Kurt Helin

2015 NBA Finals - Game Six

Plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry on big stages as NBA releases 2015-16 schedule

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For NBA junkies, this is like opening presents on Christmas morning — the NBA schedule is out.

There are 1,230 games out there to be played starting on Oct. 27 and running through April — and that’s before the two months of NBA playoffs start. It’s a marathon.

But there are highlights — and the NBA still is the master of getting its biggest stars on its biggest stages, meaning you’re going to get a lot of LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Here are some schedule highlights.

• Opening night, Oct. 27, we get a double-header on TNT:

Cleveland at Chicago: Arguably the two top teams in the East. Well, no argument about Cleveland in the top slot, but are the Bulls and new coach Fred Hoiberg going to grab that second slot? Also, LeBron James vs. Derrick Rose in a rematch of a fun playoff series from last year

New Orleans at Golden State: Stephen Curry and the Warriors swept Anthony Davis and the Pelicans out in the first round of the playoffs last season, but it wasn’t that simple. Now a healthy and improved New Orleans — with coach Alvin Gentry, just hired away from the Warriors — comes to the Bay Area looking to spoil the night the banner goes up at Oracle (title teams often struggle in this game, they tend not to be focused).

Also that night, but not nationally televised, Detroit at Atlanta.

• The next night, Oct. 28, San Antonio at Oklahoma City: Is Kevin Durant all the way back? How is LaMarcus Aldridge fitting in with the Spurs? We will get some early (but far from definitive) answers to those questions.

Also Oct. 28, New York is at Milwaukee — the first time the Bucks have opened at home since 1984. Milwaukee made the playoffs and looks like a team on the rise, and they have been rewarded with a dozen nationally televised games.

Finally that same night, Minnesota is at the Los Angeles Lakers — No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves vs. No. 2 D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers.

• On Oct. 29, Dallas at Los Angeles Clippers. DeAndre Jordan’s first matchup against the Mavericks — the team he reversed course on and spurned this summer — is in the friendly confines of Staples Center (where they are happy to have him back).

• Wednesday, Nov. 11, will be the night of returns:

San Antonio at Portland: The one big free agent changing teams this summer was LaMarcus Aldridge heading to San Antonio. How will he be received by Blazers’ faithful, and can the Spurs beat a fired up Damian Lillard and Portland?

Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas: Now it gets fun. Jordan faces the team he agreed to play for then backed out on in the American Airlines Arena — it is going to rain boos in Dallas like a Spring thunderstorm.

• Dec. 5, Cleveland at Miami: Everybody has pretty much moved on from LeBron heading home (except maybe Pat Riley) but this is still a matchup of two of the top teams in the East.

• Dec. 23, Dallas at Brooklyn: Deron Williams returns to Brooklyn — where his star never burned as brightly as Nets fans hoped — with his new team the Dallas Mavericks.

• Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the unofficial start of the NBA season for casual fans, will feature five games again:

Chicago at Oklahoma City: Two teams near the top of their conferences and with star power will pay in the first of two ABC national games. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Cleveland at Golden State: This NBA Finals matchup features the two biggest stars in the game — Curry and LeBron James — and drew the biggest NBA television ratings since the Jordan era. You think the NBA would miss a chance to put that in their prime Christmas slot?

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: Is this our last Christmas with Kobe Bryant? This is all you need to know about the strength of the Lakers’ brand — as bad as they were last season, for all the questions about the one coming up, you can’t get them off the Christmas Day card. Or, look at it this way: The Lakers have 19 nationally televised games, the same number as the Western Conference Finalist Houston Rockets.

The other two Christmas Day games: Anthony Davis and New Orleans at Miami, then San Antonio at Houston.

• Jan. 14, Orlando vs. Toronto: It’s the rare mid-week NBA day game — because it’s being played in London at the O2 arena.

• On Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 18), the TNT double-header is the other NBA Finals rematch with Golden State at Cleveland, then at night a great playoff rematch with Houston at the Los Angeles Clippers.

• Feb. 6, Oklahoma City at Golden State: The last two MVPs — Durant and Curry — face off in a national ESPN game, part of their new Saturday night package (which starts in 2016 after the college football season).

• Feb. 8 Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana: A couple years ago Roy Hibbert was seen as a cornerstone of a young, impressive Pacers team. Now they have pushed him out the door. This is the night he returns to the Fieldhouse in Lakers gold to take on the Pacers.

• Feb. 18, coming out of the All-Star break, TNT has a killer double-header: Chicago at Cleveland, followed by the Spurs at the Clippers.

• Last season there were 70 instances where teams had four games in five nights (almost always on the road), it’s one of the big complaints of teams and where they often rest guys. This season there are just 27 instances, the league has worked to cut those back.

• Teams will have an averaged of 17.8 games in back-to-back situations, that is down from 19.3 last season. Improved, but the league has a long way to go here.

• Entering year three of their tank-a-thon, the Philadelphia 76ers have no national television games scheduled. The Pistons, a team that could be in the playoff mix in the East, also are not on the national schedule.

• Once again, there is a

LeBron James says he has not made a decision on playing in 2016 Rio Olympics. Yet.

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp
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LeBron James is in Las Vegas for the USA Basketball mini-camp. He’s not just making a token appearance and then heading off to Tao, rather he put on the No. 27 jersey — no headband — and worked on his low-post game. By the way, former Pelicans coach Monty Williams can’t really check him down there. Shocking.

So does that mean LeBron is in for a USA Basketball record fourth Olympics next summer in Rio.

