Author: Kurt Helin

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D-League makes it official: League will allow coach’s challenge among other rules experiments

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The D-League, on top of being a minor league for the NBA (one which will by the end of Wednesday already have two call ups this season) but it is a laboratory of NBA experimentation. Whenever the league wants to see how a new rule might work in practice, they try it out in the D-League.

That means this year D-League coaches will get a challenge flag (well, the right to challenge a call). That’s one of a few interesting rule changes for this season the D-League announced Wednesday.

The coach’s challenge idea is one we knew was coming, but the league detailed how it would work:

The coach’s challenge enables NBA D-League coaches to initiate instant replay review of referee calls of personal or shooting fouls, including offensive fouls, as well as those plays that have been identified as triggers for instant replay. Violations such as traveling and palming may not be challenged, nor can continuations or act-of-shooting determinations.

To initiate a challenge, a coach must call a timeout and immediately signal to the referees that a play is being challenged. The referees will then review the event in question and determine whether to uphold or change the original call. The challenging team will retain its timeout if the challenge is successful and will lose its timeout if it is unsuccessful. Teams will be granted one challenge during regulation and another challenge in each overtime period.

I like it. First off, if you can’t challenge shooting calls, what’s the point? That’s almost always where the disagreement is in the first place. Secondly, if you are successful with your challenge you get to keep it for another try — this is as it should be.

We’ll see how this goes in terms of lengthening games and other concerns, but I want to see this tried out.

Other rule changes coming to the D-League this year:

• The “advance” rule — once in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, a team can advance the ball for a half-court throw-in (after a made basket or the ball going out-of-bounds off the opponent) without having to call a time out. Teams can also substitute in this window. Right now coaches save a couple of time outs to use in the final minutes of a game so they can advance the ball and get the players they want on the court, often the coaches draw up a play in there. Now once per game they don’t have to call a timeout (and slow the game down) to do it.

• The “away from the ball foul” rule, which is designed to thwart the “hack-a-whoever” strategy. Right now players such as the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Rockets’ Dwight Howard (among others) may just get fouled and sent to the line because they struggle to knock down the two free throws. Under the new rule the coach of the fouled team can send any player on the court to the line for one of those free throws. That essentially makes it highly likely one of the shots gets made, which makes employing the “hack” strategy far less attractive.

Report: Pacers about to sign Gal Mekel to help out thin backcourt

Dallas Mavericks v Sacramento Kings
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The Pacers are without George Hill (knee) and C.J. Watson (foot), which has left a lot of Donald Sloan and a rough start for Indiana (in a season that was already going to be pretty rough).

Now the Pacers are about to sign a little help.

Indiana is going to sign former Maverick Gal Mekel, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Mekel, out of Israel, was buried on the Dallas bench last season (behind Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and plus they had Shane Larkin), but Indiana could be a good fit for him.

Mekel has a good handle and is smart about coming off the pick-and-roll and being able to find teammates. Frank Vogel likes to run a lot of pick-and-roll. Hence the fit. Mekel is a classic point guard.

The questions about him are his shooting (he really struggled with that in Dallas), which allows teams to go under picks and dare him to shoot, and his ability to defend NBA point guards.

Mekel may or may not be much of an answer in Indiana, but it’s about the best option they’ve got.

Report: Thunder work out Ish Smith, would fill roster exemption spot


By the time the final buzzer sounded Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder were down to eight healthy players they could throw out on the court. Injured are Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett, and Andre Roberson.

They have applied for and likely at some point Wednesday will receive a roster exemption to allow them to add some help (the injuries have to be confirmed by an independent doctor per league rules so it takes some time).

When that comes through, the Thunder have their man — Ish Smith. So reports Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman (and confirmed by others since).

Smith has bounced between the NBA and D-League for four years since leaving Wake Forest. He was in the Rockets’ training camp this season but they let him go.

What does Smith bring besides an upright body? Quickness. He is fast. That makes him a decent pick-and-roll defender and a guy who can get steals. However, that quickness has never translated for him on the offensive end where he is a poor shooter (career .416 true shooting percentage) and he turns the ball over a lot more than you want out of a point guard.

