Five early season NBA trends to be thankful for

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We are 10 games or so into the NBA season and one thing is clear — this is fun. Not everything is fitting neatly into the preseason prediction boxes and that is the best part of being a sports fan.

We at PBT are thankful for a lot of things. All of you who read us, for one. That Rasheed Wallace is back in the NBA and yelling things at free throw shooters again. That some key players — Wednesday night it was Kevin Love and Nene — are getting healthy.

Here are five NBA early-season trends we are really pumped about:

1) The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are legitimate. While we may yet see a Lakers vs. Heat finals, but if that happens you want those teams to have to really earn it. Before the season started we thought a Lakers vs. Thunder Western Conference Finals was inevitable — Now the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers stand there as legitimate threats. Memphis is a physical, scrappy team built for the playoffs but they have reinvented their offense with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol more as playmakers for others. Also, lesson here for NBA fans and GMs is that continuity matters.

We knew the Clippers could put up points and entertain — Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are always a threat, and now Jamal Crawford has stepped up as a shooter and playmaker — but the question was defense. And could DeAndre Jordan step up his game? So far the Clippers have the second best defense in the NBA (if you go by points by possession) and Jordan is having a career year so far. If those hold, the Clippers are contenders.

2) The Knicks and Nets have brought quality basketball back to New York. There was a time when if you wanted to see entertaining basketball in New York you were better off heading to Rucker Park than Madison Square Garden. Not anymore. The Knicks are sporting the NBA’s best offense (111.7 points per 100 possessions) and they are top 10 in defense. Carmelo Anthony has been more than a scorer as the four, he has been a leader on both ends of the floor. Raymond Felton has been a star, a legitimate star. Plus, Rasheed Wallace.

Then there are the Nets — they are 6-4 so far and have been entertaining with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams leading the way. Plus Gerald Wallace is becoming a cult hero for doing things like trying to goad Kobe Bryant into taking free throws with his eyes closed. The Nets are not contenders, they are not the best team in New York, but they are respectable and playoff bound.

3) The Charlotte Bobcats don’t suck this year. The Bobcats — who won 7 games last season total — are 6-4 to start the season. Kemba Walker has taken a huge step forward with his game, Michael Kidd-Gillchrist brings nightly energy on both ends and Ramon Sessions is the sage, savvy veteran leader. There will be some regression, but this team is fun to watch, pushing the tempo with their athletic guards, and they have real hope now.

4) Small ball lineups are finding their way. A lot of has been made of small-ball lineups, but they work. Well, except in Boston but that’s not about size. The Knicks move Carmelo Anthony from the three to the four and they are 8-2. I think we all pretty much knew the Heat would be a force going small. Philadelphia is 7-5 without Andrew Bynum. Milwaukee is leading (and well could win) the Central Division with an undersized backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

All of this is more entertaining than watching the Sixers throw the ball into Bynum in the post and see if he can back down his man and take a little jump hook.

5) That the Lakers are providing plenty of entertainment if not great basketball. Admit it, you like seeing the Lakers struggle.

Outside of some delusional Lakers fans — and there are more than enough of them in the world — nobody thought this would be easy for the Lakers. But man it has been a soap opera beyond imagination — a 1-4 start, Mike Brown fired as coach, his disaster of a Princeton offense out and Mike D’Antoni’s more instinctual offense is in. The Lakers defense is inconsistent. At best. Bernie Bickerstaff now has a higher winning percentage as Lakers coach than Pat Riley. And even when you think they are playing well and maybe starting to figure it out they can go out and give you 20 turnovers and lay an egg in Sacramento.

Through it all we’ve seen an efficient Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace knocking down threes while other teams have leaned on hack-a-Howard. It’s been fun to watch.

The Lakers are 6-6 and it feels like the 2010 Heat. A team that did eventually figure it out. But we’ll see if the Lakers can withstand the storm, get Dwight Howard fully healthy, and then we’ll see if they play good enough defense to really contend. Because if you look at the first thing we are thankful for, the Lakers road to contention has some big mountains in the way.

