Opening night preview: Mavericks at Spurs

7 Comments

When we last saw the San Antonio Spurs, they were playing the game at such a high level that they went through LeBron James and the Miami Heat like a buzzsaw en route to an easier-than-expected NBA title.

In fact, San Antonio ran through the Blazers and Thunder in similar fashion during the postseason, with only one team giving them any trouble at all: their opening night opponent, the Dallas Mavericks.

It’ll be a well-deserved ring ceremony followed by a raising of the franchise’s fifth championship banner when things get going Tuesday night, but it may deteriorate from there for the Spurs, given the way each team is primed to begin the season.

Dallas reloaded quite nicely this summer, bringing back Tyson Chandler to help improve a defense that ranked just 22nd in efficiency last year. They lost an above average point guard in Jose Calderon in the deal, but replaced him with Jameer Nelson, a veteran who does a better job at running the show than most people realize.

The loss of Shawn Marion in free agency may hurt a little defensively, but the Mavericks believe the offensive trade-off with the acquisition of Chandler Parsons will be well worth it. Parsons averaged 15.9 points in Houston last year, and that was with James Harden taking the bulk of the shots. In Dallas, while the offense will be more balanced and there will be nights when Dirk Nowitzki gets plenty of looks, Parsons will have many more chances to make his impact felt on the offensive end of the floor.

Depth is the biggest concern for the Mavericks, with the loss of Vince Carter appearing to be the most damaging. Carter played in 81 regular season games exclusively in a reserve role, and finished third on the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game in 24.4 minutes per contest. It’s part of the reason Dallas ate the guaranteed contract of Bernard James to add Charlie Villanueva, who Mark Cuban said has been “instant offense” for his team during the preseason.

On San Antonio’s side, the team will begin the season with two of their starters out due to injury. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has been dealing with an eye infection for most of the preseason, and Tiago Splitter has been bothered by a calf injury that will similarly keep him sidelined for this one.

The Spurs brought back essentially the entirety of their championship roster, however, and though the team looked disinterested for most of the preseason, it’s likely that ring night will provide the veterans with the spark needed to help them regain their focus. And, the team is plenty deep enough to overcome the loss of Leonard offensively, with guys like Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Danny Green more than capable of stepping up.

Even so, I like the Mavericks chances here. They gave the Spurs fits with their elite level of offense in last year’s playoffs, and though there are some new pieces in place, Rick Carlisle is one of the league’s better coaches, and will have his guys ready for a rematch with the defending champs. Given all of the factors in play, an upset win for Dallas wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Dallas Mavericks

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: San Antonio Spurs

Terry Rozier: I didn’t know Michael Jordan’s Bulls three-peated twice until watching ‘The Last Dance’

Hornets guard Terry Rozier
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Jordan led the Bulls to championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Terry Rozier – who now plays for the Jordan-owned Hornets – was born in 1994. Jordan led the Bulls to championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Like many younger people, Rozier gained new perspective by watching “The Last Dance.”

Rozier, via Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report:

“Just actually seeing this documentary, I learned so much,” he said. “I didn’t even know that they won three straight [championships two times]. I’m just being honest. … To do things like that in this league, you have to be super special.

Rozier previously said Jordan was the reason he chose Charlotte in free agency. And to not know even this?

Whatever else you think about Rozier, I respect this admission. It takes guts to be this embarrassingly honest.

Report: Pau Gasol near one-year deal to play for Barcelona

Pau Gasol Barcelona
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pau Gasol, who just turned 40 this week, has said he wants to play one more season to give himself a chance of making the Spanish Olympic team next summer. He mentioned the Lakers or Barcelona as a preferred destination.

It looks like Gasol is headed back to where it all started for him, in Barcelona.

Nikos Varlas at eurohoops.net confirmed a rumor that had been floating around for a few days, that Gasol and Barcelona were near a deal.

The long-awaited return of the 40-year-old Spanish legend in Pau Gasol to the European basketball is very close to happening as the player is near an agreement in principle for a one-year deal with Barcelona. The deal is expected to get finalized later in the summer…

The ideal unfolding of Pau Gasol’s story would be that the Spaniard completes a full circle in his career with one year at Barca and then retire after one final Olympic run with the national team in Tokyo.

