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.

Brett Brown assures Nerlens Noel he’ll get paid if he plays inside

Boston Celtics Vs. Philadelphia 76ers Exhibition Game
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As Nerlens Noel pointed out, the 76ers have too many young, talented big men – which is the biggest reason Philadelphia probably won’t extend Noel’s contract by the Oct. 31 deadline.

That has to be a little disappointing for Noel, who didn’t ask to be drafted by a franchise more preoccupied with asset accumulation than producing a winning fit and has an injury that lends itself to taking guaranteed money now.

But this isn’t Noel’s last chance to get paid, and his coach doesn’t want him sulking while battling Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid for minutes and space.

Brett Brown, via Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown wants him to focus on running rim to rim, scoring around the basket and being a defensive stopper.

“Personally, I don’t care if he ever makes a jump shot for the rest of his life,” the coach said. “I mean that. That’s not how his bread is buttered.”

“Nerlens has got elite gifts,” Brown said. “He’s as athletic and quick off the floor and quick rim to rim as anyone that I’ve coached, as any big man in the league.”

“Do your job and we will help you,” he added. “The league will reward that. The 76ers will reward that. He will be rewarded for playing like that.”

Brown is right. There’s no better way for Noel to earn money than by playing well. That means playing energetic defense, protecting the rim and hounding guards on hedges, and actively seeking easy looks near the basket on the other end.

If the 76ers trade him or Okafor before the season, Noel might even still get an extension. Absent that, he’ll head into restricted free agency.

If he’s coming off a year of playing to his strengths, it will be much more lucrative.

Pacers believe pieces are in place to play faster style

Indiana Pacers' Jeff Teague, left, poses with Paul George during an NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird spent most of his offseason trying to stitch together a championship contender.

He made two trades to create versatility. He added bulk by signing free agent Al Jefferson. He watched the Pacers’ biggest star, Paul George, return from the Olympics with a gold medal around his neck and a new perspective about making the Pacers a better team. And Bird hired a coach who shares his vision of what it takes to win in today’s NBA.

Now Indiana is about to find out if this bold, new look will produce better results than last year’s awkward attempt to use a smaller lineup with more 3-point shooters and putting some players, such as George, out of position.

George became a star at small forward but started the season playing power forward, an experiment that didn’t last long.

“Last year, we tried to play that spread-four and we tried to turn Paul and C.J. Miles into that spread four. Now he (Bird) has brought those guys in,” new coach Nate McMillan said Monday during the team’s annual media day. “Look, you’re going to have to be able to play half-court basketball because you can’t run for 48 minutes. I think the better teams will be able to slow you down, but I think we can play both ways now.”

How much and how quickly things change remains unclear.

Unlike last season, when it seemed Bird and George weren’t always on the same page and former coach Frank Vogel often wound up playing middle man between his best player and his boss, the second year of this transition already is off to a smoother start. George acknowledged Monday he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win this season – even if that requires playing some minutes as a stretch-four. McMillan even called the three-time All-Star and all-league defender a “versatile three.”

But the biggest difference will be George’s supporting cast.

Bird began the latest overhaul by acquiring All-Star point guard Jeff Teague in a three-team deal that sent George Hill to Utah. The trade left the 26-year-old George, now entering his seventh year with the team, as the longest-tenured Pacers’ player and the only remaining starter left from the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference runner-ups.

Then Bird sent Indiana’s first-round draft pick to Brooklyn for the nimble Thaddeus Young, who will play that stretch-four role, and plugged in second-year pro Myles Turner at center. He brought in the 60foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson to give the Pacers a bigger inside presence off the bench.

“It’s completely different. Last year, you had true bigs in the paint and scorers who would post up,” Young said. “Now you’ve got guys who can step out, make plays, make moves. We’re definitely going to try to push the tempo, push the pace.”

Everyone in this locker room seems to embrace the small-ball concept.

