LeBron Christmas sleeved jersey

Sleeved jerseys not enough to stop LeBron, Heat in Christmas Day win over Lakers

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LOS ANGELES — The Heat got more of a fight than maybe they were expecting in their Christmas Day matchup with the Lakers, but eventually showed enough on both ends of the floor to get the job done.

Behind 23 points apiece from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami used a 9-0 run late in the fourth to gain separation and finish with a 101-96 victory to improve its record to 22-6 on the season.

The Lakers started off more active and engaged than the defending champs, and led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter. L.A. was determined to try to beat the Heat with three-point shooting, and by halftime had launched 20 of their 45 attempts from beyond the arc.

Even though they made just six, it was a plan that continued with more success in the second half, when the team made five of its next 10.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said he anticipated this course of action, and felt that his team defended the long ball well for the most part.

“They’re fifth on threes attempted, so that’s a little bit more how they play anyway,” he said. “Teams will try to get us moving, try to get us to play out of our rotations. That’s not a secret, everybody’s been doing that for a while. We do play an aggressive, disruptive style so at times we’re exposed and we have to cover ground.

“They did launch some threes; early on, they were getting some wide open ones where we weren’t even near them, or making that extra effort to contest and making them put the ball on the floor. Then we were able to get them to make that next play, and then from there it was just inconsistent.”

LeBron James had a quiet game by his standards, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Even though he shot 7-of-14 from the field, a closer look shows that he was 6-of-6 at the rim, but just 1-of-8 while shooting from the outside.

Earlier in the week James had said that he and his teammates were concerned about the special, sleeved jerseys that they and all the teams playing on Christmas would be wearing, and he blamed his poor jump shooting on them afterward.

“It was definitely a different feel,” James said. “Every time I shot it from the free throw line or shot a jumper I felt a little tug, so maybe I’ll go up to another bigger size next time we wear them, or … I’m not going to tell you what the other alternative is, but I definitely felt it for sure.

“For me, I’m not a great shooter,” he continued. “So any little error that goes on can affect my shot.”

James was much more effective in transition, where the Heat are among the deadliest teams in the game. He and Wade connected on not one, but two incredible alley-oops on the break in the first half which had even Lakers fans out of their seats in excitement.

“Anytime D Wade gets on the break, I just try to chase him down,” said LeBron. “I’m not sure if he’s going to go in for it or if he’s going to throw the lob to me. I had no idea what he was going to do with it. He was looking at me, I didn’t know where he was going to go with it, if he was going to toss it to me or throw it up. But the one off the glass, the only way I could catch it was with my left, so I had to improvise.”

On the Lakers side, they saw Jordan Farmar return to the lineup after missing time with a hamstring injury, and despite his understandable rust, the offense ran noticeably smoother with a capable point guard in charge. L.A. got solid performances from Nick Young and Xavier Henry off the bench, enough to keep things close and make a couple of runs.

The Heat were ultimately too much in this one, however, and despite the victory coming against a depleted Lakers team that sits at 13-16 on the season, any road victory in the NBA is cause for celebration — even by the defending champs playing a sub-.500 team.

“This road trip will continue to get tougher as we go, and we’ll need to play better basketball,” Spoelstra said. “But a road win, you never take those for granted.”

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.