Kurt Helin

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NBA coaches counterpunch trend of “small ball” league

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LOS ANGELES — Every team in the NBA has done it — search for their small-ball death lineup.

After Golden State won an NBA title then 73 games going smaller and faster than everyone, other teams jumped on the bandwagon (which frankly was started by Miami playing LeBron at the four). With the advent of a zone defensive scheme making a post pass to a traditional big on the block next to impossible (if a team chooses to shut it down by fronting and backing), stretch fours and even stretch fives became the trend — that’s the modern NBA. Replace traditional bigs with another ball handler. Four out. Small and fast.

Right?

“The Spurs are big. The Clippers are big. Memphis is big,” said Quin Snyder, coach of another big team in the Utah Jazz. “Depending on whether you want to call Ryan Anderson a four or a shooting four or a three, Houston can be big. Oklahoma City’s big.

“So this is an interesting question to me, because Golden State has driven a perception that the whole league is small…. Because Golden State’s been the best team, you’re forced to match up with them, and then people will try to play small, but if you’re playing small just because someone else is, and then you’re not playing your best players, that’s a tough question. Do you chase a mismatch or do you play the way you play?”

Talk to coaches around the league and they lean heavily toward the latter — be yourself. Play to the roster’s talent. They are not caught up in the myth of an all small NBA — like Snyder they point to all the size on the other elite teams. Coaches want versatility that allows different matchup options, but what they want most is whatever gives them the best chance to win. If that’s playing big, then they go big.

“Golden State is an anomaly, with the group of players they have,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said during the preseason. “And they’re a monster. Definitely the toughest team in the league to guard. But the rest of us poor fools, 29 of us, are kind of a hybrid. Everybody tries to be flexible. Not team is going to be all big or all small. Every game, teams play small for a while, they play big for a while. That’s the way it is. That’s the truth.”

That’s also the truth for Golden State.

“If Kevin Durant is on your team, he’s probably going to play the three or the four, whatever you want to call it,” Snyder said. “You can also argue that Golden State’s big. I mean, is Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia small? I think the biggest thing is get your best players on the floor, and that’s what happened.”

“I think it’s an advantage doing what’s best for your team,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said, a guy getting Blake Griffin to play inside and get to the rim more early this season. “I think it’s a mistake trying to be someone else. I said it last year, it’s a news flash: Anyone who is trying to play like Golden State is and then tries to beat them, they’re going to lose. Golden State has the three best shooters in the league. So if you’re trying to spread the floor with shooting, well, they’re going to do it better. If you have a great shooting team and smalls, then play that way. We have bigs — play big. Be who you are.

“If us or the Spurs win this year, everyone’s going to go big next year.”

One reason more teams don’t go big is the dearth of quality big men, like DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers or Rudy Gobert of the Jazz.

“I think those guys are invaluable,” Rivers said. “I think the only reason other teams don’t have them is they don’t have them. All those teams playing the other way, if they had DJ or Gobert they would take them tomorrow… There are just not a lot of guys who do what they do.”

All the coaches kept coming back to one thing — versatility.

Especially on the defensive end. They want to be able to counter other lineups. Rivers prefers to play big, but he also acknowledged using their second unit the Clips will play small at times this season with Griffin at the five — if that’s the matchup that works.

“To have the versatility to play both ways is important…” Snyder said. “When we’re talking about playing small, what we’re really talking about is versatility. It doesn’t have so much to do with the size as it does versatility and the ability to guard different matchups. That’s why Draymond is so effective at the four, and that’s to me why Blake (Griffin) is so effective, because what’s happening is everybody is switching one through four. That’s really what it comes down to.”

The other part of this, beyond talent, is getting buy-in from the players.

“There’s a lot of teams that can play different groups, but there’s very few teams that all the players can handle those different rotations when they are not in it on a given night,” Rivers said.

Coaches realize they can’t beat the Warriors at their own game, what they need is a counter. Tristan Thompson at center and LeBron James at the four (guarding Green and switching onto Stephen Curry) worked last year. Kevin Durant may change that dynamic.