That decision has yet to be made, he told Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

The Cavaliers are the clear favorites to come out of the East and make it to the NBA Finals — that would be six straight NBA Finals appearances for LeBron. He is already ninth on the NBA’s all-time minutes list (counting regular season, playoffs and international play) and by the time next summer rolls around he’s likely seventh.

If he wants to beg off next summer, you can’t blame him (it’s not like he hasn’t made a commitment to USA Basketball and won a couple golds already).

But he will get pressure from Nike, plus a third gold (something nobody else has in basketball) would become part of his legacy.

There’s a lot to think about, but no reason to think about it until next spring and summer. You can be sure Coach Mike Krzyzewski is not giving away his roster spot.

LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t meet with Knicks because they asked him to play center

LaMarcus Aldridge
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LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the game’s most skilled power forwards, able to dominate from the left block or knock down fadeaways in the midrange.

Just don’t ask him to play center.

Which is what the Knicks were going to do — they had just drafted Kristaps Porzingis and he is the future at the four spot.

That is why Aldridge cancelled his free agent meeting with the Knicks this summer, he told Frank Isola from the New York Daily News, out in Las Vegas where Aldridge is part of the USA Basketball mini-camp.

“They were saying they wanted me to be more of a center to let their guy develop and I just wasn’t looking to be that,” Aldridge said. “So I was looking to play power forward, and they weren’t really interested…

“Melo and I talked a little bit over text and we have mutual friends that passed messages along. I was interested,” Aldridge said. “I talked to other guys to see if they were interested in going there too. I was interested but when they say they want me to play a position that I don’t want to play, I get it.”

Aldridge ultimately chose the Spurs, and most likely would have done the same after meeting with the Knicks regardless.

I can see the comments now about how this is the Knicks being the Knicks and Phil Jackson screwing up again.

Except he didn’t — this is exactly the right play.

Aldridge, at 30 years old, is a guy looking for a win-now situation, and the Knicks are not that. They should not try to be that — their years of floundering around have been in large part due to quick fix after quick fix trying to make the playoffs rather than following a long-term plan. Aldridge would only have been another in those line of quick-fixes. With him, the Knicks make the playoffs as a middle-of-the-pack team (but no real threat to the Cavaliers) but don’t build for the future. The Knicks need to play Porzingis at the four and the five (playing Carmelo Anthony at the four for stretches as well) and while that learning curve could be painful at times they need to suffer through it.

We can debate whether Jackson is up to the task, or if his triangle system can thrive in a modern NBA, I have my doubts. But at least someone in the organization is focused on the big picture right now. That has not been the case consistently for far too long.

Besides, the pitch from Jackson and coach Derek Fisher impressed DeAndre Jordan, who at the same event told Marc Berman of the post he strongly considered the Knicks.

“I had a great meeting and great presentation,’’ Jordan said after Tuesday’s US Olympic Team mini-camp. “Phil Jackson speaks for himself. Fish [Derek Fisher] did a great job. The whole team had a plan with the organization, a plan for me that was cool. I just decided to stay with the Clippers, but it was great.

“The Knicks were definitely a team I was considering.’’

Maybe Knicks fans should be happy Jordan didn’t first choose them. But at least the pitch — to a true center (they eventually landed another one in Robin Lopez) — was on point.

 

 

 

Russell Westbrook says Derrick Rose is back to his old self

Chicago Bulls v New Orleans Pelicans
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The Derrick Rose pre-injuries was explosive and dynamic — a guy who you could not take your eyes off of, who could carry his teams to wins, and was virtually unguardable. After his injuries Rose relied more on skill than athleticism, and getting there is a process. There’s nothing wrong with that — the great players evolve over the course of their career. The 2010 Kobe Bryant was not the 2002 version, and guys like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson evolved their games over time. Rose’s evolution was forced by injury and with that was uneven. Choose your advanced stat from last season — VORP, win shares, adjusted +/-, PER — and Rose was pretty blah.

However, there were stretches of quality play from Rose last season, and each time he had a great game we heard the same refrain: “the old Derrick Rose is back.” Which never felt true nor was it sustained, but it makes a great narrative.

So pardon my cynicism as Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com passes along this note from the explosive Russell Westbrook about Rose.

I’m going to act like I’m from Missouri on this one — show me.

I’m not alone in my scepticism. Even Goodwill threw this out.

I hope for the sake of the Bulls and fans of the game everywhere Rose proves me wrong. But I need to see it.

Paul George is excused from Team USA mini-camp

Team USA Showcase
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One can understand if Paul George may not want to play in the Team USA intrasquad exhibition game in Las Vegas this week. He’s not exactly had positive experiences with that in the past.

Still, George wants the opportunity to make the Team USA roster for the 2016 Rio Olympics, so he was in Las Vegas Tuesday for the opening of Team USA’s mini-camp (players had to show up in Las Vegas to be considered). But he was one-and-done — one day and he was excused from hanging around for the rest of camp, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN.com that George attended both a team meeting Monday night as well as a one-on-one sitdown with Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, thus satisfying a mandate from USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo that any player who wants to be considered for the 2016 Olympic team must show himself in Vegas.

But sources say George — who was always expected by USAB officials to sit out this week’s two light workouts as well as Thursday night’s intrasquad scrimmage — was spared the chore of being forced to watch Tuesday’s noncontact session from the sideline and then face the media hordes in attendance.

After his horrific leg fracture a year ago at a Team USA exhibition, George missed almost the entire next NBA season.

He’s a bit of a longshot to make the roster for Rio, if he’s going to make it then it all starts with him looking like his old self this coming season. If he’s defending well on the wing and racking up points efficiently (and showing off a sweet outside stroke) then it’s possible he makes the cut.

But he doesn’t need to hang around Vegas a few extra days to prove anything.