Wednesday NBA grades: Wall, Wizards are playoffs bound

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while feeding the local alligator

source:  Washington Wizards. Congratulations Wizards. At the start of the season John Wall was writing “playoffs” on his shoes and when the Wizards opened the season 2-7 we smirked. Now they get the last smirk — for the first time in Wall’s career and the first time since 2008 for Washington the playoffs are a reality. They made it a reality with an easy 118-92 win over the Celtics Wednesday — Marcin Gortat led the way with 22 points on 13 shots, plus he got into the Celtics huddle, literally — which improved the Wizards 39-36 on the season. Enjoy it. Celebrate it, savor it Wizards fans.

source:   Paul George, Indiana Pacers. The Pacers’ best player scored 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting and the Pacers as a team scored more than 100 points for the first time since the middle of March. Yes, it was against the Pistons (the team that ended the Sixers 26-game losing streak). Doesn’t matter. Everybody needs a slump buster every once in a while. The Pacers shared the ball (Lance Stephenson in particular) and they moved off the ball. It was a sign of what is possible, if they can build on it. For George, it was the kind of night where even this would fall.

source:   New York Knicks. They made it all the way back — if the playoffs started today the Knicks would be in it. They care and it showed in their 110-81 thumping of the Nets Wednesday behind 24 points from J.R. Smith. (The Knicks passion contrasts with the stunning disinterest from Hawks management.) Of course Phil Jackson really had nothing to do with this, but he’ll get credit for it anyway because he is Phil Jackson. Still, there is work to do, the Knicks are just percentage points ahead of the Hawks and still one back in the loss column, but it looks like the improbable run to the postseason is going to be a reality.

source:   DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors. He was matched up on James Harden — Olympian, one of the best two guards in the game — and played the beard to a standstill. DeRozan had 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Forget the fact Houston was without that Dwight Howard guy, this was a quality win for the Raptors.

source:   Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets. He was a beast — 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting, plus 13 rebounds and three blocks. Even for a guy known for playing with high energy he seemed to be everywhere. There are a couple of reasons the Nuggets have played better ball of late, and Ty Lawson’s return is the obvious one, but Manimal has played well of late also.

Warriors vow to live in the moment, chase another title

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) With unsettled contract situations making many of the players’ futures beyond this season uncertain, Warriors coach Steve Kerr is encouraging his team now more than ever to go with the flow, have fun and enjoy the moment.

No pressure, even if the end goal is a three-peat.

Two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant signed a one-plus-one contract that allows him to become a free agent again next summer, while fellow All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be up for extensions.

“Nothing lasts forever in this league, but we’ve always said we want to keep this going as long as we can, and we’re right in the thick of it,” two-time MVP Stephen Curry said.

After two straight titles and three in four seasons, all eyes are on the East Bay once more as training camps begin league-wide.

That’s why Kerr is stressing going for it in what might be the final hurrah for the superstar core of this team. Not that Durant, Green nor Thompson is talking about leaving town.

“We are playing with some house money. We won three of the last four championships. Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure,” Kerr said. “I don’t think our guys should feel a ton of pressure. I think they should feel the importance of trying to do it again, because this may be the last time we have this current iteration of the Warriors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and everything else. So we don’t know what’s going to happen. So why not just go all out and enjoy every step of the way?”

Oh, you can bet these Warriors won’t be satisfied with anything short of another championship – especially as they play their final season in Oakland before moving into the snazzy new Chase Center next year in San Francisco.

“I mean, I definitely don’t approach it like we’re playing with house money. We do have three championships. They’re all in the past,” Green said. “It’s about approaching each year with that same goal and that same mentality. And the point you get to the point where, `Oh, man, we’re just playing house money, we already got it,’ you’re done.

“None of us are ready for this run to come to an end. So we’ve got to continue to approach it like we’ve got zero. And that’s cliche and impossible to do, but you want to try to get as close to that as you possibly can. And that’s my mindset always entering the season.”

A chuckling Curry stood between Green and Thompson during Monday’s media day clearly enjoying himself and all this team has accomplished. The Warriors posed with their three title trophies from the past four seasons.

And why not?

They all know how hard it is to maintain such dominance year after year.

“We have a lot to celebrate. Three titles in the last four years. A chance to add another one in our final season at Oracle. A bunch of free agents next summer,” Kerr said. “A lot could change. We don’t know. Obviously we want to keep this thing going, but at some point you just have to enjoy the moment, enjoy the now because there’s going to be so much speculation as to what’s ahead. Nobody knows what’s ahead.”

While Green understands the business side of basketball and the challenges that come with it, he would like to be in the Bay Area for years to come. The next step is hardly weighing heavily on his mind as practice gets underway.

“I’m confident that I’ll be here for a very long time, so it’s not something I’m going into the season thinking about. Like all that stuff will be taken care of when it’s best for me, when it’s best for the team,” Green said. “I’m not looking at this one-sided like, `Oh man, I’ve, got to do what’s right for Draymond.’ It’s a partnership. And it’s a family. And doing the right thing for everyone involved is important.”

Kerr knows his players realize how special a time this is for them and the franchise.

“They really enjoy being around each other. They really enjoy the process,” Kerr said. “And having won several championships, I think they feel like, `All right … we’ve done some damage and let’s keep it rolling,”‘

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Lakers loving LeBron’s leadership in first practice together

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Although the Lakers’ first official practice of the LeBron James era was focused on defense and learning new terminology, they ended it with a good old-fashioned 3-point shooting contest.

The Lakers’ new superstar was just another teammate during the spirited back-and-forth competition Tuesday. When James wasn’t draining his own 3s, he marveled along with everybody else at the surprising perimeter prowess shown by JaVale McGee, the 7-foot veteran with exactly one 3-pointer during a game in his 10-year NBA career.

The Lakers have many weeks of work ahead to become a cohesive team assembled around James, but he can already sense they’re heading down the right path. They’re planning to have plenty of fun along the way, too.

“I’m not a very patient guy, but I understand that I have to be patient right now,” James said. “I’ve got to be patient with myself, too, because this is a new start for me. It’s my first year in a new system. I know how to play the game of basketball, but this is all new to me, too. So I have to be patient with myself, not only with my teammates.”

James was both upbeat and businesslike after his first workout under coach Luke Walton, who entered the NBA in the same draft class as James in 2003. The Lakers will hold double practices and a scrimmage on the first two days of camp leading toward their preseason debut in San Diego on Sunday night.

James intends to enjoy the process in his new city.

“We’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to someday hoist the trophy,” James said. “Obviously that’s the end of the road, but you have to have those types of championship habits every day, not only on the floor, but off the floor as well. … Everyone is excited to get back to work. That’s a good thing. No one is coming in today and wishing it was still summer. It’s the best time of the year. Basketball season is back up, baseball season is on its way to the playoffs, and the NFL is in Week 4. So what could you ask for as a sports fan?”

James naturally becomes the center of attention on any team, and he quickly assumed a leadership role for the Lakers. He’s also eager to see his veteran teammates assert themselves to help the Lakers’ young returning core, whether it’s Rajon Rondo instructing his fellow guards on assignments, or Lance Stephenson vocally calling out defensive instructions in half-court work.

“He’s LeBron. He’s one name,” Rondo said. “It speaks for itself. He’s been a leader and a mentor in this league for a long time, on and off the court. He has a blueprint off the court as well. So he embraces his role. He embraces all the pressure that he’s ever dealt with in his career, and he’s always risen above the occasion.”

Although Walton and James are just getting to know each other, the coach is grateful that his new star is leading by example from the opening practice.

The Lakers have lacked this level of respected on-court leadership in the two seasons since Kobe Bryant’s retirement, but LeBron and his fellow new veterans have strong ideas about how an NBA team must approach its work to be a winner.

“I could see it yesterday,” Walton said. “The way he’s approaching (practice) has changed from the pickup we were playing in the summer. It definitely set the tone. We’re on a journey that started today, and we’re very serious about the business that we got done today.”

