Three things to watch: Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

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1. Patrick Beverley vs. Tony Parker

Tony Parker is an aging 34-year-old point guard who had one of his worst seasons in recent memory, with important stats down across the board to go along with the first negative VORP of his career.

Then came playoff Tony Parker, who was a critical scorer and 3-point shoot for the Spurs in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies. This feels like what Parker does every year come playoff time, so it’s going to be critical to see what Houston Rockets defensive stopper Patrick Beverley can do against him.

Parker has been a scorer more against Houston during the regular season vs. his season averages, but Houston’s gameplan might need to dictate slowing him down, especially from beyond the arc.

Kawhi Leonard isn’t getting a lot of help and Parker’s presence helped them get past Memphis. If Beverley can clamp down on Parker it might help put the Spurs in an early hole.

2. Houston’s fastbreak vs. San Antonio’s legs

Houston was a middling transition team in terms of points per-play this season, but the risks associated were balanced with the reward of James Harden‘s passing. In the flow of a playoff game, getting quick, sharp 3-pointers after one dribble at the opposing free-throw line could mean all the momentum in the world for the Rockets.

San Antonio, meanwhile, looked a little tired against the Grizzlies. The Spurs ran infrequently against Memphis, although it should be pointed out they were incredibly efficient when they did so. Leonard needs some help from his teammates and they won’t have the luxury of playing a team that plays in the bottom 5 in pace like they did against the Grizzlies.

3. Someone, anyone, helping Kawhi

Leonard was stellar against the Grizzlies. He was so good that the former NBA Finals MVP somehow improved his playoff resume in a first round series. He’s ridiculous.

The rest of the Spurs? Not so much.

Tony Parker came alive for San Antonio, acting as their second-leading scorer and not a moment too soon. LaMarcus Aldridge seemed like an afterthought while Pau Gasol, Danny Green, and even Manu Ginobili played well below the potential impact they could have had on Memphis.

It would be an oversimplification to say the Spurs were able to beat the Rockets in the regular season this year by limiting turnovers and matching — if not surpassing — the amount of trips to the line Houston took. But those two factors are likely to have huge impact on this series as we go into round 2, and Leonard isn’t likely to shoot 19 free throws as he did against Memphis in Game 2.

Someone has to step up for the Spurs — preferably Aldridge — against Houston.

Shaq calls his absurd light-up shoes the real Big Baller Brand

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Because 7’1″, 350-pound Shaquille O’Neal needed an impossible-to-ignore pair of light up shoes to call attention to himself…

Shaq posted a video of himself on Instagram wearing some outrageous light-up shoes — then in the comments decided to take another dig at Big Baller Brand.

Boy was shining wasn't he #whatarethose #shineonem #feetwork #shaqshoestherealbigballerbrand

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

So how much do those shoes cost? More or less than ZO2?

One of the things I enjoyed about Summer League was that as Lonzo Ball played better and better, the spotlight shifted more to his play and more away from his father. Think what you will of LaVar Ball — marketing genius or loud-mouthed dad — personally I’m just weary of him. I like Lonzo’s play, I don’t need the rest.

However, between Shaq and Charles Barkley, I think there’s going to be a lot of LaVar/Big Baller Brand talk on Inside the NBA next season. Those two can’t help themselves.

After four years out of NBA, Pacers give Damien Wilkins chance to return

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Consider this the most unexpected signing of the summer.

The last time we saw Damien Wilkins in the NBA, the 6’6″ wing out of the University of Georgia was finishing his ninth NBA season, averaging 6.4 points per game and shooting 33.3 percent from three. He looked like a guy who was done at the NBA level. Since then he has played in China, Spain, and the D-League.

The Pacers are giving him another crack to make an NBA roster. They have signed 37-year-old Wilkins to a non-guaranteed deal, reports the Indy Star.

The Indiana Pacers agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed veteran minimum deal for close to $2 million with small forward and shooting guard Damien Wilkins, a league source confirmed to IndyStar.

The Pacers have 14 guys on the roster already, and they have at the wing Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Rodney Stuckey, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Glenn Robinson III, it will be tough for Wilkins to crack that rotation.

But he’ll get his chance, and having a desperate veteran pushing guys in camp never hurts. Maybe he can impress enough in camp that if the Pacers don’t want him another team might. It’s a foot in the door, and that’s all Wilkins can ask at this point.

Watch the Top 10 dunks from the NBA Summer League

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Summer League, at its core, is athletic young players in sloppy games.

That leads to massive dunks. Here are the top 10, which John Collins deserving the top spot.

Report: Carmelo Anthony willing to waive $8 million trade kicker for Rockets

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Carmelo Anthony does not want to return to the Knicks. The Knicks want to trade Carmelo Anthony. The Houston Rockets would like to trade for Carmelo Anthony.

So far all that will has not gotten a deal nearly as close to done as has been reported, I was told by sources. There are major hurdles, and the Knicks don’t like the offers they’ve gotten so far, which is why they pulled back (not because of the Scott Perry hiring or some desire to change Anthony’s mind). As has been reported before, Anthony is willing to waive his no trade clause for the right team to get the deal done, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on The Jump.

“My sources tell me he’s willing to waive the trade kicker, which is worth around $8 million, so that makes a little easier for Houston to do a trade.”

That’s nice. It doesn’t solve the core problem with a Rockets’ trade.

The Rockets are over the cap so the only way this trade gets done is they send out enough salary to match and create space for Anthony. The Rockets could do that with a combination of Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, and some expiring deals, but that cuts way too deeply into the roster and hurts the Rockets more than it helps. What the Rockets need to do in this trade is move Ryan Anderson, and his three-years, $60 million — except the Knicks don’t want that contract on their books (even though Anderson is a good player when healthy). So now the two sides are trying to find a third team that would take on Anderson’s contract, but the Rockets are going to have to give up sweeteners — a couple first round picks or a pick and a quality young player — that they don’t have to get the deal done. So enter a fourth team to get the sweeteners, but that team will want things back, and quickly the house of cards falls apart.

On top of all that, the Knicks still don’t think they’re getting enough back in the trade to want to do it. Yet, anyway.

Over on the left coast, there is Portland saying “look at us, look at us!” They would be willing to trade for Anthony, as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have made clear.

One massive problem with that: Anthony has not been interested in waiving his no trade clause for anyone but Cleveland and Houston.

If he changes his mind — and that’s a huge, unlikely “if” — maybe a deal could be found. The Blazers already have a top-five payroll in the NBA (may be top two when all is said and done) and that means they have to send out salary as well, someone like Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard (moving Allen Crabbe is the dream, but also highly unlikely). The Knicks could have interest in Turner, the Blazers have picks to throw in, and if a third team picked up Leonard maybe we’re close to something. But until Anthony makes it clear he would accept a trade to Portland, something he has yet to do, this is all a moot exercize.

But hey, Anthony will waive his trade kicker. So there’s that.