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‘They’re still beating everybody’: Spurs off to 4-0 start

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MIAMI (AP) — Gregg Popovich is in a great mood, seeming to enjoy every aspect of the conversation. There was talk about wine, his favorite beverage and probably his favorite topic.

There was talk about players who came through the San Antonio system. There was talk about past NBA Finals matchups and some coaches he admires.

Then the chat turned to the Spurs. And the effusive answers from the venerable San Antonio coach were no more.

“We’re doing what we’ve always done, I guess,” Popovich shrugged.

True, but that’s what makes the Spurs worth talking about. Off to the NBA’s best start at 4-0 – and matching the best start in franchise history, one they could top at Orlando on Friday – the Spurs are generally ignoring this era’s preferred method of go-go-go, pace-and-space, shoot-the-3 basketball and relying instead on post-ups and defense.

It’s working, even as the Spurs wait for Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker – their best player and their point guard – to make their season debuts.

“It’s remarkable what they do and how they reinvent themselves every year,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The faces change, but their standards and excellence remain the same. So now they’re doing it retro, doing it totally old-school, the way everybody said you can’t do it.

“They’re doing it by building a top-caliber defense, not playing with incredible pace, not playing with the 3-point line right now … and they’re still beating everybody.”

San Antonio’s latest victim: Spoelstra and the Heat, winning 117-100 in Miami on Wednesday night. The Spurs were plus-12 in rebounds, plus-14 in bench scoring, shot 10 for 17 from 3-point range while holding Miami to a 9-for-26 night from beyond the arc. In a 9-minute span of the second half, the Spurs used a 32-13 run that decided everything.

Popovich dismissed the Spurs’ effort as mediocre, especially on defense. But all Miami could do afterward was tip its cap.

“They just know how to play,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “They have that consistency. They have that system that is really good. You can see every cut, every pass, it’s crisp. Sooner or later, you’re going to get hit by a screen and they’ll take advantage of that.”

Even without Leonard and Parker, it’s all working.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who often didn’t seem to fit with the Spurs during his first two seasons, is averaging 26 points and is off to the best four-game start of his career. Rudy Gay, a Spurs newcomer and a backup for the first time since he was a rookie, is averaging 14.8 points on 58 percent shooting. The Spurs are allowing an average of 93 points per game – 12 teams entering Thursday have given up more than that in every game they’ve played this season.

It seems like a very basic style.

And it’s proven to be very effective.

“That’s what I know,” Popovich said. “That’s what I’m teaching. It suits our team and our personnel, so why not?”

Popovich treats the nuances of the Spurs’ system as if they are state secrets. The basic principles are easy and obvious, though. He tells a player simply to play to his strength. Case in point: Dejounte Murray, who’s filling Parker’s role while the veteran recovers from a leg injury, is the only guard in the NBA right now with more than 100 minutes as a starter and less than three 3-point attempts.

Murray has taken two, and missed both. He’s not a shooter yet.

“His focus right now is defense and rebounding,” Popovich said. “Eventually he will learn about pick-and-rolls and when his shot gets better, he will be real dangerous.”

This is what makes the Spurs dangerous: No one is asked to venture out of their comfort zone, and Popovich figures out the rest.

“You’ve got to adapt to your personnel,” Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said. “If you have LaMarcus Aldridge, you’re going to post up more than other teams. Defensively, we’re trying to be who we always be and always were. I’m pretty sure that’s what other teams like to try to be. No secret there. We just try to be the same old defensive team and adapt to whoever we have offensively.”

The Spurs have won 60 percent of their games in each of the last 20 seasons – a streak eight years longer than any other team in NBA history, and four years longer than any other team ever in the four major North American sports leagues. Popovich is going to pass Phil Jackson, George Karl and possibly Pat Riley on the NBA’s all-time wins list this season.

Golden State is the NBA’s best team and LeBron James its best player, but San Antonio is still the league’s standard.

“You just have to credit Pop, their program and the players that they like in their program and their adaptability to be able to sustain their excellence,” Spoelstra said.

 

Adam Silver jokingly thanks Magic Johnson for paying for All-Star Legends Brunch

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The NBA held its annual All-Star Legends Brunch last weekend. Jerry West, James Worthy, Bill Walton and Magic Johnson were honored.

And NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a great line while addressing the event.

Silver, via Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

“Magic, thank you for paying for the brunch today.”

So, that’s why Johnson got fined for $50,000 for tampering for innocuous comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald reveals he’s living with incurable heart disease

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The National Basketball Players Association and NBA set up health screenings for former players.

Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who starred for the Kansas City Kings and Boston Celtics, took advantage. Unfortunately, he learned a difficult outcome.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

IT WAS DECEMBER 2016 when Archibald learned of his diagnosis, during a free screening at the New York offices of the NBPA. And now, more than a year later, he’s still reeling from the news.

“What I have is really rare,” he says. “There’s no pills, nothing they have found that works. I’m being tested all the time, just hoping, you know?

“My [heart] could go any minute. But I’m not ready for that. I want to be around for a long time.”

The medical community has had little success solving the riddle of amyloidosis. For those who suffer from it, aside from participating in clinical trials, or the possibility of a heart transplant, which at Archibald’s age may not be viable, there isn’t much that can be done.

We celebrated Archibald’s 69th birthday last fall with this highlight video. If you’re not familiar with the 6-foot-1 guard’s exciting game, get acquainted:

Hopefully, Archibald gets his wish and sticks around a long time.

Jeremy Lin: I believe J.J. Redick

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained then apologized for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people, claiming he was tongue-tied.

Nets guard Jeremy Lin:

Lin’s Asian-American heritage helps make him very popular with the same people most offended by Redick. Lin vouching for Redick will likely go a long way in diffusing tension.

Hornets dropping GM Rich Cho, will reportedly pursue Mitch Kupchak

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Update: Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will not extend the contract of General Manager Rich Cho. The Hornets will begin a search for a new general manager immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

 

Last spring, the Hornets exercised their option on general manager Rich Cho for this season. It wasn’t exactly a strong vote of confidence without a contract extension.

Now, it’s becoming even more clear he’s a lame duck.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cho has had plenty of hits and misses as general manager, including a year with the Trail Blazers. But the misses have added up in Charlotte. The Hornets’ next general manager will inherit:

Kemba Walker helps, but he can’t do it alone. This bloated payroll leaves little flexibility for roster upgrades – necessary to lift Charlotte into strong playoff contention. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and affording him could be tricky.

This is not a good job (relative to the other 29 NBA general manager jobs, of course).

Hornets owner Michael Jordan certainly plays into that. In one of the biggest gaffes of the Cho era, Charlotte rejected the Celtics’ offer of four first-round picks for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, just to pick Frank Kaminsky. (Boston wanted Justise Winslow.) Was that Cho’s call or Jordan’s?

Cho takes the fall, though. That’s how this works.

Jordan’s ownership also means he gets to pick the replacement. It’s surely not a coincidence he’s leaning toward Mitch Kupchak (who played at North Carolina) and Buzz Peterson (who played with Jordan at North Carolina).

Kupchak fizzled late, but his overall tenure with the Lakers was a success. Has the game passed him by, or did recency bias unfairly paint him unfavorably? We might get to find out.