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NBA Summer League Sunday notebook: Dallas’ Dennis Smith is turning heads

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LAS VEGAS — There is so much going on at Las Vegas Summer League — it’s not all just the Lonzo Ball story — and we can’t get to it all, so here are some thoughts from my notebook on Sunday, in the time-honored tradition of bullet points.

• Dallas’ Dennis Smith has been a Las Vegas standout — he has been maybe the most buzzed-about player through the first weekend by media and team officials. Sunday, the rookie out of North Carolina State had 25 points on 14 shots (3-of-5 from three), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and the numbers don’t tell the story. He’s a floor general.

Of course, Mark Cuban says he knew this was coming, but Smith fell to Dallas at No. 9 in the draft because of questions about his ceiling. Coming off an ACL he hadn’t shown a ton of explosiveness last year in college, but he has plenty of it here — in his first game he finished an alley-oop pass that few guys here could have gotten, let alone a guy 6’1”, then on Sunday he absolutely blew by Dragan Bender to get into the paint. He is strong and has been aggressive, fearless, and willing to set guys up. You never want to read too much — positively or negatively — into a couple of Summer League performances, but Mavs fans optimistic. He has turned heads in Vegas.

Check out some highlights of his matchup with Josh Jackson, who was less impressive with 15 points on 18 shots.

• Josh Jackson also got rejected by the rim Sunday (a battle he has lost before, kind of stunning for a guy with his athleticism.

• On the flip side, Boston’s Jaylen Brown threw down the dunk of Summer League so far.

• Portland’s Zach Collins has potential, but he’s got to get stronger. He tried to back down second-round wing pick Semi Ojeleye (who is stout) at one point Sunday to create space and it was like he bumped up against a wall, which led to an ugly fadeaway.

“He’s a hard-working kid, he listens, he pays attention, he does what he’s told,” Blazers Summer Leauge coach Jim Moran said. “I’m excited that when he kind of gets around our weight staff and kind of has the chance to hit the weight room and bulk up, he’s really going to be able to expand his game.”

Collins struggled with his shot Sunday, going 1-of-7, but nobody doubts that will come around. On the bright side, he has shown real mobility and put that to work contesting shots on the perimeter, plus he will put the ball on the floor and drive if guys close out hard on him at the arc.

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently because that’s an effort thing, something I can control,” Collins said. “I think I got a lot of good looks offensively, sometimes I was rushing it, I rushed a couple shots under the rim, I think I need to get to the basket a little bit more, but that will come.”

• Best stat line of the day goes to the Spurs’ Bryn Forbes, who had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three.

• He has been highly anticipated by Celtics fans, but Ante Zizic has work to do to find his way in an NBA-style game. He has a below-the-rim game that’s about skill, and that’s not easy to adapt to the speed and athleticism at Summer League (which is not NBA level). He showed some craftiness to his game, he hit a running hook and drew some fouls. He pulled down 11 boards and gets in good position, but got beat to some (even by teammates) who were just able to elevate higher.

For guys with his style of game, it’s tough to judge them at Summer League, which often resembles a glorified pickup game. The big men who stand out are bouncy. Zizic may fare better in a regular NBA setting, but it still looks like he has some work to do to figure out how to fit his style into a more athletic league.

“He’s going to be fine,” Jaylen Brown said of Zizic. “If he just does his job, starting the roll, rolls hard, rebounds the ball, I think he’s a good rebounder.”

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.

Kings will shut down veterans for some games, rookie Harry Giles for rest of season

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The Kings foolishly strayed from rebuilding last summer by signing George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to relatively expensive contracts. Those additions came despite Sacramento already having veterans Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.

The plan has predictably failed. The Kings have the NBA’s worst offense and worst defense and are 13-31.

That’s bad, but not quite bad enough. Not in the last year Sacramento has its own first-round pick before conveying its selection as a result of a ridiculous salary dump a few years ago.

So, in a transparent bid to break a tie with the Hawks and Magic for the NBA’s worst record and tank to the top seed in the lottery/develop young players already on the roster, the Kings are sitting those veterans on a rotating basis.

Sacramento is also shutting down No. 20 pick Harry Giles, who hasn’t played this season.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

“Going forward, what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there’ll be three. It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I’ve got it laid out…I’ve got about five or six games laid out, and every week I’ll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they’re not going to play. Other guys, they’ve got to be ready. If you’re in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play,” Joerger told the media after the Kings’ loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

This is smart, though it’s also an opportunity it would have been smarter not to sign Hill, Randolph and Carter in the first place. Though those veterans might not be thrilled with the direction of the franchise, at least they’re getting paid. And they should know their rest days far enough in advance to enjoy the reduced workloads.

Younger Kings – including De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere – should have a chance to spread their wings and grow. That could help down the road, when Sacramento has a chance to win meaningfully. This year, the difference between the fully operational Kings and tanking Kings is minimal on the court, but could make a huge difference in draft position.

As for Harry Giles, it’s strange how the Kings are touting him as fully healthy while shutting him down for the rest of the season. The best way to keep him his healthy is never play him. At some point, they must test him on the court. Perhaps, giving him even more time to strengthen his knee is the right approach. But if he needs this long, can really accurately be described as entirely healthy?