The Extra Pass: The All-Mesh Team and Tuesday’s recaps

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While the Golden State Warriors were giving the Detroit Pistons the proverbial business on Tuesday night, the Warriors’ announcing crew fawned over Andre Iguodala before asking, “who wouldn’t want to play with this guy?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but I tried to answer it anyway. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any joyless, Oscar the Grouchian NBA player who wouldn’t love playing with Iguodala.

And it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Iguodala defends the best player on the floor every night. He looks to distribute before anything else. He’s completely unselfish, yet he requires very little from his teammates in order to be successful. I’d be suspicious of any player who didn’t want Iguodala on their team.

Iguodala is just a player who meshes. It seems a little silly that he has only played in one All-Star game and been named to an All-Defensive team just once in his career, but guys who make a living by fitting in sometimes struggle to stand out.

There are other players like Iguodala out there. Maybe the individual accolades won’t come their way, but at least we can name them to the All-Mesh team.

PG: Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks

Even if you don’t have a vested interest in the Knicks, watching guys like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani stand around on the court is enough to make you throw things at your television. Maybe it’s the contrast that makes him so refreshing, but Pablo Prigioni is infinitely entertaining to watch.

Every assumption you probably had about Prigioni before you saw him play was incorrect. He’s 36-years-old and looks unathletic, but Prigioni plays with this non-stop motor defensively that drives opposing point guards nuts. The Knicks were 4.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Prigioni on the floor last year, and through six games this year, Prigioni has a true shooting percentage of 84.4 (!) percent.

Prigioni can play on or off the ball, he can space the floor and make the right swing pass, he won’t take bad shots, and he can change a game with his defensive hounding. The Knicks aren’t hard up for players who just want to score and do very little else, and so Prigioni provides some badly needed balance.

SG: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

You knew it wouldn’t be long until a Spur popped up on this team. Green is the preeminent “3 and D” guy in the league, but people will still make a funny face when you call him a top-10 shooting guard, for some reason.

While 3-point shooting is his calling card, what I like best about Green is his ability to protect the stars around him.

If Tony Parker is having a rough time staying with an opposing point guard, he has Green right there to take the assignment. Instead of having defenders swarm him in the post, Tim Duncan can jab step to his heart’s content because Green is sitting in the corner and keeping his man with glued to him.

His reputation is still attached to his name instead of his game, but Green is a guy literally every team could use.

SF: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

I’ve explained why he’s here, and the fact that he has fit in so incredibly well to a team loaded with wings is a testament to his blending abilities. Just thinking about how maligned he was in Philadelphia for not being Allen Iverson and shooting 35 times a game makes me sick to my stomach.

PF: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

We’ll cheat by listing Horford as a power forward, which he might actually prefer thanks to the long-standing tradition of talented big man (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) not wanting to be considered centers.

If there’s something on a basketball court that Horford can’t do, let me know. He contributes in every single facet of the game, and it’s hard to imagine a frontcourt partner that would be a truly bad fit for him given his varied and balanced skill-set. Every player looks better next to him, and that says it all.

C: Marc Gasol

Before I die, I’d like to write a 40,000 word ode to the Gasol brothers and the beautiful basketball they play, but I’ll spare you for the time being.

Marc resurrected the career of Zach Randolph and conditioned Defensive Player of the Year voters to value positioning over raw blocks totals, which were two things that I thought would never happen in my lifetime.

With Pau on the decline, we should be thanking the basketball gods (or Mr. and Ms. Gasol) that we still have Marc in his prime. There aren’t many players you can say this about, but you can build an entire defense around Marc, and then run your whole offense through him as well. He’s truly a brilliant player.

-D.J. Foster

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Miami 118, Milwaukee 95: The Heat had allowed almost 109 points per game in the team’s three losses this season, and after LeBron James came out and publicly declared that this would be a point of emphasis, you knew the Bucks would be in trouble. Miami led by as many as 28 points before this one was through, and even though Ray Allen missed this on due to illness, James made sure the final outcome was never in doubt with 33 points in just under 30 minutes of action.

Dallas 105, Washington 95: Dirk Nowitzki moved into 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in this one, passing Jerry West with a three-pointer late in the third quarter. As for the game itself, the Wizards were unable to dig themselves out of the hole they dug by scoring just 15 points in the second quarter while falling behind by 12 at the break. Fantasy basketball players have known about Trevor Ariza this season, but he’s starting to drift into the mainstream with performances like the one he put up in Dallas. Ariza finished with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and four steals in the losing effort for the Wizards.

