Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

The Extra Pass: The league’s leading lineups; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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After watching two of the league’s best starting lineups duke it out in Indiana, let’s check in on the best and worst lineups around the league so far this season.

Best Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Houston: Patrick Beverley-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Terrence Jones-Dwight Howard

Net efficiency is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and their defensive rating.

The Pacers or Heat are usually a safe bet to be in the pole position all year, but the league’s best net offensive/defensive efficiency mark actually belongs to a lineup no one saw coming.

After the experiment with Omer Asik failed and Jeremy Lin went down with an injury, this lineup has led way for Houston and put up a net rating of +23.3 this season, a differential that’s nearly double what the fourth best lineup (Portland’s starters) has posted this season.

Supplementing the core talent with athletic defenders in Beverley and Jones has paid dividends defensively, but it hasn’t sacrificed spacing on the other end. Houston may be tempted to turn Asik into a legitimate power forward or upgrade at point guard, but the production this group is providing is hard to walk away from.

Worst Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins

Shocking, right? Oklahoma City’s starting lineup for the last three years has laid an egg out of the gates and simply can’t score. This group’s offensive rating of 93.1 would rank dead last in the NBA, and the net rating of -10.2 isn’t a whole lot better.

History would indicate two things will happen here, though.

The first is that this number should improve a great deal, as this very same lineup posted a net rating of +12.3 last season.

Secondly, you can bet that Scott Brooks will stay with it for extended minutes, even if he has preferred to close games with Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb as of late.

League’s Fastest Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Minnesota: Ricky Rubio-Kevin Martin-Corey Brewer-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic

Minnesota’s starting lineup is playing at a ridiculously fast pace of 102.8. How? Pairing the league’s best outlet passer with a player constantly leaking out on the break doesn’t hurt:

Best Shooting Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Golden State: Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-David Lee-Andrew Bogut

Anytime the phrase “best shooting” is uttered, you can be sure the splash brothers are involved. Curry and Thompson obviously carry this lineup, but Iguodala’s incredibly efficient start to the season took this group to another level.

This lineup’s true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent blows everyone else out of the water, as the second place team (Houston’s aforementioned lineup) is four percentage points worse.

Watch out for the Warriors once Iguodala recovers. With Harrison Barnes playing in place of Iguodala, Golden State has posted a net rating of -7.4 and has dropped in true shooting eight full percentage points. He’s critical on both ends for them.

D.J. Foster

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Take a second to look at how small the ball looks in the hands of Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Cavaliers 109, Knicks 94: New York followed up its horrific 41-point home loss to Boston by falling behind by 18 points in the first quarter in this one. At least they did battle back to close the gap before ultimately getting down big again, and for a team with so few positives to lean on this season, a competitive streak could be something to lean on. Staying positive, Carmelo Anthony finished with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and Amar’e Stoudemire had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 27 minutes. But allowing Kyrie Irving to drop 37 points in 36 minutes, while seeing Jarrett Jack score 17 points on eight shots was too much on the road, so New York fell to a record of 5-15 on the season. —Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 90, Heat 84: Indiana trailed early, but Paul George and Roy Hibbert came alive in the second half to ensure a Pacers victory. Indiana treated this game like it mattered while Miami simply viewed it as one of many on the long road back to the playoffs, but this Pacers team causes real matchup problems for the Heat. Miami has more than four months before the postseason begins, however, to figure things out. —BP

Spurs 116, Raptors 103: Jeff Ayres started in place of the injured Tiago Splitter for the Spurs, but it was Aron Baynes who provided the big man performance that San Antonio needed to push through. Baynes finished with 14 points and six rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting in less than 21 minutes to help San Antonio overcome an early deficit of 14 points. The Spurs shot 54.9 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three-point distance in compiling their 116 points, yet no single player managed to score more than 16 points — in other words, it was a perfectly balanced attack from one of the top teams in the game. —BP

Nets 104, Celtics 96: Paul Pierce faced his former team for the first time, but did so coming off the bench in his first game back after suffering a broken hand injury five games ago. He finished with an uncharacteristically effective line of four points, seven rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes as a reserve, while Deron Williams and his return was much more important to the game’s ultimate result. Williams finished with 25 points and seven assists as the Nets won their second straight to improve to 7-14 on the season. —BP

Thunder 101, Hawks 92: OKC held Atlanta to 35.6 percent shooting for the game, and used a 27-18 second quarter run to gain the separation needed to finish the game with a comfortable margin. Kevin Durant finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Russell Westbrook ended up with 14 points, 11 assists and four steals in the victory that sent the Thunder to a record of 16-4 on the season. —BP

Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: This was close until midway through the second quarter when Minnesota went on a 21-5 run sparked by Kevin Martin, who had 12 of his 18 in that period. Minnesota ran away from there and the starters basically got to rest the fourth quarter. Kevin Love put up a monster 26 point, 17 rebound line in just 30 minutes. However, the real key to Minnesota’s run was them getting to the free throw line 33 times, hitting 28. Brandon Jennings led the Pistons with 20 points, but basically none of the Detroit starters played well. —Kurt Helin

Bucks 78, Bulls 74: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no Joakim Noah, no Jimmy Butler — no offense and no win for the Bulls. Milwaukee’s John Henson was the best player on the floor scoring 25 points with a variety of shots (he’s got a nice lefty jump hook) and pulling down 14 boards. Chicago, with few options on offense, tried to go to Carlos Boozer late but on a key play late Henson stripped him. Mike Dunleavy outscored the Bucks 18-15 in the second quarter (he finished with 24). This was an ugly game, let us never speak of it again. —KH

Suns 114, Lakers 108: Kobe Bryant looked better — he had a team high 20 points and switched up his game to get the ball either in the post or at the elbow most of the time, which allowed him to work closer to the basket. The Laker offense worked better — but their defense was a mess. The Suns guard tandem of Goran Dragic (31 points) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 9 assists) did what they wanted, which included feeding Marcus Morris who added 22 points. The Suns know who they are right now, the Lakers are clearly figuring that out and now have to do it on a tough four-game road trip. —KH

Giannis Antetokounmpo called for 10-second violation on free throw (video)

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This Giannis Antetokounmpo 10-second violation was a year in the making.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, it was too little, too late. Antetokounmpo still finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks and two steals in the Bucks’ 115-107 win.

Iman Shumpert injures hand while missing open dunk (video)

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Plenty went right for the Cavaliers in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but there were a few snags.

LeBron James and his teammates repeatedly failed the water-bottle challenge in the closing moments (though Kyrie Irving eventually nailed it).

Kevin Love‘s nose malfunctioned.

And Iman Shumpert injured his hand while missing an open dunk.

If Shumpert was faking as an excuse for missing, he sold it hard. Defending 4-on-5 on the other end, Cleveland ceded a 3-pointer. Then, Shumpert remained hunched over while the Cavs brought the ball up-court. It seems Shumpert might have been popping back in a dislocated finger, which jibes with him staying in the game – and shows his toughness.

But it also doesn’t erase the shame of hurting yourself while missing an open dunk.

Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!