Author: Kurt Helin

Paul Pierce, Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah

Bulls’ Noah, Wizards’ Pierce, fined; Nene, three other Wizards suspended regular season game for preseason altercation


That was silly preseason posturing — Paul Pierce with the unnecessarily hard foul, Joakim Noah playing enforcer and pushing Pierce, Pierce responding by poking Noah in the head.

Well, it’s going to cost them — $15,000 each.

The NBA announced Wednesday that because of the above incident from both team’s first preseason game Noah and Pierce are suspended for their teams’ first regular season game. In addition, each man has been fined $15,000, Noah for shoving Pierce and Pierce for poking Noah in the forehead.

But that’s not the big hit for Washington.

The Wizards’ DeJuan Blair, Nene, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas all are suspended for the first game of the regular season for leaving the bench area during the altercation.

So just to be clear, the Wizards open the season Oct. 29 in Miami they will be without their starting center plus they lost some bench depth for the night. Plus Paul Pierce has to write a check.

All because… preseason?

In first preseason game, Pistons start Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, while Greg Monroe comes off bench

Detroit Pistons Media Day

We all know, it’s preseason. It often has all the truth of a politician’s promised on the campaign trail — what happens here and what happens when the season starts can be very different things.

Still, it’s hard to ignore this — Greg Monroe came off the bench for the Pistons in their preseason opener. Andre Drummond and Josh Smith got the starts.

So, Stan Van Gundy, why don’t you tell us how this doesn’t matter (via The Detroit News).

“It’ll be different every game in the preseason,” Van Gundy said. “Seriously, it was random as much as anything. We knew the 10 we wanted to play today. But it was pretty random.”

I have no doubt that Van Gundy plans over the next few weeks to throw a lot of crazy lineup combinations out there to start seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. Because the only thing we really know, what last season showed us clearly, is that Drummond/Smith/Monroe can’t all play together.

But “random?” Nope. Van Gundy has seen something in practice that sent him to this combination first.

Now it’s Monroe’s turn to tell us how starting is not what’s important to him.

“I don’t have to handle it. I have to play,” Monroe said after the game. “That’s not gonna change, whether I start or come off the bench, how I play. He (Van Gundy) makes the decision. I’m gonna play.”

Monroe is playing on a qualifying offer, refusing to sign the contract extension the Pistons offered this past summer. In that sense, he does just have to play — if he performs well and puts up numbers his stock goes up next season and so do his earnings. Teams and scouts will see his level of play whether he starts or comes off the bench.

For the record, Monroe scored a team-high 22 points with 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Smith was 4-of-11 to score nine points plus he had five rebounds against the Bulls.

Hornets lose guard Gerald Henderson 1-2 weeks with hamstring injury

Charlotte Hornets Media Day
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Gerald Henderson is in a fight for a starting spot in Charlotte — Kemba Walker is the point guard and Lance Stephenson will play the two or the three, with Henderson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the other starter.

So this news is a setback for him — Henderson will be out 1-2 weeks with a hamstring strain, reports Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

Henderson averaged 14 points a game starting 77 games for Charlotte last season. His a veteran and knows coach Steve Clifford’s system, but this gives MKG a chance to shine and get some more run to develop chemistry with Stephenson and the other starters.

Still, Henderson should be back for the last couple preseason games and will be good to go when the season tips off.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 season preview: Denver Nuggets

Ty Lawson

Last season: Be warned, you could get injured just reading this paragraph. Coming off a 57-win season hopes were high but Danilo Gallinari never played a game, instead needing a second knee surgery to clean up the first one. JaVale McGee played in just five games after a stress fracture to his tibia. Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson each missed at least 20 games due to injury. Those injuries meant fluctuating rotations, which on top of a new coach and new system under Brian Shaw created issues, particularly defensively. The result is a 36 win team that misses the playoffs.

Signature highlight from last season: In some ways this sums up the Nuggets halfcourt offense last season: Down two to the Clippers with time for one last shot the Nuggets don’t really have a go-to guy so they run a play — which more teams should do, but this play lacks urgency and execution, and so it falls to Randy Foye to take a deep three over Blake Griffin. Of course, in this case he drains it.

