Kurt Helin

Paul George, Alec Burks

Five Takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Pacers figuring out small ball

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Tuesday night in the NBA was not exactly loaded with marquee matchups (wait until Wednesday for that), but it did have a couple unexpected outcomes and some things worth noting. In case you were designing a hypersonic jet rather than flipping around League Pass, here are five things you should take away from Tuesday in the NBA:

1) The Indiana Pacers are learning the finer points of small ball. The Pacers used their speed to swarm the perimeter defensively, generating 15 steals — second-most by any team this season — in a 94-84 win over the previously unbeaten Pistons. George Hill (four steals), Monta Ellis (three), Paul George (two) and C.J. Miles (two) led the swiping. Indiana (1-3) scored 30 points off turnovers, bolstering an offense that remains up and down. At least Miles and George combined to make a few 3-pointers after gaining separation from Detroit power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was stuck covering one of the Pacers’ two quick starting forwards. —Dan Feldman

2) Andre Drummond is playing in beast mode. The Pacers will take the win, but the Pistons’ Andre Drummond was the single best player on the floor in this game — Drummond finished the night with 25 points and 29 rebounds. This isn’t some one-off, he’s played four games and had two 20/20 nights already — the last guy to have two 20/20s in the first four was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (according to ESPN’s stats). Drummond has scored 81 points and grabbed 78 rebounds in those four games – the last guy to have more than 70 and 70 after four games was Charles Barkley. He is playing like a max contract guy. —Kurt Helin

3) The Lakers’ sad defense isn’t getting better under Byron Scott. The Lakers surrendered 117 points to the Denver Nuggets in a loss Tuesday night at Staples Center, and that’s just continuing the trend that has the team 0-4. The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions this young season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).

After Tuesday’s loss, coach Byron Scott was again bemoaning the Laker defense and saying that what the guys are learning and doing in practice is just not translating to regular games yet. Scott talks a good game about defense, he can’t stress it enough mentioning it to the team or the media.

But here’s the reality — this will be Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (all his teams in Cleveland, plus his Los Angeles squads). That’s not just about the talent on the roster — last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency; this year’s Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 so far. Yes, I get the small sample size caveat, but this much is true — if you have a good system and can get players to buy in, you can be a decent defensive team. Scott isn’t getting that and hasn’t for a while. It’s not suddenly going to change; the Laker defense will struggle all season. —KH

4) How good is the Bulls’ defense? Through their first three games, the Bulls were allowing opponents to shoot just 39.6 percent, and it looked like they hadn’t lost their good habits from the Tom Thibodeau era. But Jimmy Butler thinks it was more luck than skill and said so after the Hornets dropped 130 in beating Chicago Tuesday.

The Bulls defense is what has carried this team through its first four games, if that has been a mirage then there is reason for concern. That said I expect the defense isn’t as bad as it looked Tuesday, and the offense will pick up. Things such as playing Nikola Mirotic more, and splitting Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, are smart, it’s just going to take time for the players to find a groove and the team to reap the benefits. There needs to be patience, and enough defense to carry them through this part of the season. —KH

5) Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the Raptors’ first game, and they celebrated with a win. On Nov. 3, 1995, the Toronto Raptors beat the New Jersey Nets 94-75 at the Sky Dome, opening a new era of basketball in Toronto. A lot of people south of the border don’t realize how big the Raptors’ fan base is (they were fifth in the NBA in attendance last year) and rabid they can be. Basketball in Toronto is a thing.

All those Raptor fans should be happy, their team is 4-0 and atop the Eastern Conference early after a 102-91 win in Dallas. The Raptors are defending well under new addition DeMarre Carroll and have the league’s fifth-best defense (in points allowed per possession). Meanwhile, the offense is eighth in the league behind an impressive and thinner Kyle Lowry (who dropped 27 on the Mavericks).