In the search for answers, a lot of teams are bucking the trend and thinking big.

Suns misspelled Eric Bledsoe’s name on jersey Sunday

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The world could use a few more editors.

We all make spelling and writing errors — certainly, I am not immune. No writer ever is. But some mistakes are just more awkward than others— and this one on Sunday by the Phoenix Suns was high on the awkward scale.

Eric Bledsoe — or Beldsoe, if you prefer — finished the game with 21 points on 11 shots, plus dished out six assists, as the Suns hung with the Warriors but fell short of the win Sunday.

(Hat tip Matt Moore at CBSSports.com)

Former Laker Anthony Brown goes No. 1 overall in D-League draft

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Anthony Brown‘s rookie season ended with him sitting courtside in Los Angeles, watching his idol Kobe Bryant end his stellar Lakers career with a dazzling 60-point effort.

Brown got many lessons from Bryant last season.

Now he has a chance to put those tutorials into use.

The 6-foot-7 forward was the No. 1 overall pick Sunday in the NBA Development League draft by the Erie BayHawks, an Orlando Magic affiliate. Brown was a second-round selection by the Lakers in 2015, appeared in 29 games and started 11 in the NBA last season, and will head to Pennsylvania on Monday for training camp and what he called “a fresh start.”

“The biggest thing that I took away from my time with Kobe was just the preparation that he came with to every game,” Brown said. “Every game that he played, his preparation was so detailed and so focused. The game is just the result of everything you’ve already worked on.”

Brown was the last player cut by the Lakers out of training camp this fall. He was one of two first-round selections Sunday with past NBA experience, joining Travis Leslie – who appeared in 10 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2011-12 season. Leslie was picked No. 4 overall by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Indiana’s D-League club.

“You’re playing NBA rules with an NBA ball,” Brown said. “I think that playing in the D-League and honing your craft there, it’s definitely translatable if you’re able to get to the NBA level. There’s definitely talent in the league.”

A trio of famous sons were among the 105 selections.

Keith Hornsby, the son of Grammy winning musician Bruce Hornsby and who played college ball at LSU, was the ninth overall pick by the Texas Legends, a Dallas affiliate.

Benito Santiago Jr. – a 27-year-old who also was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2010 and whose father spent two decades in the major leagues – went 38th overall, to the Delaware 76ers.

Ralph Sampson III, whose father was the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft, went in the fifth round to the Northern Arizona Suns. He was the 86th overall pick, and has been in the D-League for the last two seasons.

Other picks of note:

– Shannon Brown, a two-time NBA champion with the Lakers and someone who’s spent time with eight NBA clubs already, may be returning to the state where he played his college ball. The Michigan State product was selected in the second round by the Grand Rapids Drive, the Detroit Pistons’ affiliate. “For me, it makes me feel like I’m starting all over from scratch,” he told mlive.com Sunday.

– Palpreet Singh of India went to the Long Island Nets, at No. 80 overall. Bobby Ray Parks Jr., born in the Philippines, was the last pick at No. 105, going to the Westchester Knicks.

Three things we learned Sunday: Draymond Green knows teams trying to “punk” Warriors

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It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while wondering why the United Nations has not looked into the UFO phenomenon…. 

1) Teams are being physical, trying to punk Warriors, and Draymond Green has taken notice. For the past couple of seasons, the Golden State Warriors have punked teams. The Warriors were chippy, they tried to push buttons, they played with arrogance — they acted like the bully. But just three games into the new season the book on how to beat the Warriors is out — be physical. San Antonio did it in the opener and pushed Golden State around, New Orleans tried to do it, and the Phoenix Suns followed the pattern Sunday behind Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe. Teams are playing to get a measure of revenge. Golden State still picked up the victory over Phoenix behind 37 from Kevin Durant on Sunday, but the Warriors struggles on defense continued, and teams are trying to push them around. Draymond Green has taken notice, as he told Monty Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

“Definitely. Definitely, he said Sunday, after a 106-100 win over the Suns. “Teams are trying to punk us. It’s fine. We’re not going to get punked.”

