Opening night preview: Magic at Pelicans

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The third game on the opening night schedule won’t be nationally televised, and features two teams that are far less appealing to a broader audience at first glance.

But for League Pass junkies that will have two screens going for the 8 p.m. ET tip-off, there are a couple of compelling reasons to watch the Magic take on the Pelicans. And Anthony Davis is at the top of that list.

Though entering just his third season, many would make the case that Davis is already the league’s third best player. His length and athleticism are both elite, and he plays at an All-Star level on both ends of the floor. In addition to being one of only five players to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, Davis led the league in blocked shots with an average of 2.8 per contest.

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The Pelicans got him some help on the defensive end of the floor with the offseason acquisition of Omer Asik, who was unhappy with his role coming off the bench in Houston once Dwight Howard came to the Rockets. He says he just wants to defend and rebound in New Orleans, which should pay immediate dividends for a team that ranked just 25th in defensive efficiency last season.

While the Pelicans should certainly be improved, they’re not without their issues. Head coach Monty Williams has been tinkering with his starting lineup all preseason long, trying to find an answer at the four. Ryan Anderson would be ideal there, but Williams seems to want to bring him off the bench, and with good reason. Depth is the biggest problem facing this New Orleans team, which would appear to be forced to play rotational roulette once you get past its top six players.

Without a legitimate option at small forward, Williams went with a three-guard lineup in the team’s final two preseason games. It may be matchup dependent, but as long as Anderson is being used with the second unit, that would seem to be the best option.

On Orlando’s side, they will miss the playmaking of Victor Oladipo, who’s expected to miss the first month of the season after undergoing surgery for a facial fracture. That opens the door for rookie Elfrid Payton to get plenty of time at point guard, while running the offense through Tobias Harris and the recently-rich Nikola Vucevic.

The Magic are still rebuilding, and the priority is to continue to develop talent. But they added Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour to give the team some sort of veteran presence, though Frye is out with an MCL sprain and the other two will likely be limited to contributing off the bench — if not on opening night, then almost certainly as the season progresses.

The oddsmakers like New Orleans by double digits in this one, and it’s difficult to disagree. With the improved defense on the Pelicans side and many more weapons offensively, this one feels like it could get ugly for the Magic before it’s ultimately finished.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Orlando Magic

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

James Harden on Russell Westbrook pairing: ‘We’ll figure it out’

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There has been some doubt that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to fit together with the Houston Rockets this season. Both players have matured quite a bit since their time together in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and now there are real questions about Westbrook’s ability to fit next to just about anyone.

Like Westbrook, Harden is a ball-dominant guard, and we still don’t know the long-term plan for Coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston has real championship hopes, but they could also look much different in a year or two.

Still, Harden and Westbrook have known each other since they were 10 years old. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and are at least very good friends. To that end, Harden says that he believes they will be able to figure it out even if the first year together has bumps along the way.

Via GQ:

It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.

That’s a pretty reasonable outlook to have at this juncture. The NBA is constantly changing, and it’s possible that these two guys could have such a personal connection that their on-court conflicts end up being negligible.

It’s another new era in Houston as they try to capitalize on the Golden State Warriors’ injury issues.

Draymond Green says he wants to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Several big-name players did not play for the United States during the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The team led by Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart did not medal, and on Sunday it was Spain that took home the gold over Argentina.

But that might not be the case for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

According to Draymond Green, the Golden State Warriors star is looking to add his services to Team USA for that Olympics run.

Via NBC Bay Area:

“I do hope to play, and I think a lot of guys will want to play,” Green said Thursday on CNBC’s ‘Power Money.’ “The schedule this year was a little treacherous with the games that was in America, and also the travel to Australia, which is why I think a lot of guys dropped out. You know, a long ways to China. It was just a lot, and it also leads right into the season. Those guys will be coming back in the next couple days and we’ll be two weeks away from training camp.”