It’s early, but on their 20th anniversary the Raptors may have the best team the franchise has ever seen. —KH

Jazz not worried about slow start for Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward, Andre Roberson
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gordon Hayward entered the season ready to raise his profile in the league. Things are off to a slower start than expected through three games.

Hayward has averaged 12 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists going into Wednesday’s home opener against the Trail Blazers. Those aren’t the numbers those around the organization – or Hayward – hoped for, but there’s certainly no panic from such a small sample size.

“Just a little bit of a slow start for me personally, but the team is playing well and that’s what I’m focused on,” Hayward said. “I’ll find a way to get it going and get back in the groove of things. Hopefully I can find it in this next game. But feeling good about where we’re at as a team.”

Hayward returned from the summer visibly stronger and said he worked on finishing during the offseason. He showed that late in a season-opening loss to Detroit after struggling much of the night. Shots just haven’t fallen, as Hayward is shooting what would be a career-low 35.3 percent from the field. The points, rebounds and assist averages would all be the lowest since 2011-12 for the sixth-year player.

Hayward finished last season with an average of 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

Coach Quin Snyder wasn’t interested in dissecting Hayward.

“I’m not in the evaluate Gordon business,” Snyder said. “At least not after every game. Gordon’s established himself as one of the best players in the league. Every game’s going to present different challenges.

“I thought he played really well against Indiana. He’s gotten some offensive fouls that, to me, are baskets. I like what he’s doing and where he’s going.”

There will be some developmental time for this Jazz (2-1) team. There’s a different dynamic with Dante Exum injured and rookie Raul Neto starting at point guard. Alec Burks is back from a shoulder injury that ended his 2014-15 season. He plays the same position as Hayward and is a creative player with the ball in his hands. Derrick Favors has been extremely aggressive with the new range on his jump shot and leads the team with 21.3 points per game. Second-year wing Rodney Hood has blossomed himself and has averaged 15.3 points.

“From the first week of practice (Hayward had) been really aggressive. That’s what we want,” Snyder said. “There’s different ways for him to be aggressive. Whether it’s shooting the ball, making plays defensively. I think we’ve seen a little bit of everything. At certain times too he’s going to put all that together.

“It’s an adjustment for him, too, with Rodney and Alec back and Dante not here. Everyone’s kind of finding where their shots come, what their role is. I think those roles will be dynamic. I think they’ll change as the season progresses. Not in a major ways, but we’ll see them evolve.”

Hayward explained that he’s not going out looking to get his offense. He’s just as involved in spacing the floor and making the extra pass, not to mention his defensive effort.

And that’s most important for an organization that led the league in defense after the All-Star game last year. The team just isn’t built to win shootouts.

“We’re a young team,” Hayward said. “We’re going to struggle sometimes offensively, but as long as we can maintain our defensive principles, I think we’ll be all right.”

The Jazz are currently No. 23 in the league in scoring (94.3 points) after an Eastern Conference swing that included the Pistons, 76ers and Pacers. Utah leads the league in defense after giving up just 79.7 points per game. The Spurs are No. 2 with an opponent’s average of 89.5 points.

The defensive effort is off to a fast start. Things are still developing on the other end of the floor, but there are few concerns about Hayward.

“Gordon’s one of the most unselfish superstars in the league,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “He’ll take the shots that he gets. He doesn’t force much, either. … I think we’ll have a lot, this year, of different guys having big games each week.

“He’ll break out soon and you guys will leave him alone. He’s fine.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope dunks, Jordan Hill isn’t going to stop him

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If you haven’t been watching the Pistons this season, you’ve missed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing very well. He’s been making plays and was one of the key reasons Detroit started off 3-0.

Also, he can dunk. Just ask the Pacers’ Jordan Hill, who tried to get in the way and it didn’t work out for him.

Two things you should note out of this game. The first is Andre Drummond had 25 points and 29 rebounds, and he is a complete beast.

Second, the Pacers won and looked the best they have this season.

