Kurt Helin

Curry returns to Charlotte, takes NBA trophy to Davidson

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DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP) — Stephen Curry made a surprise visit to his alma mater, bringing the Larry O’Brien NBA championship trophy along with him to show off to the Davidson College community.

The league’s MVP worked out with Davidson players, participated in a question-and-answer period with college students and even banked in a 25-foot jumper Thursday in the first shot ever attempted at the school’s new practice facility.

Curry told The Associated Press, “This is where the whole story started and I know how much the Davidson alumni and community supports me, so this is very special.”

Curry, a big Carolina Panthers fan, said he plans to pound the “Keep Pounding” drum before the team’s home opener Sunday against the Houston Texans. The Charlotte native also plans to visit to his former high school.

John Lucas III to be part of Heat training camp

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks
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Miami seems pretty set at the point guard spot on paper — but in their effort to get under the luxury tax that could change. Goran Dragic will start, Mario Chalmers is still on the bench — although he’s the guy that comes up in seemingly constant trade rumors — then behind them is Tyler Johnson and just-signed rookie Josh Richardson.

But the Heat want options, so they are bringing John Lucas III to camp. From Marc Stein of ESPN:

This was confirmed by Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. As he notes, Lucas is part of Heat lore, but because of something that happened when Lucas played for the Bulls.

It’s unlikely Lucas makes the final 15. This is more precautionary in case they do move Chalmers during camp.

Dragic is obviously going to be on the final roster, and Richardson got a guaranteed deal. In the event Chalmers was traded (and that’s not likely, he’s been on the trade block since Trump’s hair looked real and there have been no takers), it would come down to the partially-guaranteed Johnson and Lucas.

To his advantage, Lucas is an experienced NBA veteran who played with the Heat before. That said he is a bubble NBA talent. Is Lucas is better than Johnson? Not really. Johnson’s true shooting percentage and PER from his one NBA season were higher than Lucas’ career averages, plus at 23 Johnson is a decade younger than Lucas and is still improving. It makes more sense to keep him on the roster.

Lucas will get his kick at the can, and if he doesn’t stick in Miami he could impress another team looking for a third point guard.

New Orleans brings back Mardi Gras uniforms

Pelicans Mardi Gras
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Beads are not part of this uniform, you’re going to have to earn those yourself.

But the New Orleans Pelicans are bringing back the colorful Mardi Gras alternate uniforms this season.

I’m a fan of just about anything that brings some local flavor to the team uniforms, and this certainly does that. I’m not going to buy one, but then again I live a couple thousand miles from the French Quarter. What matters is fans in New Orleans seem to be happy with it.

Kyrie Irving says he’s progressing toward return to court

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp
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MIAMI (AP) — If Kyrie Irving knows when he’ll be back on the floor with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s not telling.

The All-Star guard will only divulge this much: He’s getting closer.

Irving spoke Thursday about his ongoing recovery from the knee injury that required surgery and kept him from all but one game of last season’s NBA Finals, when the Cavaliers fell to Golden State in six games. The Cavaliers – like all NBA teams – open training camp later this month, and one of the biggest issues facing the reigning Eastern Conference champions revolves around when their point guard will be ready to play.

“I’m feeling great,” Irving said from Miami, where he has been working out. “I’m taking my time with it. Obviously, it was a terrible injury but thank God I had the summer to start rehabbing and I’m definitely progressing in the right way. Whatever my timeline is, it’ll be for the betterment of the team and for us to also compete for a world championship at the end of the season.”

Irving hasn’t revealed exactly what he’s physically able to do right now.

“We’re going to keep most of the things in house as far as what’s going on,” he said.

Irving averaged 21.7 points and 5.2 assists for Cleveland last season, his first year playing alongside LeBron James. During the playoffs Cleveland was 10-3 with Irving on the floor, 4-3 when he was sidelined.

He had some impressive efforts last season, including a 55-point game against Portland in January and a 57-point night against San Antonio in March. Including the postseason – which he appeared in for the first time – the Cavaliers went 28-4 in games where Irving shot better than 50 percent.

“As long as we’re together in that locker room and our coaching staff and everybody is on the same page, we’ll be fine,” Irving said. “All the expectations people put on us last year, we were aware of it. But for us, it was about us being together when it really mattered and showing people that this was a team to be reckoned with.”

Cleveland started 19-20 last season, then won 48 of its final 63 games.

“I feel that was the true testament of our team,” Irving said. “We had a bad November, December, January and then we started figuring it out after All-Star break. We’ll be ready.”

Gasol’s 40 lifts Spain past France, qualifies for Rio

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From the middle of the third to the middle of the fourth quarter, France was in control of its EuroBasket semifinal matchup against Spain. France was knocking down threes, owning the offensive glass (on the game they grabbed 40 percent of their missed shots) and led by double digits. Spain couldn’t seem to buy a bucket. France’s lead hung between 8 and 11 points, and it made you question of Spain could close that gap.

Pau Gasol was the answer.

The 35-year-old finished the game with 40 points on 21 shots, pulled down 11 rebounds, and even blocked the shot of Rudy Gobert three times. He was clear and away the best player on the court.

That was enough to get Spain an 80-75 overtime win over France. The victory qualifies Spain for the 2016 Rio Olympics — where Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio and other key Spanish players who sat out this summer likely will return and make Spain one of the bigger threats to Team USA. It also sends Spain into the EuroBasket Finals against the winner of Serbia and Lithuania (those two play Friday).

France will have to qualify for the Olympics next summer in one of the pre-Rio qualifying tournaments.

France shot the three-ball well (42.9 percent), but when Spain stepped up their perimeter defense midway through the fourth quarter, France could not make them pay inside — Les Bleus shot 38 percent in the paint for the game.

Midway through the fourth that defensive pressure led to a 10-0 Spanish run that put it back the game, then in the lead on a Gasol hook shot in the lane.

Tony Parker could not bail France out. Parker had been France’s leading scorer throughout EuroBasket, but he has not been sharp or efficient — he shot 38 percent coming into the game. That continued Thursday he was 4-of-17 from the floor for 10 points, plus he had six assists. When it was time to create offense France has leaned more on former Spur and Raptor Nando De Colo and used Parker as a second option.

The game went to overtime because of Nicolas Batum. The guy the Hornets brought in this summer to give them more outside shooting knocked down a quick-hit corner three off a nice inbounds play (where a weary Gasol did not switch out) and tied the game up to send it to overtime.

But in OT Gasol kept attacking and he went right at Gobert, who had eight points and 13 rebounds, but most importantly was a team-best +11 because his defense in the paint changed the game. Midway through the overtime Gasol got the ball in the post, lowered his shoulder and drove at Gobert to draw the fifth foul on the Jazz big man having him foul out (you only get five in international basketball). You could kind of feel what was coming next — France was -16 with Gobert on the bench in this game. Gasol abused everyone who tried to guard him, but he abused Gobert less (Gobert even had a block at the end of regulation on Gasol to preserve the tie).

This ended up being one of the best games of EuroBasket, a thriller where the best player on the court put his team on his back and took them to the victory. Or to Rio, whichever you prefer.