When Teague was asked about the prospect of teaming up with George and bringing the trendy new style to his hometown team, he responded with a beaming style. Turner and Young had similar reactions Monday, and George sounds as eager as anybody to see how everything will work.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a little faster,” George said. “I know that Jeff is a coast-to-coast guy, and I haven’t really played with a coast-to-coast guy before, so hopefully I can make it easier for him.”

Clearly, Bird believes he has the players to operate his preferred style, even if doesn’t look quite right when the Pacers open the season Oct. 26 against Dallas.

So McMillan will spend most of the next month trying to get all these new guys and the new lineups working together, in sync. And McMillan believes that if given time, the Pacers new style will be a good look.

“The game has changed,” McMillan said. “You’re seeing more pace teams that are trying to get between 90 and 100 possessions per game. How do you create that? You put together a roster that you can do that with, and I think the Pacers have done that. I think those (new) guys put us in position to pretty much paly any style we want to play.”

Note: George was asked whether he had any desire to re-do his contract, which can now be extended, and said: “Right now, it’s all about the season. I’m not even thinking about contract stuff. Everything is about going into the season.” Last week, Bird said he was willing to give George a new max contract whenever he’s ready. George’s current max deal runs through the 2018-19 season.

Bucks’ president calls Milwaukee “segregated, racist place”

3 Feb 2001:  A general view of the Milwaukee Bucks logo during the game against the Indiana Pacers at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bucks defeated the Pacers 104-85.  NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rights Allsport are offering to license in this Photograph are one-time, non-exclusive editorial rights. No advertising or commercial uses of any kind may be made of Allsport photos. User acknowledges that it is aware that Allsport is an editorial sports agency and that NO RELEASES OF ANY TYPE ARE OBTAINED from the subjects contained in the photographs.Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
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Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin is learning a lesson that even people in the presidential race learned the hard way this year: In today’s era of connected media, you can’t say something aimed at one receptive audience and not expect it to get out to every audience, including those who may find it offensive.

Feigin was in Madison speaking to the Rotary Club of Madison about the Bucks’ new arena and how it will help the inner city parts of Milwaukee, but this is how he phrased it, according to the Wisconsin State Journal (via the Madison Business Journal and Fox 6 in Milwaukee).

“Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life. It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example….“We know we can’t cure the world. But we are very determined to get ourselves involved in programs that we can measure a difference in and put our claws into for a long period of time and show a difference.”

“We know we can’t cure the world. But we are very determined to get ourselves involved in programs that we can measure a difference in and put our claws into for a long period of time and show a difference.”

As an outsider, I’m not going to pretend to know Milwaukee’s history of racial divide or how that plays out in the city at this point. If the Bucks are serious about helping bridge divides in the city, then good on them. More teams — and more players on teams — should help to do that, and NBA teams may be in a unique position to help bring sides together.

However, I’m not sure if what Feigin said will help that cause or just makes people more entrenched.

As noted by the Business Journal, the Bucks have pushed the contractors to hire Milwaukee city and Milwaukee County residents, and the organization has promised to pay at least $12 an hour for the service-sector jobs in the arena once it opens.

Report: In wake of Mo Williams’ retirement Cavs reach out to Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, others

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At the last minute — literally the day of the start of training camp — Mo Williams told Cleveland he was going to retire and will not be Kyrie Irving‘s backup point guard.

With all due respect to Kay Felder, the Knicks need a new backup point guard. They have started to reach out, reports Joe Varden at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

While Griffin said he felt “comfortable” with the Cavs’ current point guard situation — behind Kyrie Irving now is only rookie Kay Felder — the team has on its radar free agents Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, and Kirk Hinrich.

The Cavs have been in contact with all three players this summer, a source said, in anticipation of Williams’ move.

LeBron hasn’t yelled at anyone on the court in a long time, having Chalmers back on his team might be a nice release for him. Chalmers and Cole have experience playing with LeBron before in Miami, and both are athletic enough to play up-tempo like coach Tyronn Lue likes.

While all three of those come with flaws, they would be playing limited minutes behind Irving and would make reasonable backups (so long as they accepted their roles). Certainly upgrades over Felder. Expect the Cavaliers to make a signing before too long.