Stephen Curry, too, of course.

“We all have pressure. That’s a good thing,” Kerr said Monday. “The alternative is, `Maybe we can win 30 this year instead of 25.’ Who wants that? Unfortunately, a lot of the teams in the league have that, teams that are going through rebuilding stuff, and they’re trying to get where we are. So we’re in a really enviable position. We know how lucky we are to be together with this group. We understand the responsibility that comes with it, and that’s fine. It’s a good position to be in.”

A day away from his highly anticipated Warriors debut, Durant insisted he had no idea just how much daily interest Golden State would generate before the season even began.

How much Durant’s every move would be intently watched – whether it was his concert-going or riding the BART train to get around.

“I never had a chance to get to a show. I was always moving around, Olympics and traveling a lot,” Durant said of attending West’s show. “I’m glad he came through here. I was telling all my friends. I’ve always told them I wanted to get in a mosh pit. It was amazing.”

Durant had no concerns about anything going wrong with all those people in tight quarters.

“I’m covered, man. I’m covered by a higher power upstairs, no matter what happens,” he said.

Four months after squandering a 3-1 series lead and losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and Cleveland, the Warriors are ready to start fresh without any thought on chasing the regular-season wins record they now hold at 73. They will host San Antonio and Kerr’s former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, on Tuesday night.

“It’s the Spurs, so it makes it even more fun,” Kerr said.

Golden State also will honor TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is fighting leukemia, with a special T-shirt for all fans at the opener.

Kerr has said all along Durant would need time to adjust.

“He’s light years beyond where he was three weeks ago,” Kerr said. “He’s embracing the chaos, for sure.”

With Durant and so many new players, Kerr still expects everything to take time before the Warriors really start clicking. Kerr wasn’t even on the bench for last season’s opener, missing the initial 43 games and a record 24-0 start while dealing with complications from a pair of back surgeries.

Next week might be even bigger for Durant, whose former Oklahoma City Thunder visit on Nov. 3. Golden State rallied from 3-1 down to beat OKC in the Western Conference Finals.

Durant’s departure was a big deal. It still is.

“I think they’re just looking for something to grab onto and make it a story,” Durant said. “We understand that. That’s one thing I actually didn’t understand coming in here. Everything’s going to be taken and used as a headline. It’s definitely a learning experience for me not used to all this coverage around a team. That’s just part of the job. That’s why we get paid the way we do and that’s why we are who we are as players. You’re kind of prone to criticism.”

New center Zaza Pachulia got a glimpse of the attention and hype surrounding the Warriors on media day last month.

He’s ready to embrace it.

“We take it as a compliment because it means you’re doing something right. It means you’ve got good talent here, it means that people want to know about you more than anybody else,” he said. “It’s a huge year for us, a big season, kind of what we expected with a lot of expectations, a lot of eyes on us.”

LeBron James responds vaguely when asked about Carmelo Anthony joining Cavaliers

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks battle for position during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (and Chris Paul) said they talked frequently about winning another Olympic gold medal together. LeBron and Anthony both said they’d take a pay cut to play with each other (and Paul and Dwyane Wade). In 2014, Anthony reportedly tried to join LeBron on the Heat or get LeBron to join him on the Knicks.

But none of it came to fruition.

LeBron skipped the 2016 Olympics. He also left Miami for the Cavaliers in 2014, and Anthony returned to New York. Again a free agent the last two years, LeBron re-signed with Cleveland.

What about a LeBron and Anthony teaming up on the Cavs?

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“We have a lot of conversations,” James said Tuesday of his relationship with Anthony.

Did any of those talks center on Anthony coming to Cleveland?

“Maybe. Maybe not,” James said.

Anthony can’t opt out until 2018, so he’s not signing in Cleveland anytime soon. Plus, the Cavs will likely still be capped out then.

Anthony holds a no-trade clause, which allows him to dictate when and where the Knicks deal him. Would he be open to Cleveland? A trade based around Anthony and Love makes at least a little sense.

This line of thinking probably isn’t what Love wants to hear, but he at least knows to expect it now. Not even a championship can quash all the rumors that find this team.

It just goes with the territory of being LeBron’s teammate.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report: