Game of the night: The Spurs would like your attention, please

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After 24 minutes of decent offensive execution with poor finishing, the Spurs’ third quarter was an explosion of contrasts. San Antonio’s inexplicable misses were made right again, and so were some of their lower quality looks, for that matter. The Spurs just went to that happy place, where every three-pointer is accompanied by candy raining from the sky, and each swift cutter left behind them the scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns. SanAn won’t be able to tap into this kind of nirvana on a nightly basis, but this is what the Spurs are capable of when the five on the floor start harmonizing.

It didn’t matter who hit the hardwood for San Antonio; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal…everyone clad in black, white, and silver just got it. We should expect nothing less from the Spurs after all this time, but this was a special combination of pitch-perfect execution and elite offensive talent, the latter of which has eluded the Spurs at times, even at the height of their powers.

It may not have even been the best third quarter of the night — New Orleans put on a hell of a show — but consider this your regular reminder that the Spurs are not only damn capable, but damn talented. They established an offensive rhythm in the first half even while they struggled to put up points, and when the time was right, it all came together, and the result was a nice 109.6 points per 100 possessions. There’s no question that when San Antonio has the capability to produce a run like this, they’re super-quasi-demi-contenders.

They push the pace when it’s appropriate (which is more often than longstanding Spurs fans might be used to), but more importantly, they continue to grind out teams with their ball movement in half-court sets. With the ball swinging and the right players making the right moves, it’s no surprise that San Antonio went off in the third. It’s just a bit shocking that it didn’t happen sooner.

San Antonio outscored Chicago 37-12 in that pivotal third frame, and though the Bulls would eventually make things interesting at times in the fourth, the Spurs coasted. They lived off the momentum they had gained a quarter earlier, and found sustenance in their rhythm and lead

But focusing too much on the third quarter (and the Spurs, for that matter) does a great disservice to what was a sturdy offensive outing by the Bulls. Derrick Rose taking 27 shots shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s game plan, but he was attacking the San Antonio defense in all the right places. Rose still steps into those long two-point jumpers more than he should, but on a night where he balanced long — but open — twos with an array of drives and floaters, I can hardly lambast him for trying to take this game over.

You can’t throw the ball down to Joakim Noah against Tim Duncan, even though he had a productive night to finish with 10 and 14. Luol Deng scored 18 points, but shot just 6-of-17 along the way. Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer gave the Bulls some nice play off the bench, but neither is a go-to option in any regard. No other Bull was creating quality shots, and many of Rose’s teammates (I’m looking at you, Taj Gibson) couldn’t even finish a few of their spoon-fed buckets. Rose did what he had to do, and though that led to satchel-full of field goal attempts and four turnovers, he wasn’t given all that many alternatives to a hero act.

The game itself may not have been as entertaining as some of the night’s other contests, but the message here is important. The Spurs executed defensively as they are ought to do, but they won this game with a deluge rather than their typical maelstrom. San Antonio may be a step removed from some of the league’s truly elite squads, but they can do it all, even when faced with a tough start against a quality team. San Antonio is still San Antonio, but their offensive potency in games like these should make us all wonder if they’re capable of being something more.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.