Kurt Helin

PBT Extra bold prediction preview: Will Spurs’ defense remain strong?

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The Spurs’ core is getting a step older and a step slower. They are replacing Tiago Splitter‘s size and rebounding with LaMarcus Aldridge. As Jenna Corrado does in this latest PBT Extra, it’s fair to ask if San Antonio’s defense is about to slip a little this season?

I don’t see it, at least not much. First, they still have Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter. Second, Aldridge is a better defender than he gets credit for in some quarters, and he can replicate a lot of what the Spurs asked Splitter to do in their system.

Maybe they don’t finish second in the NBA in defense as they did last season, but any slip on that end will be more than made up for by an improved offense.

Paul George has grown comfortable with power forward role

Paul George
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As the NBA has become about spacing and the threat of the three, a lot of the power has gone out of the power forward position. There are still a handful of old-school beasts at the four spot who do their damage near the rim — Zach Randolph, Kenneth Faried, Derrick Favors — but now even some of the guys with power can drain threes (Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin) and spend more time on the wings than on the block.

In that world, on a team that wants to be part of that future, Paul George as a power forward made sense. While it took a while for him to come around to it, George is on board now, as he told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

“Yeah,” George said, followed by a sigh. “At one point, it was hard to wrap [my head around] everything. Here I am coming back from a big-time injury and wanting to get back to what I used to be, playing the three. Then I come back playing a stretch four — it took a toll on me mentally.

“But the more we’ve had practice time and I’ve had sit-down moments with coach and with Larry (Bird), the more at ease I’ve felt about the situation.”

This preseason he has averaged 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, he’s shooting 39 percent from three, and most importantly he is moving very well and showing that old bounce in his step.

The big question about George at the four has always been defensive — can he match up against a true four. However, through much of the preseason coach Frank Vogel has cross-matched him more on threes and twos, and then on the other end forced teams to adjust to them.

The George at the four idea was always going to be bit situational — he’s going to struggle against Griffin or Davis or LaMarcus Aldridge. Everyone does, and the Pacers will have to adjust for those matchups. But most nights, he creates a lot of challenges for the Pacers’ opponent to solve.

The Pacers are fully committed because they see this as good for everyone, as coach Frank Vogel explained.

“It’s also not just about him either. But if he’s at the four, you’ve seen already that Ian Mahinmi becomes a better player when he’s in the paint with more space. Monta Ellis is going to get to the basket more because Paul George is at the four and he has more space. George Hill is going to get to the basket. C.J. Miles, when they chase him off pin-downs, has more room to get to the basket and use more space.”

It’s worked out pretty well in the preseason. Now it’s time to see what happens when the games matter and opponents throw their best lineups at the Pacers.

Lakers’ Ryan Kelly throws down a hard dunk. Again. (VIDEO)

Ryan Kelly, Trey Lyles

Ryan Kelly for the dunk contest!

The Lakers backup stretch four isn’t exactly known for his power dunks, but he has been putting together a few highlight reel plays this preseason. There was the game winner of Noah Vonleh, now add to that this one from the Lakers’ preseason loss Thursday to the Warriors.

That is Andre Iguodala trying to come in to block the attempt, but you can’t stop Kelly. Nobody can.


Paul George on breakaway spins defender, dunks (VIDEO)

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All through the preseason, the Pacers’ Paul George has been making plays and looking like his vintage self.

Add this to the highlight reel.

George leaked out off the three, George Hill grabbed the rebound and went for the Kevin Love outlet pass. George caught it and then put a sweet spin move on the defender and threw it down.

It is so fun to have him back.

LeBron still not practicing after back injection

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James has not practiced since getting an injection in his back, but the Cavaliers remain confident he’ll be ready to start the NBA season.

James did “light work” on the court Thursday, with the Cavs gearing up for Tuesday’s opener in Chicago. The four-time MVP has been limited since his anti-inflammatory shot, similar to the one early last season when he was slowed by knee and back issues.

“We’re being very conscientious and cautious with him in terms of his feeling,” coach David Blatt said. “He’s fine and he’s going to be fine. We’re just going slowly and carefully with him. He’ll be out there very soon.”

So will forward Tristan Thompson, who signed his five-year, $82 million contract and is expected Friday to practice with his teammates for the first time since last season. The valuable rebounder held out for a long-term deal. His agent, Rich Paul, and the Cavs reached an agreement Wednesday, ending a months-long standoff.

Thompson gave the Cavs a huge lift when Kevin Love was injured in the playoffs last season.

“He’s a big part of what we do,” guard James Jones said. “Unfortunately, the business aspect of our game slowed us down a little bit. But we have full faith and confidence that knowing the way he works, he’ll get up to speed soon and more importantly, knowing that we have that extended depth because we all know the healthiest teams usually are the ones that are most successful in the postseason.”

James didn’t speak to reporters following the workout at Cleveland Clinic Courts. However, he did throw around some footballs with a few teammates on a field outside the facility before heading home.

The 30-year-old star played in just two of Cleveland’s seven exhibition games, missing the last three after receiving the shot. Last week, James said he would get another injection in his back if needed.

Entering his 13th NBA season, James has said he may play fewer minutes in the regular season to stay fresh for the postseason and a run at a third league title. He has played over 43,000 minutes – he averaged a career-low 36.1 last season – and James has acknowledged his basketball mortality saying “Father Time is undefeated” on more than one occasion.

James missed 13 games last season, the most in his career, and he took two weeks off to rest his back and a strained knee. Blatt said he’s not concerned the time off will affect James’ conditioning.

“LeBron is constantly working and he’s a guy that takes care of himself 24 hours a day,” he said. “I don’t have to tell anybody here what a fabulous athlete he is. He also takes care of himself, so he’ll be fine.”

Meanwhile, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving remains sidelined after breaking his kneecap in Game 1 of the finals. Irving has not practiced, and the Cavs don’t have a timetable for him to play.

“Every day he adds a little bit to his workout regime,” Blatt said. “The idea with him is to go slowly and surely, not to rush anything and make sure he comes back 100 percent ready to play. We’ll continue that as long as it takes. He is making progress, he looks good. His mood is good too because he knows he’s coming along.”