Kurt Helin

Pelicans Mardi Gras

New Orleans brings back Mardi Gras uniforms


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.

Suns’ Chandler wants to talk to Markieff Morris

Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers

Markieff Morris wants out of Phoenix — and he’s willing to pay a five-figure fine to make sure people know. After a season where Morris clashed with Suns’ coaching staff, this summer Phoenix traded Markieff’s twin brother Marcus, and he was ticked.

The Suns have no intention of trading their starting power forward. Coach Jeff Hornacek thinks he’ll come around.

Now new Sun big man Tyson Chandler wants to talk to Markieff and see if he can smooth over the situation. Here is what Chandler told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.

Chandler has not been able to speak to Morris yet but he expects to do so soon. His message will focus on how Morris’ feelings toward General Manager Ryan McDonough, adviser and former President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby and Managing Partner Robert Sarver should have no bearing on his play or relationship with teammates and coaches.

“It’s not about them,” Chandler said. “That’s no offense to Ryan, the GM, or the owner. Players play for players and the coaches. You’ve got a bond. Management has nothing to do with anything that goes on when you’re on the court. That’s just my thoughts. I’m not saying this for anything against Keef either. He’s a man and he has to go through his own process. But he can be special and I know he will. I feel like all this stuff will be forgotten once we kick off and we’re having success.”

I’m not sure Morris can separate the two. He’s very unhappy.

He’ll be professional, he’ll show up to training camp, he’ll practice hard and play hard — just don’t expect him to do the extra beyond what is required. At least not at first.

But Chandler’s point is a valid one — locker rooms can become fairly insular places. Morris already has some ties with teammates and will form new ones with guys like Chandler. This is a bubble playoff team in the West, a team that likely will be in a tight battle with teams like Dallas and Utah for the final playoff slots in the West, and in that kind of environment can bring teammates together. Maybe Morris feels that and moves on from his summer anger.

Or, maybe he ruins the team chemistry and hope of the playoffs. It’s a risk the Suns seem willing to take.

Hollis-Jefferson may become first Net to live in Brooklyn

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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Right now, like most of the Brooklyn Nets, rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson lives in New Jersey (others live in Manhattan). For a lot of teams, players prefer to live near the practice facility, where they spend more time, than the arena where the games are played. And the Nets practice facility is currently in East Rutherford, N.J. (where it was before the team moved to Brooklyn).

That’s about to change — the team’s new training facility in Brooklyn is expected to open in February.

Which has Hollis-Jefferson thinking he may break the mold and move into the city. From the Wall Street Journal.

Currently, Hollis-Jefferson shares a Northern New Jersey rental with a friend and Rahlir, who played basketball in college at Temple and professionally in both Europe and the D-League….

Hollis-Jefferson is considering becoming the first Brooklyn Nets player to move to the borough because, as he continues to learn, traffic congestion in and around New York is constant. “It’s really every day.”

He could move into Williamburg, but would he then be too cool to care about the Nets?

The Nets landed Hollis-Jefferson in the deal that sent Mason Plumlee out of town, and it seems a smart pickup. Plumlee was going to have a healthy payday in a couple of years and with the Nets re-signing Brook Lopez they were looking to make a trade to gain a young player (since they have limited picks for the next few years). They got Hollis-Jefferson, and while he looked like a rookie at times he showed some promise in Summer League as well.

The Nets are still struggling to win over fans in the Brooklyn and New York areas (they had the lowest percentage viewership of their television market in the entire NBA). Having a player living in the community would help. Having a team the fans watched grow together and start to win would matter more, but players in the community would help.