Kurt Helin

Kawhi Leonard, Willie Cauley-Stein

Kings’ George Karl going to start Willie Cauley-Stein at at four

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Willie Cauley-Stein‘s seven-foot length and crazy athleticism let him cover up a lot of mistakes from high school and at Kentucky (John Calipari had him playing to his strengths). But the NBA game requires quicker recognition and a higher basketball IQ.

Cauley-Stein admits he’s adjusting to that, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea.com.

“I didn’t realize that there is so much to the game, besides playing the game, so that’s where I’m at now,” the former Kentucky star said. “From a mental standpoint of just understanding the NBA as a whole as a concept.”

He’s picked it up enough that George Karl is going to start him at the power forward spot next to DeMarcus Cousins, something the coach said after a recent practice.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Karl said. “I would say right now, Willie’s probably going to start. I’m not sure of that yet, but I think that’s probably where I’m heading.”

Part of that is that Cauley-Stein is athletic and can run the floor well, fitting better with the up-tempo style Karl wants to play. Plus he brings some shot blocking. Karl could have tried to start Cousins and Kosta Koufos, but that’s not exactly a running lineup. That said, I don’t expect to see heavy minutes for Cauley-Stein either (21-22 a game is my guess).

What I do expect to see more and more of from the Kings as the season goes on is small ball, with Rudy Gay and others playing a stretch four. Karl is going to massage lineups and figure out what makes them most competitive.

Kobe Bryant goes through full practice, expected for opener

Kobe Bryant
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Did anyone think Kobe Bryant was going to miss the opening game of the season?

If there was any lingering doubt, it was wiped away on Sunday when Bryant through a full practice, as reported by Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

“Yeah, I told him if he couldn’t go [Sunday], [Monday] we could start worrying,” (Lakers coach Byron) Scott said after practice at the Lakers’ facility here. “He walked out [Sunday], he said it felt good. He gave me a thumbs-up. Went through the scrimmage and everything. You can see a little rust, but other than that, he was moving pretty fluid again. It was just good to see.”

And the same competitive Kobe fire was there.

“He played well. He was shooting in people’s faces,” (Metta) World Peace said. “The white team was beating up the purple team. And then somebody decided to talk [trash] to Kobe. That was the wrong thing to do.”

That’s good to hear — we’re all rooting for a healthy Kobe this season.

It will be interesting to see how Scott limits Bryant’s minutes this season. It also will be interesting to see how Kobe interacts with talented but mistake-prone young players who will have the ball in their hands a lot. Everyone around the Lakers is saying all the right things, but on Wednesday the words end and the actions start.

Top 10 plays of preseason by rookies (VIDEO)

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It’s hard to read much into the preseason — Cleveland was 1-6, Charlotte was 7-1, you going to take the Hornets to finish with the better record?

But one thing that is fun to watch is the rookies grow and start to find their footing a little. Of course, in this video segment you just get to see a lot of dunks — that’s fun, too — but the growth will come.

It’s hard to knock Larry Nance Jr. in the top spot, but I like Justin Anderson‘s dunk just as much.

LeBron says if needed he will take time off to rest in season again

LeBron James
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Last season in late December, LeBron James took an anti-inflammatory shot in his back to help deal with issues. He missed a little over two weeks and eight games.

He’ll do the same thing this season if he needs to.

LeBron got the same shot during training camp and is expected to play when the season tips off Tuesday night (and the Cavs take on the Bulls), but in talking about it he said he’ll do it again if needed, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“But it’s always been in the works, and if it happens again where I need to sit down for another week for the better of the team, then [that will be] in the works as well.”

LeBron has been an iron man throughout his career — he had never missed more than seven games in a season before the last one. However, as his body ages and he feels the toll of all those miles (including hard driving playoff miles) he’s approaching the season differently.

As he should. He has his eyes on June, not December. And remember that after his return last season LeBron played much better. MVP level better.

Expect the Cavaliers and coach David Blatt to go the full Popovich this season — LeBron, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and everyone else will get plenty of time off. Even if it means they are not the top seed in the East during the regular season. They know full well if they are healthy and rested for the playoffs, nobody in the East can touch them.

Damian Lillard’s 2015-16 goal: Get to the free throw line more

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James Harden had a free throw attempt for every .561 shot attempts last season (called free throw rate). Russell Westbrook was at .445, Isaiah Thomas at .437, LeBron James .413, Dwyane Wade .341.

Damian Lillard was at .293.

This season, with the entire Portland offense basically on his shoulders, Lillard wants to move up into the category with the elite foul drawing players, as he told Jason Quick at CSNNW.com (video above).

“In the past I was trying to beat guys to the rim and get the ball on the glass,” Lillard said. “This year, in the summer, I worked a lot on getting into people’s body, drawing contact. And (work on) my balance, using angles, and getting to spots on the floor.”

The preseason is a small sample size and notoriously unreliable predictor, but his free throw rate jumped to .352. Or, if you prefer some old-fashioned stats, that was 7.4 free throws a game, which would be a career high by a couple per game if he can sustain it over the course of the season.

Portland GM Neil Olshey did a good job of putting big men who can score on the roster as pick-and-roll partners for Lillard, with the bigs drawing defenders he should have a little more room to operate. Besides getting to the line, he needs to continue his improved efficiency finishing at the rim (64.2 percent last season, a big step up for him).

Lillard is one of those players known for throwing his body around on drives, which takes a large toll on him. If he can lessen that and get to the line more, he’ll be in a better position.