ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

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Last season: In their first year as the Pelicans, New Orleans spent big to bring in Tyreke Evans and traded for Jrue Holiday. On paper, they should have been a playoff team, with a deep backcourt and a franchise centerpiece in Anthony Davis who is rightly viewed as the heir to the LeBron/Durant “best player in the world/destroyer of the universe” mantle. But Holiday went down partway through the season with a knee injury, Ryan Anderson had back surgery, and Davis and Eric Gordon both missed some time. With that many injuries, their playoff hopes were doomed, and the Pelicans finished 34-48.

Signature highlight from last season: Davis got faked out by Deron Williams’ crossover and still recovered in time to block his shot and finish a fast-break dunk in about three seconds.

Key player changes: The Pelicans traded a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts for Omer Asik, finally giving them an actual center to put next to Davis. They also signed Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Keys to the Pelicans’ season:

Will Davis take the next step defensively? The Brow is going to win multiple MVP awards during his career, and probably multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards too. Going into his third year and coming off a gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, this should be the year he blows up. The addition of Asik will be huge for him on the defensive end, as Davis won’t have to guard centers anymore. He’s a shot-blocking monster, but he gets bullied by more physical big men. He’s bulked up this offseason. Hopefully that helps. Either way, he’s a terror.

Can everyone stay healthy? The Pelicans were done in by injuries last season, with Gordon, Holiday, Davis and Anderson all missing time. Their playoff hopes start and end with their most important players’ ability to stay on the floor. The health of Holiday and Gordon is especially important, because if they can’t play Evans at small forward, their starting three is John Salmons, which is…not ideal.

Is Monty Williams a good coach? If the Pelicans struggle early on, Williams is a good candidate to be one of the first coaches on the hot seat. The last few years, he’s had the cover of dealing with a badly injured roster, but there are real questions about his rotation management and X’s and O’s acumen.

Why you should watch the Pelicans: Again, Anthony Davis is pretty good at this. Here are some more highlights:

Prediction: 46-36. Assuming their injury luck isn’t as bad as it was last year, the Pelicans will at least be in the running for a playoff spot in the West. Whether they have enough to actually get there is a different discussion, and it’s hard to point to one team out of last year’s playoff crop that’s likely to fall out. But if Davis is as good as he’s going to be and everyone else stays relatively healthy, they’ve got a chance.

 

Ben Simmons leaves game in first quarter, to have MRI on lower back Sunday

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Philadelphia, routed by Milwaukee on Saturday night and still starting on the road if the playoffs began today, may have another problem coming.

All-Star Ben Simmons skipped Thursday night’s game against Brooklyn with a sore lower back. He gave it a go Saturday in a nationally televised game against Milwaukee, but in the first quarter went back to the locker room not to return.

After the game, the news got more ominous.

Wojnarowski also reported, “There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury.” That sounds ominous.

Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a game for the Sixers this season as the starting point guard. He’s also been playing All-Defensive Team level defense. If he misses extended time, it will be rough on Philadelphia.

When there is word on the MRI results, we will have it here at NBC.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.