Golden State 113, Detroit 95: This one was over very early, as the Warriors led by 19 points after one and by 21 points at the half. Stephen Curry finished with 25 points on 10 shots in just 29 minutes, and the Warriors assisted on 28 of their 42 shots on the way to shooting 60 percent from the field for the game. Jermaine O’Neal scored 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Golden State — that’s how out of hand this game truly was.

L.A. Lakers 116, New Orleans 95: Jordan Hill got his first career start, and it resulted in a career-best 21 point performance, to go along with 11 rebounds. The Lakers shot almost 56 percent from the field for the game and 55 percent from three-point distance — quite a difference from their 85-point output against these same Pelicans in New Orleans just two games prior. Nick Young and Xavier Henry combined for 32 points off the bench on 13-of-19 shooting, and Anthony Davis was held in check this time around after dominating the contest during the teams’ last meeting.

Brett Pollakoff

Thompson’s playmaking a steadying force for defending champs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.

“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”

Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.

The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.

“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”

After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.

“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.

It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.

The approach is working for the Warriors.

“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”

Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.

Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”

Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.

Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.

On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.

In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.

Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.

He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.

He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.

“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”

Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.

“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”

He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.

At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.

Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”

Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.

“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”

That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.

 

Report: Mark Cuban in process to buy Mavericks’ G-League team

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There will come a day, in the not too distant future, when every NBA team will have an owned and affiliated G-League team. It will be a place for them to develop young players — guys they drafted but need more run than they’d get in the NBA, guys on two-way contracts, and just players they like and want to give a chance. The NBA is more and more becoming a development league — and if the one-and-done rule is replaced with something akin to the baseball rule for players going to college, having a strong G-League team will matter even more.

Which is why the news that Mark Cuban is about to buy the G-League team already affiliated with the Mavericks makes sense. Marc Stein of The New York Times broke the news.

While the name of the guys signing the checks will change with the Texas Legends, little else will.

It’s just another sign of the future in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is up for a Cavaliers vs. Celtics playoff clash

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Isaiah Thomas says he has moved on from the trade this summer that caught him off guard, shipping him from Boston — where he was a fan favorite — to Cleveland.

Sort of. Like a lot of sudden relationship ends, Thomas says he’s moved on, but it doesn’t sound like he totally has yet. Look at what he told Sam Amick of the USA Today in an interesting Q&A.

“I’ve put it behind me, and I’ve continued to try to do that… But other than that, every day that I’m in the gym or that I’m on the court or in the weight room or doing whatever I have to do to get back to who I was, and get back to being 100 percent healthy, yes I do use it as motivation.”

Thomas has yet to set foot on the court as a Cavalier, spending the start of the season rehabbing a hip injury. He’s expected back next month.

It’s very early in the NBA season, we’re not at 20 games or even Thanksgiving yet, but it has become evident that the Cavaliers have some legitimate defensive concerns, and that the Boston Celtics are a legitimate threat to them.

That would set up a series between Thomas’ old team that he’s still a little angry at, and his new team in Cleveland. And Thomas is good with that.

“Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works – I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”

Not enough NBA players use the word “lovely” anymore.

But I’m with Thomas, I want to see that series, too.

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out two more weeks due to sprained ankle

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With Isaiah Thomas still rehabbing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, when he is available (he’s only played in half of Cleveland’s games). More Rose has not been good for Cleveland’s defense, and it’s forced Tyronn Lue to play Kevin Love more at center just to have enough shooting on the floor, so there are driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now we will have to see what Lue and the Cavaliers do without Rose for a couple more weeks. Rose will be out for a couple of weeks with his sprained left ankle, the team announced Friday afternoon.

“Due to continued symptoms, the ankle will be immobilized in a boot for the next week and he will also undergo an extended treatment process over the next two to three weeks.”

Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting this season in Cleveland.

With Rose and Thomas out, Cleveland has gone with Iman Shumpert technically as the point, although LeBron handles the playmaking duties. He brings some size to the position, but he can’t defend quick point guards well (not that Rose could). This new lineup has won the Cavaliers a couple of games in a row, although that has been far more about their offense making runs rather than their struggling defense (last in the NBA) stepping up.

It’s been tough to get a feel for this Cavaliers team and what they really are this season, in part due to all the injuries. This simply adds to that mess.

The Cavaliers take on the slumping Clippers Friday night.