Hot-shooting Hornets hammer Bulls 130-105 for 1st victory

Jeremy Lamb, Bobby Portis
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jeremy Lamb scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, Nicolas Batum added 18 and the Charlotte Hornets cruised to their first victory of the season, 130-105 over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.

Jeremy Lin had 15 points, Al Jefferson had 14 and Spencer Hawes chipped in with 13 on three 3-pointers as the hot-shooting Hornets shot 14 of 22 from beyond the arc and made 22 of 23 free throws.

The Hornets (1-3) led by as many as 27 in the second quarter after starting the game by hitting 13 of 18 shots from the field and all 11 foul shots in the first quarter. The Bulls never mounted a serious challenge.

Jimmy Butler led the Bulls (3-2) with a season-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while Doug McDermott added 17 points.

The Hornets were coming off back-to-back losses to the Atlanta Hawks, games in which Kemba Walker failed to make the tying shot at the end of regulation.

They didn’t need a last-second shot on Tuesday night. Everything seemed to be falling for the Hornets.

Even the team mascot, wearing a thick Hornets costume, made an over-the-shoulder shot from midcourt during a break in the action in the fourth quarter to the delight of the home crowd.

With team owner Michael Jordan sitting on the end of the team bench, the Hornets tailed 100 points in the first three quarters, the most points allowed during that span by the Bulls since 1990.

Charlotte did it with good ball movement and quality shooting from everyone, including 7-footers Hawes and Frank Kaminsky, who were a combined 4 of 4 from beyond the arc. The Hornets played near flawless ball on offense and the Bulls were slow to get a hand up on open shooters. Charlotte made them pay, knocking down shot after shot from long distance.

TIP-INS

Bulls: The Bulls committed 13 turnovers that led to Charlotte 20 points. … Pau Gasol had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Hornets: Cody Zeller needed eight stitches on his forehead after catching an elbow from Joakim Noah on a rebound, but did return. … Walker moved into a tie for fourth place on 3-point field goals made in Hornets history.

 

Raptors admit Terrence Ross extension is “betting on the person”

Evan Turner, Terrence Ross
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A lot of heads were shaking when it was announced Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross — they guy the team went out and got DeMarre Carroll to replace in the starting lineup — had reached a three-year, $33 million contract extension with the Raptors.

If there was one word that sums up Ross’ career, it’s inconsistent. The talent is there — remember this guy dropped a 51 point game a couple of years ago — but who just doesn’t bring it night in and night out. So why so much money?

While part of it is a function of the new NBA economics, part of it was they are betting on him taking steps forward, reports Mike Ganter the Toronto Sun.

“What we’re doing is betting on the person,” Raptors vice-president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said Tuesday in Dallas following the team’s morning shootaround. “We’re saying all the ingredients are there, the development curve is heading in the right direction and we’re betting that he’s going to continue along that path…

“Any time you have a rookie contract the guys, just by definition, are at a stage in their career where they’re probably yet to realize their potential so you’ve got to find that middle ground between where you think the player will go and where he is now,” Weltman said. “That’s why a lot of extensions don’t get done.

“But, yeah, we like to feel we’ve found some middle ground with Terrence where we’re paying him in the hope that he becomes a great player and we think he has that in him.”

That’s a big bet.

But it’s the economics of the NBA right now, $11 million will be about the going rate for a sixth man in a couple of seasons (when the salary cap will be at $108 million or higher). If the Raptors believe he can be that guy, it’s a fair contract. Plus, they have to spend up to 90 percent of the cap anyway, they have money to throw around.

I’m more in the doubter camp he gets there, but he’s just 24 and improving. Through three games this season, Ross is averaging 12.3 points a game and shooting 46 percent from three. With Carroll taking his starting spot, they are hoping Ross embraces and thrives the role of sixth man. They want someone willing to come in and score. We’ll see. While he’s had a good start to this season he’s been so inconsistent over his career you just wait for the other shoe to drop.

But the Raptors have made their bet.