Smith doesn’t bring a lot, but right now the Thunder will take whatever they can get. This is a team that needs to find a way not to fall too far behind in the deep and shark-filled Western Conference waters before Durant and Westbrook return next month.

Knicks’ J.R. Smith suspended one game for shot to Glen Rice’s…um… “groin”

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks

Part of the Wizards’ defensive plan Tuesday night was to pressure the Knicks’ guards out on the perimeter — New York is struggling to deal with that.

Glen Rice took that to heart on Tuesday night and midway in the fourth quarter he went out and pressured J.R. Smith with the ball close to the half court line.

Smith will likely argue he was just trying to clear out a little space, but the fact of the matter is he swung his arm through and hit Rice in the… “groin area.” The really painful part of the groin area to get hit in.

The league saw that video above (and other angles) and came out Wednesday with a one-game suspension for Smith. He will sit out Wednesday night when the Knicks take on the Pistons in Detroit.

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The best part of this was the referees at the time called the foul on Rice.

So that’s one game Smith has been suspended for this season, what was the over/under bet on that? Probably should have taken the over.

Tough schedule could have Lakers 0-through-Thanksgiving

Kobe Bryant

If you’re looking for the silver lining, Tuesday night was the best game the Lakers have played this season. They were in it late against Phoenix and only lost by six. Still the scoreboard is the scoreboard and the Lakers are 0-5 having lost by a league-worst average of 14.8 points per game (15.8 per 100 possessions).

That losing streak could conceivably get to 0-15 and all the way to Thanksgiving.

It’s hard to imagine on a Kobe Bryant led team, but a look at a tough schedule ahead doesn’t show many realistic wins on the horizon.

The Lakers best chance at win No. 1 for a while is their next game, Sunday at home against Charlotte at Staples Center. The Hornets are 1-3 this young season, Lance Stephenson has not found his groove and with that their offense has struggled, plus Sunday’s game will be the first of a road trip (Charlotte plays Friday at home then fly across the country Saturday). Still, the Hornets have a top 10 defense, they have Al Jefferson inside and Kemba Walker at the point. They are not a bad team.

Fall Sunday and the Lakers 0-6 record could easily grow to 0-12 or more, at which point it becomes a national story with SportsCenter talking about it every night and radio hosts (and some fans) nationwide savoring schadenfreude at the Lakers’ expense. Plus Kobe is not going to enjoy getting asked about it over and over.

Look at the Lakers schedule after Sunday:

Nov. 11 at Memphis
Nov. 12 at New Orleans
Nov. 14 San Antonio
Nov. 16 Golden State
Nov. 18 at Atlanta
Nov. 19 at Houston
Nov. 21 at Dallas
Nov. 23 Denver
Nov. 26 Memphis
Nov. 27 Thanksgiving

The games you see as most winnable in that stretch may be New Orleans, but that is the second night of a road back-to-back, plus Anthony Davis will destroy the Lakers front line (like he does everyone). Atlanta is better than people think (is Carlos Boozer going to stop Al Horford?) and that game is on the road. Denver maybe, their offense has struggled to start the season, but they are playing top five defense so far.

The first game after Thanksgiving is Minnesota at home, a game that is certainly winnable for LA.

This is the NBA and so on any given night the Lakers could pick up a win — Jeremy Lin gets hot for a night, Kobe Bryant just goes off and is efficient in doing it — but right now the Lakers defense is so bad that they need those kinds of exceptional nights just to be in games. Defensively the Lakers are not walling off penetration — teams have averaged 26 shots in the restricted area against he Lakers per game and are shooting a very high 68.5 percent on those — nor are they rotating out well, as evidenced by the fact they have allowed more corner three attempts against them than any team in the league so far, and opponents are shooting 44.9 percent on those.

All of which is to say, the Lakers need to find their defense and their energy by Sunday and pick up a win against Jordan’s Hornets at home.

If not, the Lakers losing streak could get into the teens and stretch all the way to Thanksgiving. It’s hard to imagine but it’s not impossible. And if it does the Lakers will be in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.