“I think you’ll see a lot of guys participating next year in the Olympics,” Green continued, “and I hope to be one of those 12 guys.”

Marc Stein also noted this week that Green’s teammate Stephen Curry would also be expected to volunteer his services for the Olympics. Curry has not yet played for Team USA during an Olympic tournaments.

It seems like it’s harder and harder to compel players to play in national team events. It may be good for branding to play internationally, but so many teams and sponsors have international tours in the off-season that players may consider national team duty a duplication of services.

The Olympics mean more than the World Cup in this country, but the real test of whether stars sign up for Team USA next year will be about what happens in the NBA season.

Mavericks will have Dirk Nowitzki logo on court this season (PHOTO)

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Many teams had decided to get nostalgic this season. The Portland Trail Blazers have a special 50th anniversary court, the Denver Nuggets have some cool new jerseys, and the Memphis Grizzlies are kicking it back to their days in Vancouver.

But the Dallas Mavericks are winding the clock back to just last year.

It appears that Dallas will have a Dirk Nowitzki-shaped logo on their court next season. The logo looks like a watermark in the shape of Nowitzki’s famous one-legged fadeaway.

Via Twitter:

It looks like Mavericks players are already having fun at the expense of Nowitzki, and this is a great tribute that Dallas fans are sure to love.

Marc Gasol completes historic double, Spain wins World Cup

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BEIJING (AP) — Marc Gasol looked to the sky as confetti fell, some sticking to his massive shoulders, and then cradled and kissed the giant golden chalice that goes to the World Cup champions.

He’s getting good at hoisting trophies.

Gasol got to bask in a championship celebration for the second time in three months — and this time, he did it for his country. Tournament MVP Ricky Rubio scored 20 points, Sergio Llull added 15 and Spain won the World Cup for the second time by topping Argentina 95-75 on Sunday.

“We weren’t the most talented team,” Rubio said. “We weren’t the bigger team. Put anything you want, but we were the team with the biggest heart and we showed it tonight and we showed it during the whole tournament.”

Gasol scored 14 for the winners, who never trailed and added this crown to the one it claimed in 2006. And for him, 2019 will go down as a year the likes of which few others have enjoyed.

The Toronto Raptors center becomes the second player to win an NBA title and a FIBA world gold medal in the same year, joining Lamar Odom — who did it for the Los Angeles Lakers and USA Basketball in 2010. Gasol also became the 19th to win either an NBA or WNBA crown along with a gold medal, either of the Olympic or World Cup variety, in the same year.

The first 18 all did it for the U.S.

This time, Vamos España!

“NBA champion and a World Cup champion as well,” Gasol said. “What can I say? How does it sound to you? I feel very fortunate to be in this position and be able to play this game and help these guys be part of history of Spanish basketball.”

Llull and Rudy Fernandez — the team captain, the one who initially got to accept the Naismith Trophy — went to cut down the nets shortly after the final buzzer. Gasol carried the game ball to the gold-medal ceremony, and Spanish fans wept in the stands during the national anthem.

Gabriel Deck scored 24 points for Argentina (8-1), which got off to a slow start and played uphill the rest of the way. Luis Scola was held to eight points, shooting 1 for 10 from the floor.

“We’re sad right now. We’re very sad,” Scola said. “But I feel confident, in hours, we’ll be able to look back and be very proud. They just played better than us. They were better. They deserved to win. They were the better team in the game and the tournament.”

Spain led 43-31 at intermission, after putting together a 14-2 run to open the game and a 17-1 run later in the half.

“This is basketball,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “If you play better than the other team, you win the game. And Spain was the best team today.”

Scola, even at 39 years old still Argentina’s best player throughout the tournament, didn’t get on the scoresheet until he made a pair of free throws with 2:57 left in the third quarter. But they only cut the Spain lead to 19, and by then the Argentinian fans who stood, sang and chanted for much of the game were relatively quiet.

The day belonged to Spain.

And the year belongs to Gasol.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gasol said.