Author: Kurt Helin

Dallas Mavericks v Cleveland Cavaliers

Report: With Mekel out due to visa issue, A.J. Price to sign with Pacers

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You’ve got to feel for Israeli born Gal Mekel, who got waived by Dallas at the end of training camp but due to injuries to George Hill and C.J. Watson was going to get his shot in Indiana. Except there ended up being work visa issues — he can’t get a new visa until Friday and the roster exemption the league granted the Pacers expires today. So he’s out.

One man’s problems can be another’s opportunity.

Enter A.J. Price, who will sign with the Pacers, reports Marc Stein of ESPN Sports.

Price was a former second round pick of the Pacers who spent three seasons with the team starting in 2009, then bounced to Washington and Minnesota the past couple seasons. Price was in camp with the Cavaliers but was waived before he played in a regular season game for them (they brought in Will Cherry to replace him).

The reason for all the bouncing around is Price is supposed to be a three-point specialist (more than half his shots came from there the past two seasons) but he shot 27.3 percent from beyond the arc last year and is a career 32.1 percent. That’s not good enough. Aside that he’s just kind of a placeholder — he’s not really bad at anything, he takes care of the ball, but he doesn’t really create anything or have a great NBA skill.

He’ll get the chance to prove that assessment wrong in Indiana, where they are thin at the point guard spot (Donald Sloan starts, and he put up 31 on John Wall and the Wizards Wednesday, but there is no real backup right now).

Bucks’ Larry Sanders starts break with block, Antetokounmpo finishes it with dunk (VIDEO)

Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers

This is why the Bucks are so much fun to watch.

Sure, they lost this game to the Chicago Bulls, the Bucks are young and going to lose a lot of games this season. But Milwaukee has a level of athleticism that few teams can match and that does lead to some spectacular plays, such as this one where Larry Sanders shuts down Taj Gibson at the rim to spark the break, which ends with an alley-oop finish from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks are becoming my League Pass favorite team to watch. Sure they make the mistakes of youth still, but then you get moments like this.

PBT’s Wednesday night NBA winners/losers: Golden State may earn contender status

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while wishing you were as good a photographer as this 9-year-old….

source:  Golden State Warriors. Four games is a small sample size — I need to see them do this over a longer stretch of ground — but I’m thinking the Warriors should be moved into the title contenders category. They looked the part in thrashing the Clippers Wednesday night. My question coming into the season wasn’t if new coach Steve Kerr would improve their offense — he has them running vastly superior, more complex sets that use Stephen Curry and their talent better than Mark Jackson did — rather it was would they still be the same defensive team that was top three last year? Yup. Again, four games in but they have the best defense in the NBA. Again, they need to keep this up, but the Warriors may be the best team in California. They looked it Wednesday.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers. It speaks to how much talent is on this roster that they could play this inconsistent, disinterested style of basketball for five games and still be 3-2. It caught up with them on Wednesday when the Warriors looked like the cat just toying with the mouse/Clippers. Count me among those that thought the Clippers would build off last season, come in this year ready to take the next step. So far they’ve looked more like a team ready to take a nap. Their offense and defense have been unimpressive so far and they have played without passion. Doc Rivers is rightfully frustrated. It’s early but there is a lot of work to do here.

source:  Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz. Sure the Cavaliers are struggling, this is still a quality win for a young Jazz team that has played hard all season. And for Gordon Hayward, well, this is what max players do:

source:  John Wall. The Wizards point guard put up an impressive line — 31 points, 10 assists, six rebounds — and he remains the guy that makes the Wizards offense work. Despite the Wizards leaning more on Paul Pierce in crunch time, Wall had seven points in overtime to make sure the Wizards beat the Pacers. That said, Wall was guarding the Pacers’ Donald Sloan and he lit up the Wizards for a career high 31. He needs to bring it on both ends.

source:  Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors stars combined for 58 points on 42 shots, plus nine rebounds and four steals, and together the Raptors stars keyed a nice win over Boston. Lowry was the real show here, he had a monster night (or last three quarters really) while having the longer Rajon Rondo on him. He looked like the All-Star he wants to be.

source:  DeMarcus Cousins. The Sacramento Kings’ big man had by far the best line of the night: In 22 minutes he scored 30 points, grabbed 11 boards — and he fouled out. That is just hard to do. The Kings scored 40 in the first quarter on their way to a 131-109 win over Denver to improve to 4-1 on the young season — the Kings are going to be the new Phoenix Suns in the West.

Warriors thrash Clippers, look like class of California, contenders

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors

There are no statement games in the first week of November.