Key player changes: Frankly, the biggest change will just be getting Gallinari and McGee back in the lineup. Denver made one really nice free agent addition this summer, trading for Arron Afflalo who had an All-Star level year in Orlando (and giving up on the potential of Evan Fournier in the deal). Also added to the roster is a rookie showing a lot of potential in Gary Harris, plus Alonzo Gee, Erick Green, and another rookie in Jusuf Nurkic.

Gone from the roster besides Fournier are Aaron Brooks, Anthony Randolph, and Jan Vesely.

Keys to the Nuggets’ season:

The defense must get better. Last season, despite all the injuries, the Nuggets had a solid offense (middle of the NBA pack) but their bottom-10 defense was the big issue. With the return of Gallinari and the addition of Afflalo the Nuggets offense should be better than average, more than that it should be good. Maybe very good. But all of that doesn’t matter if they can’t get stops. The return of JaVale McGee to protect the paint is potentially a big step forward. However it’s going to take more than that — the Nuggets pick-and-roll defense last season was a weakness and it’s got to improve. It’s going to take Shaw putting in a consistent system, getting full buy in from the players, someone stepping up to be a good perimeter stopper, and guys like Kenneth Faried improving on the defensive end in a way he hasn’t before. The Nuggets fancy themselves a playoff team in the West, but if it’s going to happen it has to happen on this end of the floor.

Improvement in the halfcourt offense. What the Nuggets are built to do is run — Lawson is a fantastic scorer and creator in transition, Afflalo and Gallinari can space the floor and knock down shots, while bigs like Faried, McGee and J.J. Hickson are amazing rim runners. When the tempo is up the Nuggets are hard to beat. When the tempo slows… not so much. If the Nuggets want to make the playoffs they are going to need to score in the halfcourt more consistently. Again, Afflalo and Gallinari should help here, but Shaw has to put in a system and guys need to execute it, because good teams are going to try to slow the ball down vs. Denver. And the West is loaded with good teams.

A breakout season for Kenneth Faried. We saw the best of what Faried can do during the World Cup — energy is a skill (to quote David Thorpe, among others) and Faried brings that more than any other player in the league. That energy and effort can be a glue. Faried brings a ferociousness on the boards, and when the team gets out and runs he can bring points in transition. Faried was a glue for a Team USA roster that was already loaded with scorers and didn’t need his points (so defenses almost ignored him at first, allowing him to get points). The Nuggets have plenty of guys who can score but Faried is not going to be ignored in the same way, yet he needs to bring a new bounce to his step from that Spanish experience this summer and push this team to another level. Faried is not your first (or second) offensive option in a halfcourt set, he’s not a lockdown defender, but what he brings can lift the rest of the Nuggets up to a new level. He has to bring that every night for them to make the playoffs.

Why you should watch the Nuggets: They played at the third fastest pace in the NBA last season and Brian Shaw wants his team to run more — and when they run there are few teams more fun to watch. Ty Lawson is underrated both as a point guard and on the entertainment scale. Plus, they will have one of the best bench units in the league.

Prediction: 44-38, which will be about the 10 seed in the West and just outside the playoffs. This is going to be a bounce back year for the Nuggets in a lot of ways, they are going to be much better than last season just by being healthy again. Whether or not they make the playoffs really comes down to how well they defend, they will be better than the bad defensive team they were a year ago but I’m not sold it will change enough to make the playoffs in the loaded West. That said, if some of those good teams in the West suffer injuries or slip up more than expected, the Nuggets will be there ready to pounce and grab one of those playoff spots. It’s possible (especially with their depth and second unit) and should be their goal, I just can’t see them getting all the way there this year.

Kyle Lowry circus shot skills already in midseason form (VIDEO)

Toronto Raptors Media Day
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Give Sacramento an “H.”

The Raptors and Kings were back at it in the NBA preseason Tuesday night and Kyle Lowry threw in our first circus shot of the season, an over-his-head spinning bank shot.

Dwane Casey isn’t going to draw this up regularly, but for $12 million a year Lowry can throw in a few of those.