The evolution of Manu Ginobili

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SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili was picking apart the Heat in Game 1 — 16 points on 10 shots, plus 11 assists. He was attacking off the pick-and-roll, making sharp passes to a rolling Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter, plus he was getting open looks (7 of his 10 shot attempts were on uncontested looks, a sign of smart play and good ball movement).

His influence on the outcome of Game 1 was massive — but it was very different from the way he would have influenced a game just a few years ago.

The Spurs offense has evolved, and more importantly so has the 36-year-old Ginobili as he has aged. He influences outcomes much more with his mental game now.

“He’s still Manu, but he’s not the Manu he was a few years back where he could take over games in an instant,” Danny Green said.

It all started a few years back when Gregg Popovich decided to change the offense, picking up the tempo and turning the keys over more to his guards Tony Parker and Ginobili. Popovich saw his team’s roster, saw the direction the league was moving (with more pick-and-rolls and shots early in the clock) and became an early adopter.

“When you look at tapes of how we played in the ’02-03 season, we were very different,” Ginobili said. “We were pretty much a team of going past half court, feeding Tim (Duncan), space around and try to get something out of that.

“Now we try to be way more mobile and move the ball much better, more passes. And I think in the last few years we did it so much better. Everybody is feeling important. Everybody is feeling that they are helping the team do better. It’s been a fun change to be part of.”

Popovich saw it as a trade off.

“We’re not as good as we used to be defensively,” he said of his aging roster. “So if that’s going to diminish, you need to do something at the other end of the floor to make up for it. We changed our pace, and the way we approach things at the other end of the floor to make up for what we’re going to lose defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

Ginobili said the new offense works because it is “more unpredictable.”

But there were other adjustments needed for Ginobili — father time was catching up with him.

Ginobili was always a crafty player, but people underestimated his athleticism, his ability to get by his man, get into the paint and cause problems. Age ultimately robs all players of that, some just adjust better than others.

“I had to learn to play with less explosiveness in my legs,” Ginobili said. “Before my game depended a lot on my ability to go by my defender or attack one-on-one, or run more in transition. But now I know I can’t do that, or I can do that for a few minutes and then I run out of juice.

“So I had to develop more my passing ability, my understanding of the game and the system. The fact that you get to understand the system very well helps because you know where your teammates are going to be in each situation. The things you get with experience.”

That evolution was not always smooth.

“Last year he was more aggressive and trying to take over some games sometimes and Pop had to tell him ‘you can’t do it all at once or do it by yourself,’ you got to trust your teammates,” Green said. “And he did last year for the most part. But he still found himself being the guy who tries to take over. And he’s capable of doing it, and some nights he’s not, when he’s not shooting it well. But he’s been very consistent this year trusting everyone around him, finding guys, and playing his part.”

It was the step needed to not only get the Spurs back to the NBA Finals but to make the Spurs a bigger threat to the Heat — last season Miami’s pressure defense caused some ugly games for Ginobili. He had eight turnovers in the painful Game 6 loss.

It’s just one game, but Ginobili handled the Heat’s pressure with much more aplomb in Game 1.

“(Heat defenders’) hands and their blitzes, they didn’t bother me as much as last year in some games,” Ginobili said. He added that with that he was sharper hitting cutters with his passes.

It’s all just part of the evolution of Manu Ginobili.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!