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBA and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Dion Waiters looks a little out of shape as training camp starts (PHOTO)

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Each summer in the NBA we have to sit around and watch as players seemingly add pounds of muscle to their body. Over the course of the season, this added muscle typically melts away as players spend less time in the weight room and start running more than ever.

#MuscleWatch is a hilarious and staid part of the summer. But its cousin, Weight Watch, is a bit different.

On the flip side, some players show up in worse shape than they ended the season prior. Boris Diaw used to be the king of the early fall extra poundage. Now it appears that Miami Heat wing Dion Waiters is carrying a little bit of baggage with him as he starts training camp.

When Waiters’ headshot was published this week, Twitter had a bit of a field day with it.

Via Twitter:

This is not to body shame Waiters in anyway of course. As an athlete, his body is up for intense scrutiny with regard to his readiness for the season. And, how Waiters looks heading into training camp is markedly different than how he looked last summer.

No doubt when training camp starts, Waiters will get himself into shape and he will be ready to play by the time games start in October. Still, it’s always shocking to see a professional athlete add some lbs.

Damian Lillard says he started breaking Twitter news to put the ‘shoe on the other foot’

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Damian Lillard surprised us all this summer when he shockingly started tweeting out new destinations for media members as they changed jobs. It was a twist on the typical script, which would normally see journalists break news about athletes.

It was a fun moment on social media, and most people sort of shrugged it off as Lillard reporting information fed to him by members of the media who could be considered his friends.

Left unsaid was the place Lillard’s newsbreaking had with regard to the natural opposition some NBA players feel toward the media. No doubt Lillard getting to break some news instead of having news broken about him gave him some kind of satisfaction. While speaking to The Athletic’s Sam Amick this week, Lillard said as much.

Via The Athletic:

It was just a case of putting the shoe on the other foot. I think there’s a lot of stuff that we go through as players, or a story might come out that might have a little bit of truth, but somebody adds (to it) or put their own spin on it or whatever. We don’t have a chance to say, ‘No, I don’t want that to get out. Yeah, it happened, or yeah that’s accurate but I don’t really want that story to be told at the moment. I don’t want to have to deal with that right now. Our situation is just not considered a lot of times.

I’m just basically showing you how it feels to be vulnerable, I guess, or to be at somebody else’s mercy about something that you might not want out.

… It’s almost like anybody can report anything now. I’m not a journalist, I’ve never done this before, but all of a sudden I can report something and it’s fair game, you know what I’m saying? Why is that even respected? Now if it was CJ, that’s one thing, he went to school for journalism, and he does that. He does podcasts, and he writes articles and things like that. I don’t, so that was part of it. Anybody can drop this information.

Lillard isn’t exactly wrong here. Modern journalism is so skewed from what it once was, it’s hard for those in the industry to even keep track of who is reliable and who is not. The availability of social media and mobile audio and visual capture means that just about every citizen can relay first-hand information quickly. And while it’s a bit of a stretch for Lillard to say that his teammate CJ McCollum is more journalistically reliable than he is, the Blazers star seemingly becoming frustrated with the idea of journalism-as-horsetrading strikes home.

As professional sports across the world have grown in value, and truly become multibillion-dollar businesses, so too has the public relations aspect of professional sports. Beat reporters no longer fly on team planes, and everyone from the athletes to the teams and the agents want to try to control the message. That has driven a wedge between sports journalists and athletes in today’s coverage.

Even Lillard’s description of his reason for dropping his information came, in part, from a stated desire for better public relations management. That is, that stories often are not narrowed to information the athlete wants available, and may come at inconventient time for athletes.

Of course, “I don’t really want that story to be told at the moment” isn’t a good reason not to publish something. That’s what delineates journalists from public relations. But in an era where high-powered media entities wield power with information that is, altruistically, perhaps more trivial than necessary, it seems possible that the pillar on which journalistic ethics once stood has slowly begun to erode. If that’s the case, it’s reasonable to think there are times which you can’t blame players on being upset with writers.

Who knows if Lillard will continue to dip his toes in the news breaking pool? The season is not far away, and he’s probably too busy working out.