We have to start with the caveat: In these uncertain times, nothing is guaranteed until Gasol puts pen to paper, and that has yet to happen. This could all fall apart.

Gasol has to prove to Barca he can stay healthy — he only played 30 games in 2018-19, then signed with Portland for this season but never saw the court due to a foot injury and was waived. Add to that his age and, understandably, Barcelona will want their medical people to get a good look at Gasol before agreeing to anything.

It would be a great story if it did come together, even if Gasol’s role is limited. One of the great players ever out of Europe, he would return to the club of his youth for one more season in the Spanish league, then end his career on the international stage at the Olympics. After that, the Hall of Fame is waiting.

 

Joel Embiid on NBA bubble: ‘I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough’

76ers center Joel Embiid
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

76ers guard Shake Milton said, “I don’t really think we should be playing.” He’ll also presumably play for Philadelphia in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

That’s not as hypocritical as it sounds at first. Milton is concerned about basketball overshadowing the current movement for racial justice (a concern also voiced by Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard). But players collectively decided to continue the season. NBA games will proceed, with or without Milton. At that point, his desire for collective action was eliminated. He had to make a personal choice and decided to play.

His 76ers teammate, Joel Embiid, has a much more confusing stance.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I hated the idea,” Embiid said. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

“Because I know I’m going to do the right things, I know I don’t ever do anything, I only play video games, I’m always home — I don’t do anything. But then again, I don’t trust those other guys to do the same. But, like I said, I’ve gotta do my job.

I don’t understand this. If Embiid doesn’t think the bubble is “going to be safe enough,” why go?

Of course, the bubble won’t be perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe, and many normal activities are more dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic. Damian Lillard expressed similar distrust of other players follow the protocols.

But each player must make his own judgment about “safe enough.”

There are reasons to play – money (individually and collectively), a chance to win, representing those important to you. Those must be weighed against the risks. Embiid did that and seemingly decided to play.

Is he having second thoughts? Did he just not choose words carefully enough while discussing his very-legitimate concerns?

I’d like to hear more about what Embiid means.

Spurs’ Patty Mills says he’ll donate remaining salary ($1,017,818.54) to fight racism

Spurs guard Patty Mills
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Patty Mills will play in the NBA restart, and the San Antonio guard said Wednesday that the reason why he’s decided to participate is so he can give just over $1 million of his salary to causes in his native Australia devoted to fighting racism.

The exact amount, Mills said, for the Spurs’ eight remaining regular-season, or seeding, games will be $1,017,818.54. He will split that money between three causes – Black Lives Matter Australia, another group that deals with the problem of Blacks dying when in custody, and to the newly formed We Got You campaign that he helped organize to address the issues of racism within Australian sport.

“So, I’m playing in Orlando because I don’t want to leave any money on the table that could be going directly to Black communities,” Mills said.

Mills isn’t the only player that has announced he will be donating his salary for the eight games to charity. Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard revealed earlier this week that he will give the remainder of his salary for the season to a charitable initiative he started called Breathe Again, which was designed to fight hatred and racism.

Mills is the longest currently tenured player on the Spurs.

“He’s a guy that I think everybody looks to for motivation and stuff like that,” Spurs teammate Trey Lyles said Wednesday, not long after Mills made his announcement. “I think along with his actions and his words backing up his actions … he’s definitely been somebody that I think not only the team but the league realizes is a community leader and somebody that’s always caring for other people.”

This is not the first time Mills has tried to shine a light on race-related issues this season.

Mills – an Australian whose mother is Aboriginal and whose father is from the Torres Strait Islands – and the Spurs hosted a celebration of Indigenous people back in January, which he hoped helped educate people on the importance of recognizing the value of other cultures.

“Australia is a great country. America is a great country,” Mills said. “We all have issues and different aspects. But the point of it is, is being able to come together to be able to work together.”

The Spurs leave for the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida on Thursday, when they will be among the final eight arrivals of the 22 teams that will be participating in the NBA restart. The season has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic since March 11.

Mills was to have earned about $12.5 million this season, had the season not been interrupted and some games been canceled because of the pandemic.