Nets in control from start, hang on at end to finally beat LeBron and gain confidence

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There are no statement games on Día de los Muertos.

I’m not sure there are statement games in early April either, but right now it’s far, far too early to talk about them. Teams change and evolve a lot over the course of a season. A lot. Plus regular season series are not reliable predictors of postseason success anyway.

All that said, if the Nets are going to challenge the Heat in late April or May, they need to believe they can beat the two time defending champions. Deron Williams said they believed they were better than the Heat, yet they had lost 17-straight games to a LeBron James team. Even with all the changes for the Nets they needed something to back up that confidence. They talked about it at shootaround.

That step they took Friday night. Brooklyn used some impressive ball movement and a fluid offense, plus some timely defense to build a healthy double-digit lead over Miami, then they hung on at the end to win 101-100.

Miami looked like they coasted early — this is their third straight game with a slow start — and were not sharp when they tried to turn it on late, with that effort they are now 1-2 on the season. If Eric Spoelstra was looking for something to get the attention of his players, that should do it.

Brooklyn should gain a measure of confidence from this win.

Brooklyn was very active early defensively and their length seemed to throw the Heat off their game offensively, which had the Nets off to a quick 11-3 lead. Kevin Garnett takes on the best post player of the opposition and with that Brook Lopez can be a weakside shot blocker, he picked up a couple blocks that way in this game and altered other shots.

On offense the Nets not only moved the ball but cut well off the ball and that combination led to a very fluid offense. Again, it’s two games into the season but if they can keep this up they will have a very powerful offensive game that people who love good basketball will want to watch.

Brooklyn won the third quarter 31-20 and was comfortably in control, until a late fourth quarter 10-0 run by Miami made the end dramatic. However, Ray Allen missed a free throw (stock up on canned goods, it could be a sign of the apocalypse) while Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce hit theirs, which overcame a LeBron corner three that made it interesting. Chris Bosh hit his free throws too, down 2 with three seconds left he needed to miss the second one and didn’t. Like a Bosh.

Paul Pierce had 19 points on 10 shots, Joe Johnson 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting to lead the Nets. Brooklyn got good minutes off the bench from Shaun Livingston and a hustling Alan Anderson as well.

LeBron put up 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, Dwyane Wade 21 points on 12 shots and he was 10-of-11 on free throws. But neither looked especially sharp. Like in the Heat’s opening night win over the Bulls they were fine, but in that game the bench had a huge night. Not this time.

If these teams meet in the playoffs, don’t bring up this game as predictive of what will happen. But the Nets can feel a little more confident, and that’s a step.

Report: John Wall’s extension includes player option

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The Wizards had John Wall under contract for the next two seasons then signed him to a super-max extension that locks him in for an additional four three years.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised the Wizards gave Wall a player option considering their leverage.

Wall’s extension projects to pay him $169 million over four years – $30 million more than another team’s projected max offer over the same span. Even if Wall wanted to stay in Washington, this was the only offseason he could’ve ensured receiving the super-max rate. Had he rejected the extension now, he would have been eligible for the super max only by making an All-NBA team either of the next two years – far from guaranteed.

Still, the Wizards gave Wall everything – the highest-possible salary, max raises, a player option and a trade kicker.* There’s value in pleasing the franchise player. Wall will be the team’s third-highest-paid player for the next two years (behind Otto Porter and Bradley Beal), which might have bothered Wall if not for the super-max extension about to kick in. This deal makes locker-room harmony more likely.

But it also allows Wall to hit free agency in 2022 rather than 2023. Maybe that won’t matter. Wall’s salary option-year salary projects to be $47 million when he’s 32-years-old. I doubt Wall opts out then, though it’s certainly possible.

Effectively, if Wall is worth that much in 2022, he’ll be a free agent. If he’s not worth that much, Washington committed to pay him.

*The trade kicker is unlikely to to matter unless the salary cap unexpectedly increases significantly. It can’t lift Wall’s salary above 35% of the salary cap in the season he’s traded, and he’ll likely be at or above that mark throughout the extension anyway.

Basketball Hall of Famer John Kundla dies at 101

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Kundla, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died Sunday. He was 101.

Son Jim Kundla said his father died at an assisted living facility in Northeast Minneapolis that he has called home for years.

Kundla coached George Mikan and the Lakers in the 1940s and 1950s, helping them become the NBA’s first dynasty. He went 423-302 before retiring at the age of 42 and went on to coach his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Kundla was the oldest living Hall of Famer in any of the four major pro sports.

Kundla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. A year later, he was named one of the league’s 10 greatest coaches as part of the league’s “NBA at 50” celebration.

 

Report: Magic signing Marreese Speights to one-year, minimum contract

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It’s a tough market for free-agent centers, as Marreese Speights learned the hard way.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

I wonder whether Speights regrets opting out with the Clippers, who were also slated to pay him a minimum salary. Not only is he stuck with a low-paying deal, he’s on a worse team and one with center depth.

Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo should play only center, where Speights is best. Speights can also play power forward, but Aaron Gordon should get all his minutes there. Maybe Jonathan Isaac should, too, though it’s more tolerable to play him at small forward while the rookie adjusts to the NBA.

Simply, there won’t be much playing time for Speights unless Orlando makes a trade (maybe this is a harbinger) or plays too big of lineups (a lesson it should have learned last season).

Likewise, the Clippers will be fine, though less versatile, without Speights. The acquired Willie Reed (free agency) and Montrezl Harrell (Chris Paul trade) to play behind DeAndre Jordan.

Speights clearly isn’t essential, but he has expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc. He defends with effort, though not necessarily well. There’s a place in the league for stretch fives like him. But he turns 30 in a couple weeks, and his stock is clearly low. At least he’ll have a chance for a bigger payday next summer.

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.