Phoenix found itself another scorer in T.J. Warren

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LAS VEGAS — T.J. Warren was one of the nation’s most prolific scorers in college at North Carolina State, but when it came time for the draft there were doubts. He killed it from the midrange in college, but how exactly would that translate to an NBA that increasingly frowns on midrange jumpers?

Well, he can land on a team that just wants to run then get to the rim.

Warren got drafted by the Suns — a team that played at a top 10 pace last season and wants to play faster, something that carried over to Summer League in Las Vegas where the long and rangy team plays at a real pace.

Warren is thriving in that — he had 28 points on Tuesday night in a win over Philadelphia (another team that wants to run) and all of his buckets save one came right at the rim, most in transition.

“For me it’s just running the floor hard and having that knack to finish in transition…” Warren said, crediting his teammates for finding him. “It’s just finding my sweet spots, really.”

“He’s got (scoring) down, that midrange (jumper),” said Suns Summer League coach Mike Longabardi. “He’s got a good instinct for the ball, he got a couple rebounds. And he really does well in transition, we get the rebound… and advance it to him and he’s great.”

Through three games in Las Vegas Warren is averaging 21 points a game shooting 59 percent.

Not even five stitches over a puffy right eye could slow him. He only played seven minutes in the Suns second game in Las Vegas because of an inadvertent elbow to the eye.

“I think (the Bucks) Johnny O’Bryant came down and elbowed me, I had to get five stitches,” Warren said, still with a bandage over his right eye. “It’s kind of rough… I wanted to come back in (that game) but it wasn’t happening. It got really bad, I iced it all day yesterday, the day we had off, icing it more tonight….

“I got used to it. In the beginning it was a little tough getting used to it, but it became easier.”

His shooting was anything but icy.

“The thing (the Sixers) did was really pressure us and when they did he just attacked and it worked in our favor,” Longabardi said.

“I just got to get used to the offense, keep learning the sets,” Warren added. “The uptempo style really fits my game, just running really hard. Just got to build off this.”

It’s a good Summer League showing from Warren, the kind of thing that will get him some minutes in camp and the preseason. But he’s also got holes in his game.

He’s going to have to develop a three point shot. Right now he avoids it and is 0-of-3 in Summer League.

“I think his three ball will come, he’s just got to practice it,” Longabardi said.

In transition he’s also going to have to finish through contact — he did that in college, but these are men (often really big ones) in his way now.

“It’s kind of harder, I’m trying to figure it out,” Warren said of finishing through contact. “I college you could kind of finish through guys, at the next level it’s different. So you’ve got to be craftier, find ways to put it in the basket. I’m adjusting to it pretty well.”

But the biggest adjustment will be defense — he’s got to play it better to get on the court come the fall.

“(Defensively) That’s going to be an adjustment,” Longabardi said.

“It’s different a little bit,” Warren said of defense. “Just trying to get in position to stop guys. Help side defense is there.”

The bottom line is in the NBA if you can put the ball in the basket you’ll get your chances. Warren is proving in the desert this summer he can do just that. And the Suns can always use another guy who knows how to finish in transition.

“We knew what we were getting when we drafted him — a scorer,” Longabardi said.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

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The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.