It’s early, but the Bulls’, Grizzlies’ defenses not exactly impressive

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Last season the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies make playoff runs (Chicago to the second round, Memphis to the conference finals) based on defense. Both teams had enough offense to get the job done even if it wasn’t pretty (and it often wasn’t), but these were teams built around suffocating defense. That was their identity.

Which has made the start of this season odd in Chicago and Memphis.

You can’t draw sweeping conclusions from just three games, but it’s worth noting that so far the Chicago Bulls have been pedestrian while the Grizzlies have just been outright bad on the defensive end.

Chicago is allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions so far, which is 15th in the NBA. Middle of the pack. Average. Not very Tom Thibodeau like.

That’s better than the Grizzlies, who are giving up 108.2, 29th in the NBA.

Memphis underwent a coaching change last summer — Dave Joerger was in, replacing Lionel Hollins for whom he had been the lead assistant. The hope with the move was someone who worked better with management, would keep the same defensive system in place while finding a way to add a little fluidity to the grit-and-grind offense that makes Memphis a team other teams hate to play against.

The offense is different, there is more movement, but with the focus on that end of the court the defense seems to have suffered. Check out this Zach Randolph quote from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Opponents are shooting 46.5 percent against Memphis, the seventh highest percentage allowed so far, but the real killer is teams are shooting 41.7 percent from three. The Grizzlies with that big front line led by Marc Gasol are still doing a solid job protecting the paint, but look at where the damage comes on their opponents’ shot chart.

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As for Chicago, the Bulls are getting beat more in transition and just on lack of focus issues — when the Sixers were storming back to beat the Bulls Saturday Jimmy Butler twice but burned on backdoor cuts. That’s not typical of the Bulls defense, which is known for its multiple efforts. Here is what coach Thibodeau said to the Chicago Tribune after Saturday’s loss.

“You have to get back as a team,” Thibodeau said. “You have to get set as a team. You have to communicate and respond to that communication. You have to finish your defense. It requires multiple efforts. If you don’t do that, you’re in trouble in this league.”

The good news if you’re a Bulls fans is that the 100.7 per 100 possessions allowed so far is not far off last season’s mark of 100.3, which was fifth best in the NBA. To start this season some teams are off to a hot defensive start, many of those squads will come back to earth while the Bulls can improve.

It just seems there are lot of things that need to get turned around in Chicago right now, and we didn’t expect the defense to be one of them.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.

Sixers to keep Joel Embiid’s minutes in teens to start season, he’s not happy

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Joel Embiid wants to get on the court, he wants to unleash himself on the NBA this season. After three seasons of being bottled up — even in the 31 games he has played there was a minutes restriction — Embiid wants to impose his will on the league.

He’s going to have to do that in less than 20 minutes a night, at least to start the season.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says to start the season there will be a tight minutes limit on Embiid, who averaged less than 15 minutes in two preseason games after finally being cleared to play. Embiid does not like that. Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the quotes.

“I don’t really know if there’s a solid number,” Brett Brown said Monday after practice. “I can tell if you were to choose a number, it’s somewhere in the teens.”

“I didn’t know about that, but that’s very disappointing,” Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. “I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice.”

The Sixers being cautious with Embiid is about as surprising as the last Transformers movie sucking.

That said, if any particular game is close going into the fourth quarter don’t be shocked if Embiid breaks his minutes limit — this is a team that wants to start winning, and that means keeping their best players on the court longer. If Saturday night against the Raptors Brett Brown thinks giving Embiid 22-23 minutes helps get them the win, he will. The goal will be to get him up to the high 20s by the end of the season.

The real test for these Sixers will not be how the offense fairs with Embiid sitting — they have guys that can create and knock down shots if needed, such as Ben Simmons or J.J. Redick – instead it’s how well they can defend with him resting.

Report: Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge to two-year, $50 million contract extension

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From troubled to extended, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s Spurs tenure has changed directions in a hurry.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Piecing this together, Aldridge is exercising a $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19. That means his extension is worth $50 million over two years will carry him through age 35. All in all, Aldridge is now under contract for four more seasons.

Aldridge is a borderline All-Star, and he raises San Antonio’s floor. His back-to-the-bask mid-range games remains reliable, and he’s a willing defender. Him signing this deal should end pining for greener pastures, but it certainly won’t force him into diligent acceptance of his role forever. Players can become discontent whenever they please.

This extension significantly limits the Spurs flexibility the next two summers and maybe even in 2020, depending on Aldridge’s guarantee in the second year of his extension. They seem fine with that, perhaps believing they already have enough to topple the Warriors if Kawhi Leonard is healthy.

With Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills all under contract for the few years around Leonard, San Antonio should remain stably good. But will these deals for aging veterans limit the Spurs’ ceiling? That’s the risk for an organization that has built its identity on championships and already has a young, in-his-prime superstar who has proven capable of being the best player on a title team.