But Golden State came just about as close to making one as a team can Wednesday night.

The Warriors shot the ball well — 60 percent from three for the game — and defended well. Golden State looked every bit the contender and the best team in the Pacific Division.

The Clippers, who have fancied themselves contenders, continued their season-long trend (well, just five games but still) of playing disinterested, sloppy ball.

Los Angeles finally paid a price for that malaise — a 121-104 easy win for the Warriors that wasn’t even that close. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run midway through the first quarter and never looked back, leading by 29 early in the third quarter. The Warriors had 65 first half points and 102 after three quarters. The Clippers’ Jamal Crawford helped spark a garbage-time run — and the entire fourth quarter was garbage time — to make the score look more respectable, But it wasn’t.

This was an old-school beatdown.

Reading too much into any one game in November is foolish, but there are two things worth taking away here.

First, the Warriors may be legit title contenders. They came into the season considered a team on the fringe of contending (a step behind the Clippers) but Steve Kerr has them still playing strong defense — 90.5 points allowed per 100 possessions so far this season, best in the NBA. Second, they are running smarter, more complex sets that better use the personnel on their roster. The rest was Stephen Curry going 4-of-8 from three, Klay Thompson hitting 3-of-4, and the starting backcourt finishing with 47 points on 31 shots. Curry abused CP3 off the dribble all night.

The Warriors other guys are stepping up, too — Draymond Green started (David Lee came off the bench and tweaked his hamstring again) and finished with 24 points on 13 shots. The result of this is a Top 10 offense so far (again, it’s early).

Teams with top 10 offenses and defenses are title contenders. If the Warriors keep playing like this they are that.

The Clippers are a long way from contending — and Doc Rivers is very frustrated. This is not a team building off last year, it looks like a team starting from scratch. From Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports and Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

The Clippers offense seems to miss Alvin Gentry — now the lead Warriors assistant coach to Kerr — as this season it has been stagnant. The Clippers defensive rotations have been and were again sloppy. But most of all this team is just not playing with any heart, any fire. That’s not on Doc Rivers, that’s on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. They need to lead.

The Warriors are playing with fire — they lost to the Clippers in the playoffs last year and that lit a fire under this team, one that Kerr is turning into an inferno.

It wasn’t a statement game from Golden State and the Clippers have a lot of time to figure things out.

But right now, Golden State is lightyears ahead of where Los Angeles is. We’ll see if things feel different when these teams meet on Christmas Day.

Report: Lakers may go hard after Rajon Rondo this summer

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers need more talent on the roster. Desperately. Kobe Bryant is jacking up 37 shots a game and while nobody (even Kobe) thinks that’s ideal, who else do you really want on that roster taking more shots. Their next best guys — Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis and so on — are role players asked to do too much.

So who do the Lakers target next summer as a free agent?

While I had heard some Greg Monroe rumblings, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated threw out another interesting name: Rajon Rondo.

There is one player who makes sense in LA next season: Rajon Rondo. Several rival executives believe the Lakers will make a strong run at Rondo next summer, and it’s easy to see why. Rondo is young (28), plays a critical position and shares the same win-at-all-bleeping-cost attitude as Bryant. The Celtics are rebuilding and have a young playmaker in Marcus Smart, which may limit their desire to hand Rondo max money.

Kobe and Rondo? What could go wrong with those egos in the same room?

Certainly Rondo knows how to be a floor general and he would be a massive defensive upgrade over Jeremy Lin. Rondo is an All-Star player. But he’s also not a good shooter (.379 true shooting percentage this season, 20 percent from three). He’s a player who when he has great teammates can help elevate them (as he did when the Celtics were contenders) but he’s not necessarily a guy who himself can take over a team and lift it up. Plus Mannix asks this question.

Even with Rondo (and, for the sake of argument, let’s say Greg Monroe) what are the Lakers? A playoff team? With Randle back and another high draft pick — which the Lakers will hand to Phoenix if it’s not in the top-five — maybe. A contending team? Not even close.

For the record, I’m not convinced the Celtics don’t go big and keep Rondo, using him as one star to lure another.

Mannix suggests the Lakers should consider trading Kobe. That’s not going to happen, he’s worth too much to them financially — plus good luck moving that oversized contract to a contender. What contender has room for that or would give up the assets necessary to match that salary. Plus, Kobe isn’t really a guy you just plug in as a role player on an existing contender with an established hierarchy. He changes all the dynamics, You think you can just slide Kobe onto the Spurs and it works?

What the Lakers do next summer — and who will be really interested — is going to be a great storyline to watch. Rebuilding this team is not going to be easy.