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LaMarcus Aldridge trying to find his place with Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge admitted to feeling some frustration following an offseason filled with trade rumors.

They troubled him enough to do something he hadn’t really done before. The 6-foot-11 forward reached out to coach Gregg Popovich for a serious talk about his place on the team as it continues its transition, slowly but surely, away from the Tim Duncan/Big Three era.

“The relationship has always been great, it’s no issue,” Aldridge said. “It’s just that I’m trying how to mesh who I was to who I am now and trying to get more out of me in the system.”

The success of those talks could go a long way in determining if the Spurs can keep their place among the top teams in the rugged Western Conference.

San Antonio essentially stood pat in the offseason, adding Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne while losing Jonathon Simmons and David Lee. The Spurs will again rely on veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol while anticipating improvement from younger players like Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes.

Entering his 12th NBA season, Aldridge has averaged 18.0 and 17.3 points in two seasons with San Antonio. Those are respectable numbers, but not for a four-time All-Star with Portland who became the biggest free agent signing in Spurs history.

“It was a probably a little bit of frustration at one point on my end because I felt like I wasn’t really fitting into the system as well as I could and I wasn’t helping to the level I felt like I could,” Aldridge said.

The frustration grew in the postseason, which ended with a sweep by Golden State in the conference finals.

Aldridge averaged 15.5 points against the Warriors, but only 11.3 points in the final three games after the Spurs lost Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1. While fans and Aldridge himself are demanding more, Popovich and his teammates simply want more of the same.

“I feel like he played well for us last year,” said Leonard, who sat out the entire preseason as a precaution to protect his right quadriceps. “Come in and be a presence on both ends of the floor be aggressive.”

Aldridge said he is healthy after missing two games in early March due to a minor heart arrhythmia and playing with tendinitis throughout the season. He has looked comfortable and happy in the preseason, averaging 16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games while taking on a greater leadership role.

“Now we’ve got to help (Aldridge) out a little bit more so he’s comfortable in his own space offensively,” Popovich said. “I haven’t done a very good job with that (in the past).”

Some other things to watch from the Spurs early this season:

PROMISING PARKER

Parker’s rapid recovery from a ruptured quadriceps tendon has astounded doctors, the Spurs and even himself. San Antonio’s veteran point guard plans to return by mid- to late-November, which is two to four months sooner than initially expected. Parker could not move for three weeks after suffering the injury May 4 against Houston in the second round of the playoffs. The 35-year-old had to re-learn how to walk and was told he might not be able to bend his knee as he had before. Parker is cleared for all activities, but was held out of full-contact practices.

MURRAY’S GROWTH

Murray is expected to start at point guard while Parker completes his injury rehabilitation. The second-year player out of Washington has averaged 9.3 points and a team-high 3.8 assists in the preseason. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 assists in limited minutes last season.

“I’m very optimistic about his future,” Ginobili said. “He’s going to be a great player, a potential All-Star, (but) you don’t know if it’s going to happen now or in five years. It depends a lot him, but he’s a very talented kid.”

MANU RETURNS

Ginobili returns for his 16th season after nearly retiring in the offseason. Admitting it was a “close call,” Ginobili opted to return to the only NBA team he has played for. Ginobili averaged 7.5 points last season, the lowest of his career, but enjoyed one of his most injury-free seasons.

“I still had the appreciation for the game, I still enjoy being here every day,” Ginobili said. “Incredible organization and a place where I feel respected and listened to and appreciated and I appreciate it, too.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

The Spurs are expected to rely more on their youth than in previous seasons. Second-year players Murray, Bertans and Forbes and rookies Derrick White and Brandon Paul are embracing that opportunity, even impressing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

ONE PLAYER, MULTIPLE ROLES

Gay joined San Antonio after playing the past four seasons in Sacramento. After missing the final two months of last season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, the 12-year veteran has participated fully during the preseason. At 6-foot-8, Gay is expected to play multiple positions in the frontcourt in a role similar to the one filled by Boris Diaw.

“It was a do or die point in my career,” Gay said. “I wanted to be with an organization that is known for winning and can help me raise my game to another level. So, I mean, where else do you go?”

 

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.