Being physical with them is something teams have tried for a couple of years, but the Warriors could push and bang with anyone inside in seasons past. However, with Andrew Bogut gone in the paint and other long, athletic players also shipped out — Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes, for example — the strategy has taken on a new urgency. Sunday, Stephen Curry pushed back, shoving Brandon Knight to the floor after the play.

So far this physical strategy has worked best when the elite Spurs used it, but it’s going to continue until the Warriors prove it doesn’t work — and the way the Suns hung around and was in Sunday’s game until the end, it clearly still works.

2) Utah desperately misses Gordon Hayward. There are a couple of things I took away from attending the Clippers home win over the Jazz Sunday. One is that the Clippers are playing incredibly well to open the season — their bench has a real comfort level we haven’t seen in recent years, they are very physical on defense, and Blake Griffin is playing at an elite level.

But the other is that the Jazz desperately miss Gordon Hayward — they need his shot creation to make their offense work. Utah’s defense was as advertised — their length had the Clippers missing shots they normally make — but Utah can’t generate enough good looks of its own. George Hill gives them some of that, Joe Johnson can for spurts, but Hayward is a borderline All-NBA kind of player, and without him their shot making is not the same. Ask coach Quin Snyder about that and he almost shrugs. “I think the biggest thing for us now is just to keep getting better… part of it for us is getting better, and part of it is getting healthy and hopefully we can do both.” Hayward is out a couple more weeks at least after breaking his finger.

3) Angry Russell Westbrook is putting on a show — and putting up numbers. Big numbers. These are historic numbers to start a season: Through three games, Russell Westbrook has 116 points, 37 rebounds, and 35 assists. Sunday, in a 113-96 victory over the Lakers, Westbrook had 33 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds. That’s two triple-doubles in three games. It is amazing to watch.

My only question: Will this load at some point wear Westbrook down? How long can he shoulder this?

James Harden hits late free throw, Rockets beat Mavericks 93-92

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden made a free throw with 0.1 seconds left, lifting the Houston Rockets over the Dallas Mavericks 93-92 in their home opener Sunday night.

Harden had 28 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. He was fouled by Wesley Matthews on a driving layup at the buzzer with the game tied, then made the second of two free-throw attempts.

After trailing by 10 entering the fourth quarter, Dallas tied it at 92 with a 3-pointer by Matthews with 4.1 seconds remaining.

Matthews led Dallas with 25 points, and J.J. Barea scored 18 points off the bench. In falling to the Rockets for the second time in three days, the Mavericks fell to 0-3 for the first time since 2011-12, the lockout-shortened season following their title.

Dallas was without Dirk Nowitzki (illness, sore Achilles tendon) for a second straight game. Nowitzki participated in pregame warmups but was a late scratch.

Houston got strong performances from offseason additions Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene in their home debuts. Gordon had 14 points, Anderson had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Nene had 11 points.

The Rockets capped the first and second quarters with points at the buzzer. To end the first, Corey Brewer hit a 3-pointer from 30 feet out. Harden ended the second quarter on a driving layup to put the Rockets up 63-53.

Late in the third quarter, Houston’s Trevor Ariza and Dallas’ Salah Mejri received double-technical fouls after both players fell to the floor and were tangled for a few seconds. Ariza clinched his fists before he was restrained by players.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Without Nowitzki, Dallas was frequently undersized but managed to hold their own in the rebounding category, with Houston edging the Mavericks 46-42. … Starting in Nowitzki’s place, Seth Curry played 23 minutes and scored no points on 0-for-3 shooting. … Deron Williams had 12 points but struggled with his shot in the second half after colliding with Brewer on a hard foul in the third quarter that left Williams limping and holding his thigh.

Rockets: Houston was plagued by 17 turnovers compared to just nine turnovers from Dallas. … Sam Dekker scored nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range. … Houston outscored Dallas 15-4 in fast-break points, fueled heavily by timely steals and forced turnovers in transition. … Clint Capela had 10 rebounds.