Lance Stephenson on why he blew in LeBron’s ear: “I was really trying to get him mad”

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Lance Stephenson and LeBron James are teammates with the Lakers.

It’s not something anyone would have seen coming back in 2014 when Stephenson blew in LeBron’s ear, creating a meme for the ages and adding to the legend of Stephenson. From the moment it happened, people have asked: “What was Stephenson thinking?”

“I was really trying to get him mad, really trying to win the game, get him unfocused,” Stephenson told The Score in an interview (video above). “And I was trying anything, and for you to do something to somebody and they don’t respond, they keep continuing playing hard, it’s like: ‘yo, how do I…’ I was just trying to find stuff… LeBron was such a good player, you know, I was trying to do anything to get him frustrated. It’s going to be different, being friends with LeBron, you know what I mean?”

We do, because Stephenson did other stuff over the years, like tap LeBron on the face, trash talk LeBron, and kicking him in the “groin,” and those antics occasionally worked.

LeBron has said before he could put that behind him and play with Stephenson, but of all the signings the Lakers made this summer this was the one that left people around the league scratching their heads. In part because of the history between the two, but more because of Stephenson’s history outside of Indiana — he’s struggled. Badly. Now he’s going to be put in a tight role on a team with high expectations and ridiculous levels of scrutiny. Is this really going to work?

It’s just a one-year deal, the Lakers set themselves up to chase another star (via trade or free agency) and that remains the priority. Everything else is just window dressing. But man, there could be quite a show in that window with the Lakers this season, that’s a lot of big personalities in one space.

 

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. guesses Vince Carter’s first NBA season was in 1987 (video)

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Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. insisted he meant no disrespect to Luka Doncic after liking an Instagram comment that called the Mavericks rookie overrated.

But this is darn sure disrespectful toward Vince Carter.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:

Carter – who signed with the Hawks for next season – entered the NBA in 1998. He’s old, but he’s not that old.

Hawks rookie Trae Young: ‘I know there is a lot on my plate’

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The Grizzlies plan to bring No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson along slowly.

No. 5 pick Trae Young won’t have the same luxury.

After picking Young, the Hawks traded Dennis Schroder, their incumbent starting point guard. Though Atlanta also dealt for Jeremy Lin, Young knows where he stands.

Young, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Unlike Memphis, the Hawks aren’t trying to win now. They can ride through Young’s highs and lows.

Though I’m quite high on Young, I also expect him to struggle next season. Most rookies do, especially point guards. And the small Young could face an especially tough adjustment to NBA size and athleticism.

But he seems to be embracing the challenge with the right attitude, giving himself the best chance of emerging on the other side ready to lead an NBA team.

76ers’ Ben Simmons: ‘We’ve got to get past Boston. Those are the guys at the top right now’

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After winning the Eastern Conference the last eight years, LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers has created a power vacuum in the East.

The Celtics, Bucks, Wizards and Pistons have staked their claims as teams ready to fill the void. The Raptors announced themselves with their trade for Kawhi Leonard.

But 76ers forward Ben Simmons isn’t ready to put Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

Simmons, via James McKern of SportingNews:

“We’ve got to get past Boston, those are the guys at the top right now. Beating them, that’s our next goal,” Simmons said.

“Obviously getting further than the second round and winning the Eastern Conference Finals and then moving on to the Finals.

This is a surprisingly restrained approach by Simmons. Many of his peers are talking bigger.

But the 76ers belong behind the Celtics, who beat Philadelphia in the second round last year. The 76ers could pass Boston. They just must prove it. In the meantime, Simmons is paying the Celtics proper deference.

Don’t forget about Toronto, though. Though Boston and Philadelphia were poised to own this next era in the East, Leonard reinvigorates the Raptors. If he’s healthy, they belong at the top with the Celtics.